How to fear less by practicing poverty - Matt Essam

How to fear less by practicing poverty

I have been reading stoic philosophy recently after listening to various Tim Ferriss podcasts. One of the things, among many, that I have learnt, is that Stoics used to practice poverty, even when they had plenty of money. There were several reasons for this, but the ones that resonated with me were first; to remove the fear of being poor and secondly to practice being resourceful. By putting yourself in the position of being poor, you can ask yourself “is this what I fear?”. Most of our fears are much worse in our head than in real life, causing a great deal of unnecessary stress and mental anguish. I’m often reminded of this by Mark Twain who famously said

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened”.

When we put ourselves in the position we fear, we often find it is nowhere near as bad as we built it up to be in our head. Like many freelancers and business owners, I often worry about money. Even when I have lots of well-paid work and clients queuing up to do business with me, I often worry it will dry up next month and I will struggle to pay the bills. As this was a recurring theme, I decided that I need to change how I view money and really challenge these fears in my head. Taking a leaf out of the Stoics book, I wanted to know what it would be like to live off £10 per week for food and entertainment. In my head, this meant living off of pot noodles and not leaving my flat. However, once again, the reality was quite different. Although tuna and pasta bread and oats became the extent of my diet, I was surprised how little it actually affected the quality of my life. I realised that the quality of my life was determined more by the quality of my relationships and that the value of my network was worth more than the total sum of my bank account. The skills, relationships and attributes we have built over the years are our real assets and even if we lost all of our material possessions, we would still have the resources to get back to where we are today. Obviously, this isn’t true poverty as I don’t have to walk 5 miles every day just to get clean water and if you are reading this blog post, nor do you. We are privileged enough to have all of our basic needs met. This is less a discussion about poverty and more a discussion about fear. So using that premise, what fear do you have that you could test?

The fear setting tool.

This is a tool that I learnt from Tim Ferriss and I now use regularly with my own clients and in my workshops. It is a simple exercise that allows you to put your fears into perspective and comes in very handy when you need to make a difficult decision. The premise is very simple; you take a page of the A4 paper and divide it into three columns, you then write down the fear or decision you are trying to make across the top of the page. For example, this could be something like “I want to quit my job and go freelance”. In the first column you write down all of your fears related to that decision, all of the things you are worried might happen if you take the action. A classic fear I often hear from my clients is “I might not be able to afford to pay the bills”. Then in the next column, you write down all of the things you could do to reduce the chances of that fear happening. So for the previous example, you might write; “I could save six months salary to ensure I can pay the bills even if I don’t manage to get any work”. Then in the final column, you write down what you would need to do in order to get back to where you are today. So if your fears did happen, what would you need to do in order to return to the current life you have. In the case of not being able to pay the bills, you might write down; “I would have to find a full-time job”. This seemingly simple exercise is extremely powerful, by exposing yourself to your fears and taking them from your mind to paper, you normalise them so they are no longer stressful or intimidating. What are some fears stopping you from living a better quality of life? What are some things you would love to do, but are worried about the outcome? Are these rational fears or do they have more gravity because they are in your head?

Here is a link to the fear setting tool on Tim’s blog:

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