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How To Take Risks

By: Brian Kim - January 13, 2007

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When you were young, you didn’t even understand the notion of risk. You just did. You ate paint chips off the wall, you tasted the handful of dirt you scooped up in your garden, you stuck your fingers wherever you wanted to, but as time passed and you grew older, you were slowly introduced and taught the notion of risk by others around you and it was as if a square marking your boundaries was slowly painted around you. Soon enough, you stopped risking. You stayed confined within the box that was drawn around you by others and you accepted it.

This is where I’m comfortable. This box determines my capabilities. I can’t and I won’t step out of this box.

What happened? On the one hand, when you were young, you just did without thinking of the consequences. On the other hand, when you got older, you stopped doing because you started thinking of the consequences. Neither end of the spectrum is good so how can we reconcile? How can we get the best of both worlds?

First off, let’s tackle the part of “not doing”. Why do we hesitate to take risks? How can we get back that trait of boldness we had as a child?

It’s actually very simple. It just involves changing what we label risk as.

You’ve got to understand that risk is nothing but a label and the reason why risk yields so much power over us is precisely because of that. Labels are extremely powerful because we tend to pass judgment solely based on that. When something is labeled, we equate some sort of image to it. Armani – fancy suit. Ferrari – fast car. Nike – running shoes. In this case, what image does the label of risk conjure up? Imminent danger. We judge risk as imminent danger.

We need to change the label. Stop thinking of risk as just a one shot do or die situation. Instead, start thinking of risk as a journey of exploration. It’s not just about one shot. It’s about a journey, a journey you choose to embark on for the purpose of exploring a different path.

Columbus did not take a risk. He chose to go on a journey to explore the new world. Entrepreneurs don’t take risks. They choose to go on a journey to explore other means of making a living. Companies don’t take risks. They choose to explore doing things differently than the norm.

People mistakenly think that if they take a risk and it doesn’t turn out the way they expect it to, that it’s all over. The sky will fall, their world will come crashing down, and that they’ll never bounce back from it. It’s precisely because of that one shot do or die mentality that prevents people from taking risks. Step back and look at the forest. Don’t look at the trees. Risk is not just about looking at one tree. It’s about exploring an entire forest.

If you start labeling risk as a journey of exploration and discovery, it takes the weight off your shoulders and you become more inclined to take action.

Before, you had no label for risk as a child. Now you do and it’s stopping you from taking them. Change the label and start exploring.

Now that you’re older, you have the ability of thinking of the consequences of your actions. It’s a good thing because if you didn’t and you started thinking of risks as exploration and decided to jump off a plane with no parachute, you’d be in for one big surprise.

Again we run into the issue of labels. Consequences usually have a negative label associated with them. You will suffer the consequences of your actions. Do you know what the consequences of that will be? You’ve got to face the consequences of your actions. Such a heavy label isn’t it? Instead of consequences, think outcomes.

Go on a journey of exploration and focus on your desired outcome. Don’t focus on consequences.

Also, understand that each time you take a risk by thinking of it as a journey to explore, the box around you gets larger and this increase in latitude of exploration spills over to other areas of your life. If you find yourself exploring in work, you'll find yourself exploring in your social life, your personal life, etc. As you keep on doing this, you realize the fact that there is no, or ever was, a box drawn around you and that it was all in your head the entire time.

What about those times when you risk it and it is just about ONE shot; like when you go for it on 4th down during the national championship game? Isn’t that a big risk? How can that be exploration you say?

When it comes down to those times, those aren’t really risks from the coach’s point of view. What the audience doesn’t see are all the times that the coaches ran risks during the pre season, going for it on 4th down in the middle of other games, the hundreds of times they went through this exact same scenario in practice, etc.

You see, the coaches took many risks BEFORE this moment to explore how to handle this type of situation if it were to ever come up in the future. Meanwhile, everyone at home is thinking this is a HUGE risk, a big gamble to go for it on fourth down, but the players and the coach know otherwise. It’s not a risk because they’ve explored this scenario many times before so they know what to do and how to deal with it when the situation actually came.

So must it be with you. When you begin to take little risks of exploration, you make yourself bold enough to take those big risks that appear to be like do or die situations from the outside, but you will smile on the inside because you know otherwise.

Change the labels. Go on a journey of exploration and focus on the desired outcome and the word risk will have power over you no more. When you do this on a consistent basis, you'll find that a new label for risk emerges.


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