Career Development

Goal Setting is so 2016…Why ‘Fear Setting’ is the Way of the Future


As a new year approaches, it’s time to reflect on the year that was, set new challenges and list your goals…

*cue cliché*

How many times have you approached the new year, and thought to yourself “OK, this is it, this will be the year I achieve my goals!” Whether your goal is to get a promotion, become fitter and healthier, quit your job or start a business, there’s a high chance you’ve set this goal before, and haven’t reached it.

Don’t get me wrong, goal setting is something I’ve done for many years, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much. This caused me to question the concept and research the factors which contribute to making a set goal successful, or not.

There are several reasons which can cause someone to not achieve their goal, often this comes down to breaking the fundamental rules of SMART goals (you can view a blog post I wrote about SMART goals in March 2016 here). In essence, it means a goal should be the following:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Accountable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

However, since becoming an entrepreneur and given my somewhat ‘Type A’ personality, I realised I had to find a better way of setting and achieving goals, particularly those I identified as high risk.

Upon reflection, I recognised I was doing something very different for the successful goals compared to the unsuccessful goals. For the goals I achieved, not only was I following the SMART principles, but I had no fear and the risk of failure seemed insignificant to the potential rewards.

Tim Ferriss, creator of the 4-hour work week (a great read I highly recommend) came up with the concept of Fear Setting. As per the Business Insider article “A simple 3-step exercise to overcome fears”:

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:

Richard 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.

This is by far the best and most effective advice I have come across for goal setting and ensuring you remove the fear and nervousness that can come with doing something new.

From a personal perspective, I realised I followed a similar technique back in 2014, when co-founding the DCC Jobs social enterprise. I thought deeply about the risks involved in quitting a rewarding and secure job, compared to the rewards I would reap from following my dream and passion for supporting women’s careers. This comparison encouraged me to take the leap, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

As you enter the new year, it’s time to reflect not only on your goals, but more importantly, how you plan to achieve those goals. If you’ve done the same thing every year, it’s time to make 2017 different.

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