Smart risks help you achieve your goals
What do Martin Luther King, Jr. (civil rights leader), Tony Hawk (vertical skateboarder), Steve Jobs (co-founder and CEO of Apple), Helen Keller (deaf and blind author and activist), and Sally Ride (astronaut) have in common? They are all risk-takers. You might be one also. Whether you parachute out of planes, have started your own business, gotten married, or participated in a peaceful protest you have taken risks. If you have achieved some of your goals, you are a risk taker. Even if you are generally a risk avoider, you have certainly taken some risks in your life – albeit small ones like crossing the street, driving a car, starting a new job, etc. There are big risks and little risks. There are physical risks, emotional risks, and intellectual risks. There are everyday risks and life-changing risks. There are good risks and bad risks.
According to Frank Farley, PhD, those who frequently take risks and enjoy it are type T (thrill-seekers) personalities. He describes two categories of Type T's: intellectual and physical. You'll find the physical Type T's at the X games performing incredibly dangerous tricks on skateboards, and jumping off tall buildings. Intellectual Type T's are the entrepreneurs, social change agents, and those who engage in the stock market. I would add a third category – emotional risk-takers – those who are willing to be vulnerable and share their deep feelings with others.
Why take risks? Some scientists suggest that risk-taking behavior has served an important role in the evolution of humans. It was important to have risk takers who were willing to be the first to check out a new cave to make sure there weren't any big hungry bears inside. Without this risk-taker, a whole family might enter a cave and be attacked by a family of bears. There were risk-takers who were willing to test a new plant to see if it was a safe food. Today we still see this type of risk taking behaviors in people who volunteer for clinical trials. These people are willing to risk their own health to try new treatments.
Not only is risk-taking behavior important for species survival and evolution, it is essential for any type of change or improvement. If no one took risks, we would not have any of our modern conveniences - light bulbs, telephones, iPods, TV's, etc. We also wouldn’t have made any improvements in civil rights, medical treatments, or the personal development field. If you never venture out of your comfort zone, you cannot achieve your dreams and goals. The key is to learn to take healthy risks.
On the personal level, risk-taking can help build confidence, self-esteem, and self-awareness. When you are faced with a big challenge/risk you are forced to dig deep and find your inner strength and fortitude. This is the basis for the ropes courses or challenge courses that many people and businesses use. To complete one of these courses, you must learn to trust yourself and your abilities. The benefits from a physical risk like a ropes course then translate to intellectual and emotional challenges as well. Many people who complete a ropes course or scale an indoor climbing wall build self-confidence that they can use in all areas of their lives. Likewise, those who face big risks in their business, health, or personal lives find that the benefits leak into other areas as well.
Whether you are a complete risk avoider or a moderate risk taker, not to worry - you can learn to take more risks. You might already enjoy risk taking in one area of your life and learn to enjoy it in other areas as well. The following are tips to help you move out of your comfort zone and take some risks. You will likely be amazed by all the ways that your life changes when you find the courage to take some risks.
Honest evaluation – The first and most important place to start is to do an honest evaluation of the situation and use common sense. It is important to evaluate the situation to determine the potential dangers and benefits. Risks that might lead to unlimited benefits and have few or small pitfalls are risks that are worth (maybe even necessary) taking. For example, if you are unhappy in your job, interviewing with a new company is likely to be a smart risk. The potential danger is low – perhaps the disappointment of a rejection. The potential benefits are great – you land a new job that you love and take a big leap forward in your career. Risks that might lead to disastrous results and have slim possibility for any benefit are risks that should be avoided. For example, investing every cent you have into a start-up company that plans to sell bathing suits in Himalayan mountain towns is not very smart. You could (probably will) lose everything you have. The benefits are not likely to happen – the market for bathing suits in this frigid climate is dismal. As you learn to honestly assess situations, you will get better at determining the risks to take and the ones to avoid.
Intuition – In addition to honest and practical evaluation, it is very important to listen to your intuitive voice - the whispers from your soul. Let your intuition guide you and help you decide which risks are worth taking. Everyone has intuitive potential. The best way to improve your intuitive abilities is to acknowledge and honor your gut feelings and hunches that you already have. I also suggest you begin practicing with small things – things that have little significance. This way you will be able to stay relaxed enough to hear the whispers from your soul. As you practice, you will gain confidence in your intuitive guidance system. Then when you feel that something is an important risk to take, trust yourself and go for it!
Small steps – Once you have decided that a risk is worth taking and/or intuitively the right choice you might still encounter fear that prevents you from moving forward. In that case I suggest you try taking little steps to help you tackle a big risk. You can usually break any task into smaller more manageable steps. You will know when you have broken the task into small enough steps because you will take the step. If you continue to be paralyzed with fear, then you haven’t broken it down into small enough steps.
Go big or go home – While some risks call for small steps, others are best met by jumping in with both feet – going all out. I am sure you have heard that the best way to get into a cold pool is to just jump in. Some times you need to simply make a decision and then go for it. If you hesitate or over think the situation you might psych yourself out and not ever try.
Use the power of your mind - Imagery and affirmations can help you become more comfortable taking risks. If you have an upcoming risky situation start imaging the scenario from start to finish. Imagine yourself in the task and accomplishing it successfully. Let’s say that you decide to make more cold calls to increase your business. Imagine picking up the phone and speaking to the person in a calm and confident manner. Imagine the other person responding warmly and positively. You can also use affirmations to boost your confidence. You might repeat the following before you pick up the phone – “I am calm and confident.”
No risk, no gain – If you have decided a risk is a smart one and you don’t take it you won’t gain anything. It is true that a risk might lead to failure (other wise it wouldn’t be a risk); however, remember that failure is not the end of the world. If you take a risk and it doesn't pan out, don't fret. Learn what you can from the situation and keep moving forward. Thomas Edison said that he did not fail while inventing the light bulb; he simply discovered 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb. If you don’t take risks, you will not be able to achieve your goals and dreams.
Practice, practice, practice – As with any skill, practice makes perfect. The more you practice taking risks, the more confident you will feel and the more comfortable you will be with risk-taking. You might even find that you enjoy taking risks – reaping the benefits and learning from the “failures.” Use all of the above suggestions to help you learn which risks are smart and how to take them. Practice taking smart risks in all areas of your life: work, relationships, health and fitness, financial, etc. It is likely that as you become a smart risk-taker in one area it will bleed into other areas.
Now that you are armed with some helpful tips, go out there and take a little risk – or maybe even a big risk. Remember that risk taking is a necessary part of success in all areas of your life. With practice and the right approach, you might even learn to enjoy moving out of your comfort zone to take some risks.
Share your experiences with risk-taking here by leaving a comment. We can all learn from each other.