Fear Scheduling: How to Overcome Irrational Fear by Literally Doing Stuff Later

A close friend of mine recently found my website somehow. She thought it was pretty cool, so she asked me why I hadn’t told her about it. My response? “It’s just a fun side project, but nothing worth sharing yet”. 

That was partly true. Yes, it IS a fun side project. Sure, the degree of shareworthiness is questionable. But those aren’t the reasons I hadn’t told her about it.

The real reason? I was afraid. 

Screenshot 2017-05-28 13.08.27
Imposter syndrome hiding in plain sight.

Afraid of what exactly? I honestly don’t know exactly what it is. Criticism? Of what people will think? Of being an imposter, of people calling out that I have little basis for writing about what I’m writing about? Well, yeah, something along those lines.

“If you’re not somewhat embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

–Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn

I often echo this golden quote from Reid Hoffman. Heck, I spend 8 weeks a year teaching people to launch new startups and experiments prematurely, then to iterate and improve according to market feedback later. At the same time, I’ve spent a month getting the design of this website just right, with “then I’ll show it to people” as the justifying narrative. Yeah right. Hypocrisy 101!

Simply putting this in writing exposes just how ridiculous this really is. Truth be told, I know at least 99.9% of people won’t give a shit about what I put up on some random website, which is quite a liberating thought. Nevertheless, some part of me believes that putting myself “out there” is scary.

It’s soul searching time – where does this come from?

Poppies and Jante

tall poppy syndrome
Effective poppycutting.

This feeling of mine is nothing new. In fact, an inherent fear of standing out bears many names across the world. In New Zealand and Australia, they call it “Tall Poppy Syndrome”.

You’re a poppy in a harmonious field of poppies of the same height. Suddenly, one ambitious bugger reaches up higher than everybody else. The other poppies now look short by comparison. Not cool. So the rising star is sabotaged and cut down, so not to make the others look short and lame.

Here in Norway, it’s called “Jante’s Law”. Its essence? “Don’t think you’re better than us. Don’t try to stand out or do anything out of the ordinary. Don’t think you’re good at anything.”

impostorAs despicable and plain dumb as this is, it gets ingrained in many of us, myself included, from an early age. I don’t know where this comes from, but I know where it leads. It takes us straight to the worst form of quasi-equality there is: implicit, psychological sabotage of others’ success or unconventionality, covered up as noble acts of egalitarianism. 

Screw that. I’m posting random stuff on the internet no matter what people may or may not think about it. And you should too, if you’re so inclined.

Fear Hacking: Scheduling Scary Stuff to “Sometime” in the Future

“What’s on the other side of fear?”

–Jamie Foxx on the Tim Ferriss Show

My outdated amygdala wants me to believe sharing blog posts with my 1889 closest Facebook friends is a scary thing to do. That’s why I still haven’t done it, despite my honest belief that some of the posts on here ought to be shared with people. Heck, some of them (like this one) are really damn good, if I may say so myself.

So, to the tactical stuff! I’ve devised a clever trick you can use to hijack your brain to do the right and courageous thing you want to do. This hack is applicable for you if you want to share something you’ve made, or to express something to someone else, but feel fearful or hesitant about doing exactly that.

The underlying idea comes from turning the age-old concept of “mañana mañana” on its headNothing seems like a hassle when it’s placed far into the future – it’s just the stuff we need to do RIGHT NOW that can seem overwhelming.

So in my case, I’ve scheduled a Facebook post with a link to this very post to go out at some point in the future. More specifically in about a week and a half, when I’m on a long-haul flight to Boston. Just as I’m zoning off to sleep with Wedding Crashers playing on an American Airlines video screen, this blog post gets shared with the world.

The benefits to this approach is two-fold: first, I’ll probably have forgotten about it by the time the post goes live, and second, if I am reminded of it mid-air, there’s nothing I can do about it.

With an internet connection in hand, I could probably make myself believe that this post needs just a tad more editing before going out there. That self sabotaging thought won’t be a problem when I’m stuck in a metal sylinder 10,000ft somewhere above Iceland.

In my case, this is how it works specifically:

  1. Write a Facebook update with link to the blog post,
  2. Then set it to be posted on Facebook at a later date (this is built in functionality for FB Pages. Use HootSuite if you want to schedule posts from your personal account).
  3. Forget all about it.
  4. Realise nothing bad happened whatsoever after it’s been put out there to the world.

Now, thanks to the (objectively speaking) perfectly non-threatening nature of putting some creative endeavour out there, this process may seem ridiculous and unnecessary. It absolutely is. But the underlying principle here is a powerful tool for overcoming irrational fear, or to give yourself massive leverage to make a necessary change in your life. Let’s have a quick look.

Extreme Use Cases: Do Indeed Try These at Home

Here are a few ways to use fear scheduling to get important shit done. Some of these are extreme measures for extreme situations. Use with caution!

Express Gratitude or Ask For Forgiveness “Sometime” Right Now

Let’s explore two truisms we all know, but nobody actually does:

  • Expressing pure gratitude for someone near and dear to us should be done on a regular basis.
  • Apologising to people we were assholes to in the past is a good idea.

Nobody does these things because it feels scary, inconvenient and right now, the timing isn’t right. Of course it isn’t – the timing is never right!

But let’s decide the timing is right in six months from now. And let’s ensure that when six months have passed, we are unable to sabotage our good intentions with bullshit excuses for why we shouldn’t do the right thing.

Enter WhenSend. WhenSend.com is a fantastic tool which lets you schedule emails now to be sent out at some point in the future. A fun way to share your current thoughts with your five year older self, for example. But don’t be limited to emailing yourself. The real power lies in scheduling emails for others, to say what needs to be said, but feels inconvenient in the moment.

Haven’t told a special someone that you appreciate her immensely, because the timing never seems right? Send an email now, let it go out and make her day amazing – in two months from now.

The person you treated badly five years ago and you’ve felt guilty about ever since? Write an apology email today, and set it to send out in six months.

The beauty of this approach is simple: by the time the email is sent out, you’ve forgotten all about it. You get the benefit of doing the right thing, without the momentary awkwardness of apologising or whatever it may be you need to say. Win win!

Quit Your Job in One Year – Right Now

Putting a ticking time bomb under your ass typically makes you act.

Consider another extreme use case of “fear scheduling”: quit your miserable job in 12 months. Craft a well-written resignation letter, send it to your boss with WhenSend – but make it send in 12 months from now.

Feel the time ticking away one day at a time. If this doesn’t give you the leverage you need to start looking for other job opportunities or greener pastures, nothing will.

Use the Power of Humiliation to Lose Weight, Stop Smoking or Write a Book – 100% Guaranteed

This is another taste of fear scheduling, which works in a different way. Instead of doing something scary now, with positive consequences later, this approach works the opposite way: schedule terrible consequences later, but allow yourself to avoid them if you achieve your goals. In other words, it gives you massive leverage to achieve what you want.

Be it going to the gym, avoiding a tiny party puff of a cigarette, or sitting down to write out the book that’s swirling around inside our head – getting ourselves to do what we know to be the right thing is difficult.

The solution is leverage. MASSIVE leverage if you’re dead serious about achieving your goal. The most potent leverage cocktail there is? A mix of financial and emotional incentives to make you do what you should do. 

Just one example to get your creative juices flowing: Are you fat and want to lose weight? Take unflattering, vulgar nude photos of your chubby self, and give them to your best friend. Tell him to post them all over the internet if you haven’t lost X kilos in Y months.

ap_nra_president_charlton_heston_ll_131025_33x16_1600
How to get to the gym 101: consider giving this NRA-man your money.

Then take out $10,000 in cash and give the envelope to another friend. Tell her to donate it all to an organisation you despise if you don’t reach your goal by its deadline (may I suggest the National Rifle Association, or some bat shit crazy religious sect, or Americans United for Life, who spend their time fighting a war against American women’s abortion rights?).

Keep in mind that these fine organisations often keep public records of their donors. You want to avoid showing up on NRA’s donor lists when I google your name (not to mention the fat nude photos that will pop up)? THAT, my friend, is what I call leverage. 

[Resource: Stickk.com facilitates the financial commitment between you and your anti-charity if you don’t trust your friend with an envelope of your hard earned savings.]

Take Action Now – Reap the Benefit Later

To sum it up, we can all use some small (or massive) fear scheduling to hack and overcome the irrational bullshit our amygdala comes up with to keep us “safe”.

I know my self-exposure won’t put me in any danger whatsoever, so the fear is by definition irrational – but still indeed present. Scheduling a tiny act of courage into the future alleviates the fear and removes the narrative of “right now isn’t the right time” which we so often use as an excuse for not taking action.

It’s time to define exactly when the right time to do the right thing is. Only then can we set our courageous acts on auto-pilot, and let technology to pull the final trigger for us. Or we must work our fat butts off to avoid exactly that, if nude photos and NRA donations are on the line.

So go forth and conquer your own lizard brain, through fear scheduling or massive leverage. See you on the other side.

–Jacob


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