7 Steps to Risk Taking

Risk takers are . . . extremely cautious people.
An extraordinary amount of intelligence goes into
preparing for their activities. They have analyzed every factor
that can operate against them.
—DR. BRUCE OGILVIE, sports psychologist


Risk taking is a subjective experience. One person’s risk maybe another’s hobby. Sometimes risk is forced on you. Your mate of twenty years suddenly demands a divorce, or your job is terminated
after thirty years. Imposed risks are often perceived as negative. We would prefer to choose our risks. A chosen risk may be to tackle a new job or enter a new relationship, or opting to stay committed to a challenging job or relationship—a risk without major change.

It is vitally important to understand that how you perceive a risk, either imposed on you or chosen by you, can be the determining factor in whether it is an opportunity or a disappointment. By reframing your perspective of an imposed risk, you can turn it into an opportunity rather than a trap. One thing is certain. Risk taking is the spice of life. Risk taking means growth and innovation. Taking risks is stretching to meet your potential.

Here are seven steps to empower you to move beyond idea into action. While the steps to risk taking are similar to the steps for managing change, there are subtle differences.

1. Define What a Risk Is for You.
Before you rush out to skydive, change a relationship, or invest our money, take a moment to consider what taking a risk means to you. Your perception is your reality. No one else can define for you what you experience as dangerous. Give yourself credit for the smaller, demanding risks you have taken already and determine how any risk can enhance your life before jumping into a situation that may do more harm than good.

2. Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario.
This tip comes from NASA. Before taking a flight into space, astronauts are asked to imagine their worst fears. They repeat the process over and over. The more the astronaut imagines the worst, the more he or she desensitizes his or her mind. Astronauts who are not able to accept the worst-case scenario are not allowed to go into space. By consciously asking yourself or others what’s the worst that can happen, you perform a reality check. Often the imagination will conjure up something far worse than reality.

3. Seek as Much Information About the Risk as Possible.
Risk takers prepare. They play out every possible outcome. They do their homework. The more you know about the risk, the better you can prepare. The more you prepare, the more confident you become. The more facts you have, the less chance for failure.

4. Talk to Others.
Ask people whose opinions you trust. Open yourself up to feedback, but be cautious. We all have a tendency to advise others about what to do and what not to do. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
The purpose of feedback is to allow you to see as many different points of view as possible before you make your own decision.

5. Create a Safety Net.
A safety net is anything that keeps you from feeling your choice is irreversible. Plan options to cover yourself if your risk does not work. You may wish to take a leave of absence as opposed to quitting
your job, or you may arrange a trial separation instead of getting divorced.

6. Reframe the Outcome.
You can take one small step at a time; you don’t have to do it all at once. Focusing on the end result can increase the fear and cut off action. This was evident to me when I started skiing. I got my ski legs on the beginner’s slope and then took a lift to one of the more advanced runs. I shuffled to the edge of the run and looked down to the bottom of what looked like the steepest mountain in the world. I panicked, took off my skis, and stumbled all the way down.

An instructor suggested we go back to the top, where he had me take one simple turn and stop. He then asked me to do another. And another and another. I gradually reached the bottom. We went back and did it again. That time I stopped only three times, and on the next run only once. By changing my focus, I changed my performance.

7. Seek Support.
Find people who have beliefs similar to yours. Seek out those who will hold you up when you need courage, people who genuinely care about your efforts, your growth, and your happiness. Support encourages you to live up to your highest potential.

I believe we are born risk takers. Think about it. How did you learn to walk or to ride a bike? We learned more and faster in the first five years of our lives because we had not yet been taught fear. The word impossible did not yet exist. We made mistake after mistake, shook them off, and gave it another try. Watch children to learn about taking risks.

Not taking risks is far more dangerous than taking them. Not taking risks accelerates the aging process. We feel helpless and hopeless, trapped in a world without choices. You can see it in the body and feel it in the soul. But our lives can be daring adventures if we understand how to orchestrate risk taking, to articulate adventure. Adventure creates relationships and relationships give life meaning. Risk taking promotes vibrancy, energy, and good health. You learn and you grow. Your days become more rewarding, vital, and fulfilled.

Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner’s Guide to the Mind, Sourcebooks, 2003, Pgs. 177-180 www.jamesmapes.com