Are you a natural risk taker? I am 100% not, but it’s something I’m working on. When I say risk here, I don’t mean jumping out of a plane type risk, I’m talking about social and psychological risks. Doing new things, doing the things that your self-doubt tells you you can’t.
I’ve been learning a lot about the brain lately, through a science of wellbeing course I took last year and a confidence workshop I attended recently, and I’ve learnt a lot about why so many of us have a difficult time with risk taking.
To start with though – do we really need to take risks? I would love to say no here and that it’s OK to stay in our bubble of safety, but I believe in order to grow as people and progress, we do. Of course this depends on the level of risk and how you’re feeling at the time.
My anxiety, for example, makes a LOT of things feel risky and uncomfortable. Some days I can overcome my fears and take the risk, other days I have to respect my edge and retreat back to safety. And that is absolutely OK. We shouldn’t be constantly pushing ourselves way out of our comfort zones, we should be slowly edging our way outside it.
So why do so many things feel risky? This is down to an annoying feature of the mind – impact bias.
What is impact bias?
This is a tendency we all have to overestimate the emotional impact of a future event. We can’t predict the future, but we try to and our brain often gets this prediction wrong. For example, if you are asked to speak at an event and you think about making a mistake, your brain will overestimate how much it going wrong will affect you.
It will likely zoom in, focus on that event and forget about everything else going well in your life. It also forgets about our ‘psychological immune system’, which means it forgets just how resilient we are.
All of these things combined makes something like public speaking feel very risky. And if you do speak and you *do* make a mistake, it’s unlikely to affect you as much your brain led you to believe. Sure, it won’t feel great, but you will be able to zoom out to gain perspective and your natural resilience will kick in.
How can we get better at taking risks?
As with most things, self-awareness is a wonderful first step here. Understanding how our brains work can really help normalise feelings. It makes it easier to take risks too, because we can remind ourselves when we’re thinking about the worst case scenarios that this is our impact bias at work. We can remind ourselves that we’re more resilient than we know and that even if something goes wrong it’s unlikely to affect us as much as we think. We can intentionally zoom out and remember what else we have going on in our lives.
Something I’ve been finding helpful recently too is reframing perceived threats as opportunities. The aim here is to ask yourself what the opportunity is and what you have to gain from the perceived risk. Let’s stick with the public speaking example.
Perceived risk: Making a mistake, embarrassing myself, being seen as unprofessional/not knowing what I’m doing.
What is the opportunity? Developing a new skill, proving to myself that I can do this, connecting with more people.
Once you realise the perceived risk is not as risky as your impact bias would have you believe, it’s easier to let the promise of opportunity outweigh the risk.
I hope this was useful, I recently spoke about my reframing technique on Instagram stories and got two opportunities over the following two days (including a live radio interview) which I can only assume is the universe testing me on my theory!
So far I’m managing to say yes to opportunities, but I do want to stress again that it’s important to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling mentally. If you’re feeling burnt out, anxious or stressed, please know it’s OK to take a break from risk-taking and to say no to opportunities.
If doing new things and taking risks is something you want to improve on and you think you’d benefit from support, my self-worth discovery coaching package could be right for you. Having a solid sense of self-worth is where self-belief and confidence grow from.
I’ll be back next week to talk about self-care for activists, until then – take care.
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