We are wired to approach risk reluctantly, to loathe uncertainty. Uncertainty is more stressful than a poorly anticipated outcome. It is in our primal instinct to “play it safe” but running toward ambiguity may create greater happiness, greater reward. Risk is inherent in all of our decisions — hell, leaving the house is a risk! The potential negative or failure of an outcome should not dictate our lives. There are many upsides to taking risks. Such as …
1. Unforeseen Opportunity
A risk’s outcome is difficult to foresee, which makes many people shy away from less than certain opportunities. It is important to be calculated when making any decision, but taking a chance can reveal countless opportunities. Risks often have low fiscal consequences but high rewards. Striking a conversation with a stranger will monetarily cost you nothing — you risk your ego, you risk being rejected. Overcoming your fear of dismissal may create a new relationship.
In a world driven by human connection, allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable is a valuable skill. Reframing risk, especially low risk, as a route to success rather than a path to failure creates unforeseen opportunities, which leads to a more exciting, successful life.
Typically, if a person considers a pursuit “risky” it pushes their boundaries. Risk taking helps us build our belief in self, in our ability to overcome fear. For me, this idea is best articulated through solo travel. Each time I go to a new city, alone, it affirms I am capable of navigating and caring for myself.
My first major solo trip was on spring break, my junior year of college. The 12-hour drive was from Kansas City, Mo., to Boone, N.C. I tackled sub-zero, jagged mountain roads. (As a Midwest gal, mountains and ice intimidated me) I have embarked on countless domestic trips since North Carolina, trips of far greater distance. This initial trip is what gave me the courage to keep exploring.
Two years later, I recall this experience on a lazy Saturday morning in a quaint Swiss cafe. Pursuing one risk makes it infinitely easier to take on the next. With each success, you gain more momentum and confidence to push yourself farther.
3. Definitive Goals
Failure becomes less of an option when you chase chance. Pursuing something you really want encourages you to formulate precise goals. When you give a goal your all, you are significantly more likely to achieve it.
According to psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, when assessing risk, people tend to consider loss more than they consider the potential gain. As a result, people are overly cautious and become stagnant. Even if you fail, you can try again or choose another path. Not making a decision will likely bring little change or even worse, it will bring regret. The cost of inaction can dramatically affect our goals more than the potential negatives of a choice.
Despite our hesitation to risk it, people perform better when they’re under pressure. According to neuroscientist Archy O. de Berker, people work more effectively when an outcome is uncertain. People begin to adopt a “fight or flight” mentality. The brain becomes flooded with adrenaline and dopamine, and this chemical reaction can be fuel motivation. Half of pursuing risk is restructuring our mentality from fear to excitement. We can use our nerves to achieve more.
Humans are strong. We adapt. We recover. We thrive. Risks require a leap of faith — they require us to trust ourselves.
The 19th century existentialist, William James, said, “Most people live in a restricted circle of potential.” Defying this circle of restraint provides infinite possibilities.
After all, if we’re not growing in this life, what are we doing?
How do you push yourself? What risks are you embracing? —Alex