As children, we’re natural risk-takers. We’ll jump into the pool from a 12 foot ledge while our parents watch in horror, we’ll ask strangers wildly inappropriate questions because we just want to know the answer. As we get older, we learn to fear failure and therefore start holding ourselves back from attempting new things. Sadly, this prevents us from exploring and experimenting and GROWING to our full potential. Brain imaging technology actually verifies that humans are wired to be risk averse – we are much more comfortable in the status quo despite the threat of not growing and thriving . Why? More importantly, how can we push through this comfort zone and start taking more risks in life?
Stop over-estimating the probability of something going wrong: When assessing risk, humans tend to focus more on what could potentially go wrong or what we may lose or sacrifice than on potential gain. Loss aversion is actually two and a half times more powerful than greed. Since what we focus on ultimately magnifies in our imaginations, we can easily over-estimate the likelihood of failure. We psyche ourselves out and don’t see that in reality, the chances of the risk working out are much better than we assume.
Stop catastrophizing: So not only do we rule out things actually working out, but we also tend to create a dramatic worst-case scenario of how this risk could go wrong. We see ourselves homeless, shunned by our family, losing respect from our peers and forever shamed with failure. Again, our brains are wired to exaggerate how badly things could go as a defense mechanism, and we fail to appreciate our ability to make things work despite barriers and setbacks. Women are especially guilty of this self-doubt, and as a result we hesitate to take on new challenges or pursue new opportunities (and our pay scale reflects that). When you’re taking a risk, don’t go into analytical mode – it will just activate the part of the brain that will make you fearful. Do your research and trust your gut reactions when it comes down to making a decision.
Realize the high cost of inaction: Think of how many times you’ve stayed in a crappy situation because you tell yourself that things will somehow just get better over time. We will come up with so many excuses to stay with the status quo and not interrupt the safety of our little comfort zone. We call this being realistic or sensible, but in reality things tend to just get worse over time. The relationship that you don’t end turns bitter and resentful – the job that you don’t quit ends up wearing you down to the point of depression. So many older people often say that one of their biggest regrets in life was not being more ballsy and taking more risks. Regret has got to be one of the highest costs of inaction that will stay with you forever.
Start with small goals: To get comfortable with risk, start small by setting a series of manageable goals with some being a little scary that you can accomplish in a short period of time. Every time we achieve a success, our brains release feel-good dopamine, which will motivate us to go forward and tackle the next success and bigger risk. This technique will get your brain primed to take action and less likely to become frozen with fear of potential losses when you’re ready to tackle a big life decision.