Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about Creating Yourself - George Bernard Shaw

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The Rewards of Risk

The Rewards of Risk

Should I or shouldn’t I, the eternal debate.

A friend of mine is a professional poker player and he once told me that the only way to win is not to be afraid to lose. Play as if you have all the money in the world and that it doesn’t matter if you lose. He says that by using that tactic (taking qualified risks) he wins more than he loses.

As Jim Rohn once wrote; “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” This doesn’t mean my friend takes foolish chances, but like Jim Rohn, he will carefully assess the odds, take a chance and see where it all plays out. If we he wins he is happy; if he loses he learns from what he did.

Taking risks doesn’t mean being foolish. It means doing your homework, and then go for more than you would normally go for when it is warranted. When I was a photographer I would always take pictures with the following guidelines in my head. Take a portrait the way the customer wanted, then take a picture the way I wanted, and then then another picture being as creative as possible. It never ceased to amaze me that 75% of the time people would buy the portrait that I wanted, 15% of the time they would choose what they wanted, and 10% would be the more creative image. But it was always the creative image that won the awards – just saying.  

What is risk?

In my mind, taking a risk is doing something outside of your comfort zone. This leaves the field wide open because as we all know, no two people would classify the amount of risk the same. So what might be high for one person would be low risk for another. The key is determining if taking that chance is worth the additional gain you will receive. Even though risk taking is viewed as negative, taking calculated risk is an important part of life.

Can you think of where we would be if people like Christopher Columbus, Da Vinci, Pasture, Edison, Cappelen (the first person to perform heart surgery), or the Wright brothers didn’t take a risk? You are right, it would be pretty bleak and we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are today.

There are many area that you need to take a leap of faith for, such as your first kiss, finding love, losing love, finding love again, having  a child, first steps, riding a bike, learning to drive, starting a new job, becoming a manager, running for office, or starting your own business. That was not a comprehensive list by any means, but you get the general idea.


Understanding your fear of risk

Your limbic cortex, or as the modern nuance coins it, your “lizard brain”, is in charge of your emotions, addictions, moods, and the 6 “F’s” – fight, flight, feeding, fear, freezing up, and fornication. In many situations, the limbic cortex automatically “allows” us, or “causes” us to do or feel something we would rather not do or feel. The lizard brain also houses the amygdalae which is where learning and the improvement of your memory resides.

This provides us with a yin yang challenge as the amygdalae stores memories and sensations together with different cues. That is why the brain cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy. The challenge of course is that we learn to be afraid just as easily as we learn to be unafraid – to risk or not to risk. More importantly you will have processed your response and quite possibly have acted on it, long before you thought about it.  

Unfortunately sensory input reaches the amygdalae first and it triggers fear response in your brain. In fact, because the amygdalae gets priority over the brain you act on your supposed fears and avoid things you feel are risky even if they aren’t.

What can you do to overcome your fears

  1. Acknowledge your fear – Repressing them or trying to deny them only places your focus on your fear. When you acknowledge them and then question the power they have over you, you will gradually lose them.
  2. Goals – Having goals keep your eyes on the prize and the more you focus on them the better you will do.
  3. Visualization – Before making a decision spend a few minutes visualizing a positive outcome of your end goal.
  4. Don’t be afraid of failure – Hundreds of stories abound where someone has failed at something, learned from the failure and gone onto phenomenal success. We can look at Thomas Edison (light bulb), Arthur Fry (Post-It notes), Sir James Dyson (vacuum cleaner), and Oprah Winfrey to name a few. Like Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields wrote; “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!” But if you learn from your failure you don’t start from the beginning but from where you left off – much farther ahead.
  5. Don’t weigh the pros and cons – Nadia Goodman (writing in Entrepreneur) writes; “ When you're taking a risk, a bit of research and a gut reaction is all you really need to make a good decision. Wading in a swamp of pros and cons will only activate fear.
  6. Write it down on a piece of paper – By writing something down you are taking it out of the emotional/feeling side and putting into a logical place. Often when you look at a risk logically you see there is no risk involved.
  7. Give yourself a reward – That’s right, whenever you take a risk big or small, regardless of the outcome, give yourself a reward. Make taking a risk a positive thing, with a positive outcome no matter what.