Can you imagine if, on the 1st of December 1955, Rosa Parks had shrugged her shoulders and given up her seat when admonished to do so? If she had just washed her hands of the situation and decided the risk wasn’t worth the effort?
Can you imagine if Yuri Gagarin, on the eve of his shuttle launch, got butterflies and thought, “You know, I don’t think this is for me”?
Can you imagine if Marie Curie had stopped in her research on radioactivity? She literally died because of her work, but that work made the world a better place.
Can you imagine if Walt Disney had given up when he lost the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and didn’t keep pushing and taking risks to create Mickey Mouse?
Sure, someone would have been standing in the wings ready to step into the limelight and do the thing they couldn’t do, but you wouldn’t recognize the famous names above if they had. It would be someone else on the receiving end of worldwide praise.
Which begs the question, how many risks have you had the opportunity to take and passed up on, only for someone else to swoop in and grab your glory? You can’t blame them, of course, they simply took the opportunities you wouldn’t.
You never know what life will throw in your way and you never how it will all pan out, risks or not. But, you can guarantee that not taking risks is likely to leave you exactly where you have always been. Are you happy there?
Life is uncertain, you truly do not know what you’ll get. Before we proceed, I think it’s worth discussing risk and uncertainty because the two are not the same, but people often fail to understand the difference. As a result of this misunderstanding, people don’t truly take risks even when they think they are.
As far as true risk goes, there are known elements and there are outcomes you can attempt to calculate. You can’t ever truly know every in and every out, but it’s more certain than not. If you remove the seal from a pack of playing cards and shuffle the deck you have a 25% chance you will draw a diamond. That would help navigate you in a gambling situation, giving you a clear view of the odds of the outcome. A bit like choosing a sweet from a box of chocolates without using the enclosed leaflet. You might not choose your favorite on the first pick, but you have pretty good odds at picking one you like, especially if there’s only one flavor you dislike.
That’s what risk is.
Uncertainty, though, that’s what life truly is. There are no odds to calculate whether your relationship will stand the test of time because you can’t calculate how the other person will evolve. There are no odds to calculate whether your book will get published and succeed because ultimately, you cannot predict how a consumer will respond.
The same goes for starting a business, driving a car, traveling by plane, or enjoying a vacation. It’s impossible to know these things and you can try to apply statistics to it, but under a bit of scrutiny, those statistics will fall apart.
So, when we talk about risk-taking what people really mean is uncertainty. That’s what it truly means to ‘take a risk’. It’s about looking into the unknown and confronting it regardless.
I want you to bear that in mind as this unfolds because that is the risk I’m focused on. The true risk – uncertainty.
Why Does Risk Matter? Why Is It Important?
You have your own life to live and during your lifetime you will be faced with a stream of opportunities. Throughout your life, you will take action and make decisions to shape who you are and to build your own identity.
All of that is influenced by the risks you decided to take. The more risks you take, the more frequently you confront the unknown, the more those elements in your life will expand. The fewer risks you take, the less frequently you confront the unknown, the more those elements in your life will contract. You confine yourself the fewer risks you take. You paint yourself into a comfort zone that leads nowhere and makes you miserable.
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, it’s too difficult for me.”
“If I risk x then y may happen and I don’t want that.”
“No, I’m not stupid enough to do that.”
A litany of excuses.
A note to get out of taking action, whether it’s standing up for what’s right, starting a business, traveling alone, confessing your feelings, or even riding a motorcycle. It gets easier to make excuses when you decide that there’s no need to confront the unknown because it really isn’t that unknown. You can predict the outcome and you know it’s not worth the risk.
Look, we all have our own levels of risk aversion, unfortunately, some people build their entire lives on the back of being extremely risk-averse. They are so certain that nothing will ever go their way if they take chances so they convince themselves that chances aren’t worth taking. The only person that hurts is themselves because rarely will they discover what they could have.
The truth of the matter is…
“I could have done that.”
“It wasn’t too difficult for me.”
“If I’d risked x, y wouldn’t have happened.”
“It wasn’t stupid, I underestimated myself.”
…and, if you never get to those bits, then you never get the thrill of saying I’m glad I took that risk.
The only way you can succeed on your journey of self-improvement is to take risks consistently and make confronting the unknown your business.
Right now, the only reason you are afraid to take risks is that you have made a series of negative (and incorrect) assumptions about risk-taking. More to the point, you have made negative (and incorrect) assumptions about yourself. The true risk in life is refusing to take any risks at all. It’s the surest way to guarantee failure.
If you are risk-averse, then this is particularly important for you because it’s all easier said than done and I understand that.
The most successful people will always offer advice to take risks. Their faith in risk-taking probably comes down to the fact that it has played out well for them. They believe risk-taking to be a key aspect of their success.
If risk-taking worked for them, then it should work for you. Of course, not everyone can quit their job and eat ramen while they attempt to launch a business. That isn’t reality. However, taking risks is still a necessary part of living life and you cannot eliminate it, no avoid it for too long if you want to achieve anything in life.
You must understand that risks do not exist in vacuums. Each day is made up of a multitude of small risks that can alter the outcome.
For example, at some point, you decided that you are incapable of making loads of money. So, because you have made this one decision you don’t think twice about frivolous spending that makes you happy at the moment. But, if you had decided the other way, if you had decided you are capable of making a lot of money then you would use that money to invest in yourself.
Whether that investment is in self-improvement, personal development, or a savings account to start your business. With that small decision, you have sold yourself a lie.
You’ve sold yourself the sentiment that you don’t have the courage to pursue your ideas and that is self-sabotage in its purest form.
- A new position opens at work and you miss the boat because you doubt that you’d have a chance at it.
- A fantastic business idea hits and you write it down, but you sit it down and forget all about it until you’re spring cleaning.
- You built strong skills and one of them could easily be monetized, but you don’t offer your services because you’ve convinced yourself you will only face rejection.
You will never be faced with big risks and the opportunity to dive headfirst into them if you aren’t willing to take those small daily risks you are faced with. You will never even notice those small risks if you spend all of your energy convincing yourself you can’t do it or shouldn’t do it. All this results in is self-sabotage.
The Starting Point
So, how do you do it?
Do you find the errant thought and kill it where it stands and the rest will follow? Is it bigger than that?
That could help, but it’s not quite as simple as that. Ultimately, you don’t (and can’t) know because there is no certainty in life. You don’t know which thoughts you have are true and which are not.
You don’t know whether any step toward self-improvement will make a difference. You don’t know whether you will secure the promotion you chase. You don’t know whether someone will say yes to your proposal.
You don’t know. You can’t know.
The bigger the risk the greater the unknown.
But, it’s true and I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell it to you straight.
The point is, that even though you don’t (and can’t) know, there is one thing you can and do know and that is if you don’t take a risk you will not move forward. The key to self-improvement and risk-taking is knowing which risks are important enough for you to take.
This will give you a starting point and they are typically the most avoided risks to take. These risks revolve around your character and comfortability.
There is a real risk in changing things, whether it’s who you are, what you’re doing, what you’re chasing, or even what you believe. Change is a key aspect of self-improvement and it’s the best place to start for anyone who wants to take risks and develop personally. One of the biggest reasons people why away from self-improvement is the fear of change and the fear of the result. The fear of failure weighs heavy, but that’s not the only fear.
You grow comfortable with life as you grow accustomed to the way you live in. You may believe you want to grow, improve, and change. You may believe you want to achieve your dreams, but in reality, that is the change that threatens your current comfort level.
Right now, you might feel like a bit of a loser as you constantly compare yourself to your successful peers, but even though you feel like a loser you have found comfort in it. You’d like to be successful, but it’s comfortable here. How can that be? Well, the alternative is that you take some chances and put your comfort at risk. If you fail in your endeavors… well, that would feel a lot like confirmation that you are, in fact, a loser and that’s a whole lot scarier than never trying.
The answer is uncomfortable regardless of what it is. So, what can you do? Do you stay safe and comfortable and live safely with the knowledge of what you could have done if you’d bothered to try? Or, do you hop to it and take a chance? You have to take the risk.
Every relationship boils down to one thing – are you willing to be rejected or to reject? The more willing you are the more naturally you will express your individuality to attract people who you enjoy being around. There is nothing scarier than rejection, but if you want to find love and friendship you have to be willing to risk rejection.
This is simply the next stage in risking rejection because vulnerability is a key player in how successful any relationship you have will be. It’s hard to expose yourself emotionally. However, if you repress, filter, or simply hide all of your emotions from others you are preventing yourself from building honest and true connections.
What you may have overlooked thus far is that if you do not make yourself vulnerable in relationships you are not being vulnerable with yourself either. Vulnerability is to your benefit, as well as to the benefit of the people around you. Don’t forget that, it’s a risk worth taking.
No one enjoys conflict. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary part of life and it is a risk to take. At some stage, you are going to be faced with someone who is overly angry and you have to make the decision to run or stand up. Sometimes running is the right answer. Sometimes, however, you have to stand up.
The two biggest reasons people run from conflict are the fear of reprisal and the fear of confrontation. Either way, you back down and allow others to use you as a doormat. Often, we do this as a way to make ourselves more likable, but all it does is make you a walking target for bullies. Know when it’s right to stand up and don’t be afraid to take the risk.
We embrace certainty because it’s comfort. We find solace in intellectual beliefs and opinions, but are they as certain as you think? Groupthink is real and it’s easy to get caught up in a serious case of it if you spend too much time listening to others rather than risking your beliefs and certainties to investigate the truth on your own.
You can be led astray easier than you think. The problem with holding steadfast to your certainties is they often leave no room for empathy. And, reader, empathy is what should make the world go round.
Staying locked in on your certainties will only close down any possibility of discourse and it comes from a place of fear. Take the risk and challenge your opinion.
Identify Your Comfort Zone & Get Out Of It
A routine might be comforting and stable and sometimes they are a good thing. However, they can also be confining. Doing new things and breaking out is good for your brain, it’s good for your soul, and it’s an important part of self-improvement.
Where are you comfortable? What’s your comfort zone? Because you can’t get out of it until you first identify it. First, what is the comfort zone? Quite simply, it’s the behavioral space where your behaviors/activities fit into a pattern or a routine that minimizes stress and risk. Hey, that doesn’t sound so bad, stress management is a really important tool. It is, you’re right. But, chronic stress is a problem, acute stress is good. Remember that.
It all goes back to a 1908 psychology experiment. Dodson and Yerkes aimed to explain how comfort can maximize performance (ref.). To do so, however, there needed to be some anxiety to hit the sweet spot. Essentially, just outside one’s comfort zone. If there is too much anxiety then productivity will drop because too much stress is bad.
So, optimal anxiety isn’t new. And, anyone who has waited until the time was running out to tackle a project knows how it can spur them on under the right circumstances. Push too hard and it turns negative, not enough push and it turns negative.
Your comfort zone is fine and you can return to it when it’s necessary, but you cannot live in your comfort zone. Too much comfort will kill your productivity, sometimes you need unease. How can you find your optimal anxiety?
There are lots of ways you can slowly break out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be bungee jumping or skydiving. Order from a new restaurant without reading the reviews. Drive to work using a different route. Go vegan for a month. Try a new search engine. Change the way you complete daily tasks. Embrace a different perspective even if you ultimately disregard it. Don’t let things put you off if you haven’t planned for them.
It’s about baby steps.
Be Fearless: Elevate Yourself And Your Life
Do you know the old adage about getting back on the bike after you fall off? Comfort and growth simply cannot ride the same bike. No matter how you dice it. What you want out of life will always require you to embrace some discomfort and it will always require you to take action despite the profound fear of failure.
This may disappoint you, but there is no shortcut to courage or substitute for bravery. To become the person you most want to be, the person you need to be, to create the life you want to lead, you have to be willing to consistently do what scares you most.
You won’t find a magic potion to help you overcome fear, but there are steps you can take to be fearless and elevate yourself and your life as a result.
Shed Light On Your Fears
It might be hardwired into your DNA, but you can face your fears. The more you resist something (like fear) the more likely it is to persist. From an evolutionary standpoint, fear was meant to protect you, to keep you safe. Unfortunately, there’s such a thing as too safe and it can trap you in that place. Confront your fears head-on.
Tame Your Impulse to Catastrophize
The human imagination is an incredible thing and it shouldn’t be wasted. Do you know what wastes it? Misusing it to catastrophize. Don’t let fear fuel your imagination. Don’t turn a shadow into a monster. Don’t let it fool you into believing that there is danger lurking around the corner. Don’t let it convince you that you are safer where you are right now.
Challenge Your Inner-Critic
You are your own worst enemy. At least, your inner-critic is your worst enemy and you have to have the courage to call it out for what it is – a big, fat liar! It’s difficult to escape, but you can put it in its place. Challenge your inner-critic, put a name to your fears, and learn to recognize that it’s an emotion not reality. Your feelings are valid because they are natural, but understand that the validity of your feelings does not mean they are real or true.
If you want to be braver and take more risks, then you will need to reframe how you view risk. That starts right here and now. Sometimes, the ‘safest’ course of action is taking a risk. It’s easy to imagine how awful things could get if we take a risk and fail. But, with such a wild imagination why do we find it so difficult to imagine the risk paying off?
The focus is on what could or will go wrong if we take a step outside of our comfort zone, but simply cannot fathom the positives of stepping outside of our comfort zone. Humans are such frustrating creatures.
That changes now.
I want you to flip the fear by imagining yourself in the shoes of future you. Imagine how it will feel if you continue allowing fear to serve as your pilot. Visualize yourself standing in front of a mirror, making eye contact with yourself 25 years from now, and how it feels to leave your life to the winds of fear.
Don’t leave it there. Do the same again, but this time do it for the future you who flipped fear and took risks, achieving everything you wanted to.
Be Genuine. Be Yourself.
We place a high value on the people who show us how genuine they are. The reason people are motivated to be fake in the first place is their desire to appear impressive or appealing. The problem is people can see through all of that. Don’t posture.
There might be a risk in being yourself and there might be a risk in being yourself, but self-improvement is all about embracing your truest self. People trust genuine people because they are more trustworthy. Humans associate genuineness with other positive and appealing traits.
Any self-improvement journey requires you to live authentically and the only way to do that is to be genuine and be yourself. How can you be more genuine?
- Speak your mind, but do so tactfully and do so politely.
- Respond to your inner expectations, do not give in to external expectations.
- Forge the path you want to traverse.
- Do not feel threatened by failure.
- Embrace your faults and succeed despite them.
- Do not judge others.
Try New Things
How often do you try new things and what was the last new thing you tried? It might seem like a small thing, but little steps like trying new things can help you build to bigger risks. Even still, trying new things shouldn’t be underestimated.
It makes people nervous and it does so in a way that’s difficult to put into words. It makes us feel vulnerable. We worry about how we look to other people. We worry whether we can follow through. We wonder if we should be doing this.
It’s what stops us from stepping outside of our comfort zones. But, trying new things is a great way to vanquish fear, expand your mind, and learn. The more you experience in life the more positive memories and emotions you will experience.
What new experiences can you explore today? What about ordering a different cuisine for your next meal or explore a new drink. Why not listen to a different genre of music or try a new exercise.
Identify and Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
How often do you dismiss your chances to do something successfully? We all have. The problem with that is that we fail to do things we are fully capable of doing and we allow those beliefs to limit our life. You might not be aware of them, but you are holding onto a bunch of limiting beliefs that have trapped you in your comfort zone for far too long and it’s time for you to identify and overcome them.
You have to understand where these beliefs came from and what situations or circumstances contributed to your belief in them. Our beliefs form as we experience situations in life. Often, negative experiences result in limiting beliefs. For example, if you have a critical parent who has been years of your childhood putting you down for x, y, or z, then there’s a good chance your self-esteem has taken a blow. That can leave you with limiting beliefs that hold you back.
Once you have a handle on where they came from, you can dig deeper to overcome them. But first, you need to think about what you really want from your life. What do you want? Identify your life goals and use that to scare limiting beliefs out of hiding.
If you’re convinced you don’t have any limiting beliefs, I would ask you where you do any of the following: make excuses, procrastinate, chasing perfection, negative self-talk, and the propensity to jump to conclusions. All of those are signs of the presence of limiting beliefs.
It’s easy to give in to limiting beliefs and allow them to take over. You are particularly vulnerable to limiting beliefs if you allow them to outweigh the potential positives. This is more egregious if those beliefs were instilled in you based on the negative ideas of others.
You have to acknowledge your limiting beliefs to overcome them. Part of that is embracing failure. Failure is not the end of the world. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to embrace. Let me help you grow more comfortable with embracing failure and using them to your benefit.
Focus With Fear
Fear is powerful, it’s a sensation that holds you back. But, it could also be your greatest asset. Use fear as your alert system. The signal that kicks off when you have to pay more attention, hone your focus, and iron out loose ends. When the signal rings, focus in on it and let go of the uncomfortable feeling it brought. Use it as a source of wisdom.
Fail to Succeed
If you never fail, you can’t enjoy success the same. If you never fail, there’s a good chance you will never succeed because you haven’t taken any risks. It might not feel good, but it’s okay to fall short from time to time. It’s a necessary part of the human experience and it’s necessary for self-improvement and growth.
An End Has A Start
Failure isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning. It’s inevitable. It’s uncomfortable. With every failure comes the closure of one door, but another one opens. Think about some of your past failures and what you learned from them and how you applied those learnings moving forward. Life didn’t end there, it just started over. There is great wisdom to be found in failure and embracing it.
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