The Psychological Benefits of Risk Taking

By: Rochelle Perper, Ph.D. | June 23, 2014

People tell me I’m a risk taker. The truth is, I do participate in “extreme” activities like dirt biking, surfing, and rock climbing. I’ve traveled to remote places, went sky diving, and recently went scuba diving to explore a wreck. I know that these activities carry risk. So, why do I do them?

The ability to take calculated risks is actually an essential human trait, crucial to our development as a species and as individuals. Our risk-taking ancestors were the survivors, the daring ones who took chances to adapt to a changing environment. Today, the same principle applies: in order to grow, we need to experience challenges and take risks.

Unfortunately, it can be a scary world out there, and we’re not always eager to engage it. We live in a culture of fear and as a society we have actually become more risk-adverse. The fact is, facing things that make us uncomfortable offers a cluster of psychological benefits that has been coined as “the risk-taker’s advantage.”

The benefits of risk taking:

  1. Unforeseen opportunities may arise
  2. Build confidence and develop new skills
  3. Develop sense of pride and accomplishment
  4. Learn things you might not otherwise
  5. The chance to actively pursue success
  6. Spurs creativity
  7. Opportunity to create change in your life
  8. Develop emotional resilience
  9. Feel more engaged and happy

How to start?

What would life be like if you did something that scared you every single day? Taking risks can lead to new and interesting relationships, experiences, places, and knowledge. Consider the reasons why you are shying away from taking on a challenge, and what you are really scared of.

Risk doesn’t start and stop with a skydiving trip or a big career change; it’s with the small things. If you haven’t found yourself taking risks lately, select a small but manageable risk that is important for its own sake. The experience will show you something special about life regardless of what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow.

When you embrace the idea of risk-taking and what it can do for your life, and if you believe that stepping outside of your comfort zone on a daily basis and trying new things is a good way to live, then try some of the following risks:

  • Talk to a stranger
  • Speak your mind
  • Stand up to an offensive joke
  • Travel somewhere new
  • Ask for something
  • Break a pattern
  • Try a new type of food
  • Call an old friend
  • Go back to school
  • Start a business
  • Pursue your dream job
  • Learn a new sport
  • Join a support group
  • Tell someone your fears
  • Share your art with someone
  • Tell someone you appreciate them
  • Make a commitment to the person you love

What are the risks?

Fear of failure and feelings of shame and embarrassment can hold us back to taking on a challenge. A wise person once said, “If you’re not failing, you’re probably not trying hard enough.” In order to take on risks, one must consider failure as an option, an opportunity to learn and grow – and a necessary part of the process.

As with any risk, there is always something at stake. Just because you are taking risks doesn’t mean that you do it haphazardly. Prepare to take risks by education yourself on the possible fall-out, do your homework and understand the importance of implementation and follow-through. Negative risks are impulsive and emotionally driven, positive risks are calculated.

You must think them through, and anticipate what could happen before you metaphorically (or physically!) jump.

The times that I am happiest with my life are also the times when I step outside of my comfort zone and take a risk on something that’s meaningful. So, whether it’s learning to scuba dive, taking a tour through Africa, taking a fitness class, or making a friend, I wish you well on the journey and trust that it will be worth your while.

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