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A simple 3-step exercise to figure out what's holding you back from success

Cliff dive diving boardRomina Amato/Red Bull via GettyMichal Navratil begins his dive at the 2014 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Inis Mor, Ireland.

Do you have a goal that you’ve set aside to some dark corner, telling yourself it’s not the right time or you’re not up to it?

Whether it’s starting your own business, asking for a raise, or training for a marathon, the fear of failure can cripple you — if you let it.

Tim Ferriss, the author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” considers himself a “human guinea pig,” since he’s consistently pushing himself out of his comfort zone to learn new skills. His experiences helped him realise something important about how people hold themselves back from achieving their dreams.

“Typically, people don’t overcome their fears because the fears are nebulous and undefined,” Ferriss tells Business Insider. To get over them, then, you need to drag your fears out into the open and confront them.

Ferriss developed a simple three-step process he calls “fear setting” to get past doubt that was holding him back.

Begin by thinking of a goal that is important to you but that you’ve kept yourself from attempting, and divide a piece of paper into three columns.

  • In the first column, write down all of the things that could go wrong should your attempt fail. Think of the most terrible things possible.
  • In the second column, determine ways that you can mitigate the possibility of each of those bad consequences from happening.
  • In the third column, think of how you would recover from each of the scenarios you imagined and wrote in the first column.

Here’s an example of a row from the exercise, based on the hypothetical scenario of leaving a job to take another:

Fear settingRichard Feloni/Business Insider

“You come away from that exercise realising, ‘Wow, I was getting extremely anxious and all worked up over something that is completely preventable, reversible, or just not a very big deal,'” Ferriss says.

He says that of all the things he’s learned in his career, he’s most proud of learning how to swim long distances in his 30s, since he previously had never learned how to swim. The fear of being embarrassed became as strong as the fear of drowning as he grew older, until he realised that he could start with the basics in four feet of water. If something went wrong in that situation, he could just stand up!

“You don’t have to make it hard on yourself,” Ferriss says.

If you want to try a bit more time-intensive fear-setting technique, as described in “The 4-Hour Workweek,” you can answer, in list format, the three questions mentioned above in addition to:

  • What are the outcomes and benefits of more likely scenarios?
  • What is it costing you, financially and emotionally, to postpone action?

Ferriss asked his social media followers for examples of their fear-setting exercises. Here’s one from entrepreneur Harley Monk:

TweetScreenshot/Twitter

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