I have a problem with hanging onto things too long.
One summer when I was a teenager, I went camping with a friend and his family to Kalamalka Lake in beautiful British Columbia. On the lake, there is a secluded spot with a high cliff face and an overhanging tree swing. My friend is a natural thrill-seeker and he couldn’t wait to take me to the swing.
He was charged up, but me? The tree swing scared the crap out of me. But rather than saying “no,” I lined up behind my friend. After he successfully launched into the water, it was my turn. So I grabbed onto the rope and did the only thing I knew to do: I held on.
I swung out over the lake and then gravity did it’s thing and carried me back, crashing into the tree. Shaken and completely embarrassed, I quickly decided to give it a second try. I think it was a combination of embarrassment and determination not to let a tree get the best of me. This time, I let go at the right time and plunged into the black water. (Excerpted from the 5 Things That Will Help You to Let Go of Your Past)
Most of us are not natural risk takers. In fact, each of us will face a great deal of anxiety and straight-up fear when we attempt to take a risk. Take a moment and imagine yourself in each of the following four scenarios:
- Striking up a conversation with a complete stranger
- Sharing one of your ideas in a meeting with other professionals
- Talking about your most important beliefs or a strongly held opinion
- Being vulnerable and sharing a personal area of need or struggle
Each of these risks may strike you with a different level of risk. That’s because our perception of risk consists of a variety of factors: our history, the group we are with when we consider our decision, our evaluation of the possibility that we could fail, and our desire to grow in a particular area.
Risk and growth
Risk is one factor in being a healthy, thriving person. Our belief in our ability to reach a goal, along with a willingness to take a risk are two behaviors that are essential to personal growth. According to Psychology Today blogger, Angie LeVan, risk taking can support you to feel happier and they will allow you to:
- Practice decision making and evaluating different aspects of your choices
- Step out of your comfort zone as you learn about and expand your limits
- Learn skills that help you to improve yourself, such as your ability to manage your emotions in a variety of circumstances
- Grow as an individual and cultivate a thriving life
You may be in recovery from addiction or a mental illness such as depression. Or you may be working to develop your skills in public speaking, your confidence level or your ability to meet and communicate with someone you are attracted to. Whatever your goal might be, reasonable risks will help to push your growth into overdrive. But risk is a double edged sword because risk holds the possibility of growth along with the very real possibility of failure.
An important part of maturity is learning to avoid unhealthy risks. Intentionally exposing yourself to unhealthy risks can create triggers and stress that may feel overwhelming. Some examples of unhealthy risks are behaviors that are illegal, aggression, stealing or other criminal behaviors. Other examples of unhealthy risks are making quick decisions when you have not thought through the decision or the process. Putting together a hastily prepared presentation or striking up a conversation with a stranger without having any idea what to say may seem like small risks, but a little preparation will help you to learn from your experience.
Preparation will help to positively set you up for the next time that you will take a risk. Our minds tend to recall the most recent experience with a behavior, so having a positive experience with risk taking will help to create momentum towards your goals.
Positive risks will push your comfort zone, they will allow you to take on challenges that contribute to your personal growth and development. Positive risks include building new interests, taking on a goal that you are not sure you can achieve, practicing new behaviors in your relationships, or exposing yourself to new employment roles. These risks will help you to develop your resilience.
1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness
2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity
So how do you know how much risk is reasonable for you?
The answer to this question: It depends. The evaluation of risk is personal. For more about evaluating your level of personal risk you may want to see this review by the Institute for Risk Management.
The acronym R.I.S.K. can help you to consider four questions to help you decide whether you are ready for a risk:
Realistic – Is it reasonable, is it realistic? Based on your stage of recovery, your growth as a person and your goals.
Interesting – What is compelling about this risk? Why do you want to take this risk NOW?
Support – What support do you have? What do they think about your ability to handle this type of risk? Do you need to be pushed to take a healthy risk?
Knowledge – What will this teach you, what skills could you learn if you succeed and more importantly, if you fail?
Right now, I am not planning on any tree-swinging but I am planning some international travel in the next while. I am also investing more in both new and existing relationships. And I have agreed to sit as a workshop panelist at an upcoming conference on the workplace and mental health. Some of these risks feel manageable and others put me a little into my personal “Red Zone.”
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Keep it Real
Photo by Lori