TAKING RISKS IN 2019: WHAT CAN RESEARCH TELL US? BY LLOYD THOMAS

Today is the first day of the year 2019.  Will this year be the one in which you attain all your “new year’s resolutions?” Have you already set your goals for 2019?  Are you ready to take the deliberate risks to make your desired changes manifest in your life.  Nobody knows from heartbeat to heartbeat how much time you have left to create your desired outcomes in the future.  Taking the risks required to move you into an unknown future can be daunting as well as anxiety provoking.  So today, I want to write about effective risk-taking.

Risk, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  For some it is riskier to skydive than to sign a 30-year mortgage. Others believe becoming a parent is more risky than downhill skiing.  Some people who get a thrill out of risking death and disability are sometimes intimidated by a major commitment to such an outcome as marriage.  Without risk, you can’t make money by investing.  Without taking any risks at all, you never learn or do anything new…like fulfilling your new year’s resolutions.

There are those of us who prefer one level of risk over another.  There are those who seem to have more guts than brains, who prefer the all-out, go-for-it, sensation-loving, death-defying, thrill of uncertainty.  These “daredevils” thrive on that uncertainty.  They also are better handlers of crises.  They have had more practice.  They cope with stress better because they have rehearsed and refined their personal coping behaviors through managing the “thrill” of risk-taking. They often find more effective solutions to problems, and find them quicker, because they have accustomed themselves to finding fast solutions to difficult situations.  They have mastered challenges before.

Compared to non-risk-takers, persons who regularly take risks tend to experience less fear and anxiety.  Risk takers have tested their mettle again and again, so they have learned to use their fear to their advantage.  They have a strong confidence in their own coping skills.  Studies have shown that people who take risks are usually self-motivated and are more creative.  They like to make up their own minds, and they are receptive to novelty and uncertainty.  They do well in unprecedented situations which require creative solutions.

Does this mean all of us should run out and become greater risk takers?  Yes and no!  Yes, if you engage in known, deliberative, productive or positive risks.  No, if you are prone to destructive or negative risks.  What is the difference between the two?  Positive risks are those risks which lead to outstanding achievement in sports, business, science, art and even in interpersonal relationships.  Examples include: competitive sports, public speaking, long-distance running, scuba diving, etc.  Positive risks are almost any activity that boosts your level of arousal and allows you to refine your own coping skills.

Negative risks include activities like: heavy drinking, reckless driving, experimenting with drugs, cheating on one’s spouse, gossiping, gambling, shoplifting…and all other antisocial or unhealthy activities that lead to weakening your ability to cope with life, or generate greater misery and stress within it.

In his book, “risking,” psychiatrist David Viscott, offers some guidelines for deciding whether or not to risk.  I’ve modified them and offer them to you below.

  1. Don’t risk out of fear, anger, hurt, guilt or depression.  These feelings should be resolved on their own, not through a risky action.
  2. Don’t risk just to prove yourself…to you or anyone else.
  3. Risk with a clear goal in mind and don’t combine risks unnecessarily.
  4. Know the possible loss involved and become aware of everything that can go wrong…and why.  If you don’t expect the loss, you don’t understand the risk.  Ask lots of questions.  Become informed.  Don’t deny or ignore problems or hazards.  Fully understand the nature of the risk.
  5. Don’t pretend you’re afraid if you are.  Only fools do not fear danger.  If the fear does not go away, maybe you are risking too much.  Monitor your fear level and use it to gauge your continuing to risk.
  6. Do it!  Once you have decided the risk is worth taking and the time is right, act decisively. In the face of resistance, don’t give up too soon.  But don’t continue to risk once you know you’ve lost.  Let a bad situation come to an end as soon as possible.
  7. Take the time to learn from your mistakes and correct those you can.  Sometimes even when the act of risking is underway, mistakes still can be fixed.  Allow for self-correction.

Taking risks is a skill.  Strengthening or honing that skill in 2019 just might increase your ability to begin and persevere in fulfilling any goals or desired outcomes you want to attain this year.  Learn it and you add a lustiness and a joy (beauty?) to being alive.

 

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