Today’s episode of Seedling is all abut taking psychological risks – doing something for the first time, dong something your self-doubt tells you you can’t… those types of risks. I discuss why it’s so hard for us to take risks, how we can get better at taking risks and some journaling prompts to help you decide when to push through fear, and when not to.
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Today I want to talk about taking risks and specifically – psychological risks. We’ll discuss why things feel so risky, the annoying feature of the mind that holds us back and how to decide when to take the risk and when not to.
Hello everyone, how are you doing? Thank you so much to everyone who tunes into last week’s episode where I was questioning societal expectations – I’ll be honest, I was nervous about sharing that as it touched on some sensitive topics. But it felt like a risk worth taking… and with that incredibly smooth transition, let’s get into today’s topic which is – taking risks.
First of all, I’d love to know… are you a natural risk taker? I am 100% not, but it’s something I’m working on. And when I say risk here, I don’t mean jumping out of a plane type risk, I’m talking about social and psychological risks. Risks like doing new things and doing the things your self-doubt tells you you can’t.
In recent years I’ve learnt more about the brain and I’ve learnt a lot about why so many of us find it difficult to take these kinds of risks.
Before I get into that though, let’s ask the question – 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 nudging the edges.
So why do so many things feel risky? Unfortunately it’s just how we’re wired. Our brains haven’t evolved a whole lot since caveman days when there truly was a lot of risk, including being pushed out of our tribe. So today our brains respond to threats like public speaking and doing something new as if they’re physical threats, worried we’ll mess up and be pushed out of the tribe.
There is also an annoying feature of the mind holding us back – and this is called 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 you messing up 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 or doing something for the first time feel very risky. But the truth is, if you do take the risk 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.
So now we know a bit more about why everything feels like a big risk – 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 find helpful 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. The perceived risk may be: Making a mistake, embarrassing myself and being seen as unprofessional/not knowing what I’m doing. OK cool, so what’s 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.
While we’re talking about taking risks though, I do want to talk about this idea that pushing through fear is the one and only key to success. Quotes like ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ can be helpful… but sometimes this simply isn’t the right advice.
There are times when pushing through fear is detrimental, when it might trigger anxiety or even lead to burnout. There are times when our fear truly is protecting us. The difficulty is knowing when pushing through will help us grow, and when it wont.
I recently published some journaling prompts on my blog to help with this and I thought I’d share them here too.
1. What was your first reaction when you thought about doing this thing? How did your body and mind respond?
This can be a tricky one, but I can usually feel a subtle difference between the different types of fear in my body and mind. There’s the fear that has a tinge of excitement when I know I’ll regret saying no and this fear I feel in my gut, like butterflies. It’s palpable, but it has soft edges. My thoughts might race a little initially, but they quickly settle. This is the fear I’m happy to push through.
Then there’s the fear that takes over my whole body. This fear is hot and sharp, it makes my mind whir like an overloaded computer that’s about to crash. Generally, this is the fear I choose not to push through.
2. What opportunities for growth are there?
So again, this is about shifting your mindset from perceived risk to opportunity. Ask yourself, how will you grow as a person by doing this thing? This is helpful to pin down, because sometimes we do things because we think we should, even if it won’t help us grow.
3. What opportunities for harm are there?
As we’re considering growth, it’s also useful to consider harm. For example, if you have anxiety and you already feel triggered by the thought of doing this thing, could it cause you more harm doing it? As we’ve discussed, our brains will often see harm where there is none, so I implore you to take your time with this one and think realistically about how harmful it could be as you are now more aware of impact bias.
4. Why do you want to do this?
So, are you doing this to bring yourself closer to a goal? Will it help you grow? Or are you doing this because you think you should? Or perhaps because someone else wants you to? It may seem simple, but checking in with why you actually want to do this thing is crucial.
5. Think about a future you, the you who has done the thing… how are they feeling?
This is the prompt I personally use as a quick check-in whenever an opportunity that scares me comes up. I think back to the times I’ve pushed through fear and felt amazing for it and ask myself how future Kat will feel after doing this. Try visualising yourself doing it, how does it feel?
6. Think about a future you, the you who decided not to do thing… how are they feeling?
Another future you exercise, but this time you didn’t do the thing. How are they feeling now? Do they regret not doing it? Are they feeling stuck and stunted? Or are they genuinely feeling relief, calm and content with their choice?
7. What feels scarier to you, doing the thing or not doing the thing and regretting it?
This is where you can play with fear a bit. What feels scarier? Again, sometimes doing the thing is genuinely scarier than the regret you might feel. Only you can answer this.
8. What else is happening in your life right now?
This is an important nuance that often gets left out of the picture when people encourage you to push through fear. What’s framing your life right now? What stressors are present? How will this affect you if you decide to do the thing? We don’t exist in a vacuum.
9. What support do you have in place?
As well as considering what stressors are in your life right now, it’s helpful to remind yourself of what support systems you have in place, so who do you have in your life that can cheer you on? Who can you turn to when you’re feeling scared? Who can remind you of how capable you are when you need a boost?
10. If doing the thing isn’t right for you right now, but you want to do it eventually, what small steps towards it can you take?
If you’ve worked your way through these prompts and have come to the conclusion that doing this thing isn’t the right step for you right now, please know this is totally OK! There’s no shame in making choices that are best for us. If however, you do want to do this thing at some point in the future, consider what small steps you could take towards it so that one day, doing it will be the right move.
And there we have it – I hope this episode was helpful and that you have a clearer understanding of taking risks and deciding when to push through fear. Before I go I wanted to tell you about a workshop I’m going to be running on the 4th of August, it’s called ‘5 steps to build quiet confidence’ and it’s all about busting myths around what it means to be confident and the steps you can take to build your own brand of confidence.
I tend to see my confidence as a quiet inner knowing that I’ll be OK and that’s really what I want to teach here. In the workshop you’ll get the chance to set your own small confidence challenge and if you join live, there’ll be the chance to join a small accountability group for the month of August. I’m really excited to run this and connect with some like-minded souls, so if you want to see the full details and get your ticket – I’ll pop a link in the show-notes.
Thanks so much for listening, I hope you have a lovely couple of weeks.
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