Smart Rules: Fear

Don’t trust anyone who is attempting to increase your fear.  

Fear is well-known among those who want something as an effective way to get it.  Salespeople are taught (or learn on their own) that the fastest way to close a deal is to convince the buyer that, unless a decision is made right now, the buyer is going to miss out.  (Salespeople tend to dislike it when you call them on this: try it with a salesperson at a gym sometime.  I brought this up to a salesman at Gold’s Gym and he got super huffy with me.)

The reality is that they want your money more than you want whatever item they have in front of you.  The salesperson will want your business just as badly tomorrow as they want it today.  You are in the position of power unless you allow them to make you afraid, in which case the power dynamic shifts over to their advantage.  There is always another car, another house, another way from point a to point b.  

Don’t give away your power.  Fear shuts down your capacity for thinking critically and without prejudice, and that makes you vulnerable to bad decisions.

There are no exceptions to this rule.  

Shut out anything that seeks to increase your fear: news programs that are breathless with manufactured danger, advertisements that raise your anxiety about whether you are rich/smart/sexy/pretty/skinny/young enough, politicians pointing their fingers at an “other” who is out to get you.  

If you hear a claim that scares you, first ask what the claimant has to gain from your fear.  Then do your own research.  Read both sides of the argument.  Look for hidden motives.  Follow the money.  Figure out who gains from your fear.  Find the evidence.  Perform the whackadoodle test: ask what the chances are that the person selling the fear is wrong.  A whackadoodle will tell you that there is no chance that they could be wrong about whatever they claim.  A reasonable, considered person will allow that there is something that they don’t know that would change their conclusion.  Go with the reasonable person’s assessment of the evidence over the whackadoodle.  

Now you can decide if fear is a reasonable response and what constructive thing that you can do with that fear.  The constructive thing probably doesn’t require that you spend boatloads of money.  It may not be as satisfying because real solutions are usually boring and incremental and require sustained attention and hard work.  

Bonus thought: get rid of your TV.  Its primary function is to mainline anxiety into your brain.  Think of how many advertisements want to make you afraid…  if you don’t have a viagra-enhanced package, she’ll leave you.  If you don’t take this anti-psychotic drug on top of your regular anti-depressant, you’re going to be miserable forever.  If you don’t call your Congressman to make sure we don’t bail out Puerto Rico, you’re going to get a huge bill in the mail for your medical costs… it’s a domino effect (that doesn’t follow logically from one thing to the next).  There isn’t that much news on a given day to justify 24 hours of CNN, and there is even less news that you can actually do something about, so worry about the stuff you can do something about, and CNN won’t be able to tell you about those things within your sphere of control.  

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Smart Rules: Fear

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