25 Jul 2008

Escaping Paralysis-Thinking

The following is an excerpt from chapter three of The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, “Dodging Bullets: Fear-setting and Escaping Paralysis”. Tim describes his paralysis-thinking that was keeping him from going on a short vacation away from his business.

Why don’t I decide exactly what my nightmare would be, the worst thing that could possibly happen as a result of my trip.

Well, my business could fail while I’m over seas for sure, probably would. A legal warning letter would accidentally not get forwarded and I would get sued. My business would get shut down and inventory would spoil on the shelves while I’m picking my toes in solitary misery on some cold shore in Ireland, crying in the rain I imagine. My bank account would crater by 80 percent and certainly my car and motorcycle in storage would be stolen. I suppose someone would probably spit on my head from a high-rise balcony while I’m feeding food scraps to a stray dog, which would then spook and then bite me squarely in the face. Goodness! Life is a cruel, hard, beast!

Then a funny thing happened. In my undying quest to make myself miserable, I accidentally began to back-pedal. As soon as I cut through the vague unease and ambiguous anxiety by defining my nightmare, the worst-case scenario, I wasn’t as worried about taking a trip. Suddenly I started thinking of simple steps I could take to salvage my remaining resources and get back on track if all hell struck at once.

I could always take a temporary bar-tending job to pay the rent if I had to. I could sell some furniture and cut back on eating out. I could steal lunch money from the kindergartners who pass by my apartment every morning. The options were many. I realized it wouldn’t be that hard to get back to where I was, let alone survive; none of these things would be fatal, not even close; mere “panty pinches” on the journey of life. I realized that on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being nothing and 10 being permanently life changing, my so-called “worst-case scenario” might have a temporary impact of 3 or 4. I believe this is true of most people and most would-be “holy crap my life is over” disasters.

Keep in mind that this is the one in a million disaster nightmare. On the other hand, if I realized my best-case scenario, or even a probable-case scenario, it would easily have a permanent 9 or 10 positive life changing effect. In other words, I was risking an unlikely and temporary 3 or 4 for a probable and permanent 9 or 10, and I could easily recover my baseline work-a-holic prison with a bit of extra work if I wanted to.

This all equated to a significant realization: There was practically no risk, only huge life changing upside potential, and I could resume my previous course without any more effort than I was already putting forth. That is when I made the decision to take the trip…

I love the candor Tim speaks with that allows him to get down to the guts of his situation to define exactly what his vague fears were. Of course his “worst case scenario” is just sopping with sarcasm, as I’m sure any of the same conversations with yourself would be as well.

Eliminating the Paralysis

Tim then goes on and asks 7 important questions (well, really 7 topics of questions) that help you to pinpoint and identify your own self-inflicted thought-based paralysis. If you are in any way unsatisfied with your current direction in life, you NEED to do this exercise. Write down your answers to these questions, and as Tim says, “Keep in mind that thinking a lot will not prove as fruitful or as prolific as simply brain-vomiting on the page. Write and do not edit. Aim for volume. Spend a few minutes on each answer.”

Note: I did not come up with this content or exercise, thus all copyright is retained by the author and/or publisher. I’m not trying to rip the guy off, but am extremely intrigued by his thought processes and insights.


Define your Nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you’re considering. What doubts, fears, and what-if’s popup as you consider the big changes you can and/or need to make? Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1 to 10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?


What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily? Chances are it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things back under control?


What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios? Now that you’ve defined the nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal (confidence, self-esteem, etc.) or external? What would the impact of these more likely outcomes be on a scale of 1 to 10? How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have less intelligent people done this before and pulled it off?


If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control? Imagine this scenario and run through questions 1 through 3 above. If you quit your job to test other options how could you later get back on the same career track if you had to?


What are you putting off out of fear? What we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be, it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do. Define the worst case, accept it, and do it.


What is it costing you, financially, emotionally, and physically to postpone action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action, it is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in one year, five years, and ten years? How will you feel having allowed circumstance to impose itself upon you and having allowed ten more years of your finite life to pass doing what you know will not fulfill you. If you telescope out ten years and know with 100% certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome, inaction is the greatest risk of all.


What are you waiting for? If you cannot answer this without resorting to the previously rejected concept of good timing, the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world. Measure the cost of inaction. Realize the unlikelihood and reparability of most missteps and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: ACTION.

It’s high time I start thinking positively about my current situation in life. It’s time for me to stand up and take action to accomplish my goals and dreams, and those of my family. How incredibly amazing is it that we have the ability to change everything about our lives, and it all begins in our minds. As President Benson (and Nike) say: (Just) Do It, and Do It Now.