047 - why you should define your fears

“Named must your fear be before you can banish it”
- Yoda

Connor sat there, blank-faced. You could sense the fear it on him, and his eyes showed it. I’d just asked him the question “what scares you, what are you fearful of?”. Connor is 13 and part of the Sydney Swans Academy - he’s a phenomenal athlete and has limitless potential if he chooses to see it and believe in it himself…

And yet his answer to this question mightn’t be what you’d expect for a kid of his talent and level...

"I'm fearful of... I mean, what if I'm not good enough. What if I never make it?", he said

And I stood there staring at him, a huge smile across my face...

"Okay, I get that. But what if you are... What if you're so good that they can't take their eyes off you? What if you go out there and have your BEST game and not your worst? What if you make those tackles, take your chances, and show your best qualities... what then?"

The smile that crept across his face said it all, and you could see the breakthrough happening and the cogs turning inside of him. You see, we never know for certain how we're going to perform in a given situation or what the future is going to hold for us

What if you fail? I don't know as the ball is in your court as to how you choose to respond to it... you can let the failure defeat and define you, or you can let it teach you a lesson, and you can go get ready to go again

It's the most common & the biggest obstacle we see young athletes and adolescents trying to battle and overcome - the "false-narrative" they tell themselves of what if… The never-ending loop of "what if "x" happens...". What if can be all-powerful, just like "I am" is, but it can be incredibly detrimental too depending on what thought patterns and words are used afterwards. Yet what we find is that these next generations of young athletes and adolescents immediately look for the negative, as it's so much easier to conjure up thoughts about our weaknesses & past failures rather than our strengths and past successes

What if I'm not good enough… What if it doesn't work out… What if they don't like me… What if I fail… What if I miss the tackle… What if the ball comes to me in the final second and I miss my opportunity… What if I never make it… What if I never get the marks I need to get into that degree or course...

What if... What if... What if… that’s how the story goes as it's all uncertain. Nobody can tell you the answer to those questions. In fact, nobody can tell you if they'll even eventuate...  

But what if there’s power to this type of thinking… what if there’s power in imagining the worst of our "fears" to help us see that they aren't justified and they're not as bad as we’re envisioning and making them up to be? The good news is that there is, and it's a stoic technique called fear-setting made famous by Tim Ferriss - and it will help you overcome this demon

Personally, I’ve used this in the past on the occasions where I’ve felt most scared in life, and it’s helped me see that my fears weren’t all that bad, and that with focus and energy, there were ways to minimise them and rectify them if they happened. I’ve done it with this book to defeat the “what if no one likes it”, “what if no one buys it”, “what if it’s a total flop and I have to go live in a cave as my family will be ashamed of me and everyone will laugh at me when they see me” stories

And that’s the thing - to conquer your fears you must define them and run toward, no matter how insurmountable and deadly they may seem

“The more you run from your fears, the bigger they get, but the more you go into them, the more they tend to vanish like a mirage”
- Terry Crews

How bad is this thing you’re fearing and how likely is it to actually occur? And if it does actually occur, is it really going to be as bad as you’re making it out to be, or is it a simple fix with enough energy, focus, and time?

Sit with it, envision it, and you’ll see that maybe it’s not all as bad as you thought it would be…

In identifying your fear and seeing it for what it truly is you’ll find the power, optimism and energy to move toward it and take action on what you desire to do. The fear will be faced, it will be defeated, and you’ll be able to move forward. In doing so, you’ll find that there may very well be practically no risk for you, only huge life-changing potential and the truth that you could easily resume what you’re currently doing now as well as be in a better position for having tried

So maybe, just maybe, what if there’s only an upside to doing this thing you fear…

In the AT+Q section below, you’ll go through this fear setting activity for yourself. To do so, you’ll need three pieces of A4 paper, and you will split TWO of those pages up into three equal columns.

First Page: split this page into three equal columns, and at the top of the page write the heading what if I... and title the first column define, the next prevent and the final one repair

In my personal instance my heading was, what if I move The Academy into a bigger space and more than 5x my rent and expenses in the process…

In define, you write down all of the worst things we can imagine happening by doing so. Some of mine included we wouldn’t be able to pay rent or my other coach, I could end up being close to $75,000 in debt, I’d be tied into a specific location and wouldn’t be able to travel or do the things I enjoy in life, and that we wouldn’t get any new kids through the door and a heap would leave…

In prevent, you write down all of things you could do to prevent these things from happening, or decrease the likelihood of them happening. And ask yourself the question, has anyone else in the history of time and possibly in worse circumstances, ever overcome similar things or figured this out… chances are, it’s a yes

  • Pay rent and my other coach: I could figure out our current finances and see what the numbers meant. In the end, it ended up being that with NO GROWTH we’d be just in the green… so on a 1/10, this was a 5

  • I could end up being close to $75,000 in debt: this would only happen if everything went to shit, as in we lost all of our clients… so on a 1/10, this was a 2

  • I’d be tied into a specific location and wouldn’t be able to travel, etc: what trips was I even thinking of planning? The reality of a fortnight getaway happening at some point in the future was high if I did the work required to be able to do so, and simply because we’re in a bigger space didn’t mean things would get harder… so in reality, this was a 4/10

  • We wouldn’t get any new kids through or doors and clients would leave: as I thought about this one it made me laugh instantaneously. Yes, it’s always a possibility as clients will always leave and there will always be slow and rough patches. When I reflect back, however, this hadn’t happened yet and in reality the likelihood of this occurring was a 3/10 tops

And in repair, you write down all the ways you could repair them if they were to happen…

Second Page: here we go positive and write down what might be the benefits of an ATTEMPT or PARTIAL success? (key = attempt or partial success)

For me, the upside was huge and far outweighed the downside. It meant more fulfilment of having impacted many young athletes and adolescents lives. It meant more happiness from doing what I loved and wanted to do, and also the freedom that came with that. It meant moving toward the life I desired to live, and accepting all of the challenges and obstacles that would inevitably come along the way. And on a scale of 1/10 for happiness and living the live I desired, it was an 8-9/10… You’ll want to spend 10-15 minutes going over the all the benefits

Third Page: this is quite possibly the most important of the pages, and again, you’ll split it up into three columns, with the heading of the page being what is the cost of inaction to me (emotionally, financially, physically, etc..). This columns of this page are titled, in order, 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years…

What’s the cost to you if nothing at all changes. If everything stays exactly the same or goes backward? If you were to avoid taking action, or the actions/decisions like it, what might your life look like in 6 months, 12 months or 3 years. This is what you’re answering here, and you must go deep into this...

Personally, mine painted a terrifying picture as everything revolved around staying the same, which is one of my two biggest fears in life. I couldn’t describe, nor even bear to think of the emotional pain it would cause me to not go after what I dreamt of and chase growth in life. The possible financial cost would have been indescribable as well. But what pained me most was the lack of security, freedom, and stability I’d lose if I didn’t act now knowing that my fears weren’t as bad as I thought they could be. This page brings emotion into the situation and we’re emotional creatures, we take every action based on emotion - be it positive or negative, and we justify it rationally later on. The emotion elicited from this page alone will force you to act

So overall, after completing this activity and seeing my fears for what they truly were, I had a complete shift in my view toward the decision I was making to move the business forward. I was risking terrifying emotional pain and the chance to live a life I dreamed of for a worst case scenario 3/10 chance of failure, that would be temporary at worst

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”
- Anais Nin

Show (calculated) courage in the face of your fears to take the action required and you’ll begin moving toward the person and athlete you aspire to become in life, along with the success you desire to have

Actionable Tip + Questions:

  • Get your 3 pieces of A4 paper and go through the fear-setting exercises as outlined above. Take all the time in the world you need for it - and go deep into it emotionally. You get out what you put in, so put your heart and soul into this...

Nick Maier