Effective FBI counterintelligence agents know that a basic question to be answered before a foreign spy can be recruited to work for the U.S. government is this: what kind of risk taker is the spy?
By definition, risk means a situation involving exposure to danger. In the case of a foreign spy, the danger was getting caught and ending up in jail for treason—or worse.
Like many others, I tend to fear what I don’t understand. Taking risks has never been easy for me, whether it was getting married or applying for a new job.
Our avoidance of risk is rooted from negative experiences that bruised our ego and are still lodged in our memory. Avoiding risks to life and health are common sense—most of the time.
However, there is no success without risk. Risk-aversion is a common tactic that substitutes deliberate ignorance for thoughtful planning.
A leader’s ability to make their own luck is closely woven into their ability to take smart risks, and their ability to take smart risks has a profound impact on happiness and life satisfaction.
The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark—Michelangelo
Here are 3 smart ways you can embrace risk and find true success:
1. LISTEN TO YOUR GUT FEELINGS
Smart leaders embrace risk by listening to what their gut instinct is telling them.
Research at the Brain and Creativity Institute has shown that gut-thinking is a good idea because there is a relationship between emotions, rational thinking, and our physical body. When we’ve accurately processed our emotions, they often accelerate our decision making process in the form of intuitions, hunches, and gut feelings.
For example, your brain can predict an outcome based on your perceptions (outside information) and your emotions (inside information). This combination of information results in a physical sensation—a gut feeling.
The quicker we get in touch with our emotions, the quicker we make our decisions. A good rule of thumb is not to just remember facts about past situations and their subsequent outcome—but also recall how you felt at the time.
Associating fact and emotion is critical to cultivating intuition, hunches, and gut feelings.
2. TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR BRAIN
Smart leaders embrace risk by rewiring their brain to learn new skills.
Until recently, the brain was regarded as an immutable organ that did not change after early childhood.
When we are faced with risk, we no longer need to revert to the same negative feelings that we once felt. If we take charge of our brain, we can train it to change its response to new situations and changes in our environment.
We are no longer captive to the way we once thought about risk. Our memories, behaviors, responses, and habits are not our destiny! We have more control over the way our brain thinks than we once believed.
3. CHANGE THE WAY YOUR BRAIN LOOKS AT RISK
Smart leaders embrace risk by changing their brain to look at risk differently.
You can do this by focusing your attention on the things in life that are most important. Wherever your attention goes, energy follows.
Most importantly, what comes to the attention of your brain also molds your way of thinking. Mental toughness is controlling your thoughts to get the results you are after.
Start by intentionally noticing where your attention is at any given moment. Follow these 3 steps:
- What is happening in your body at that same moment? Are you feeling calm or a sense of panic?
- What is it about where your attention is focused that makes you feel this way? Is it a thought from your past that keeps playing in your head like a broken record? Or, is it exactly where you want to be?
- What do you need to do to shift your attention in a different direction?
Since we now know that the brain is constantly seeking stimulation and rewards, it’s easier to understand how our fear of risk and avoidance of failure impacts what captures our attention.
A continuous molding of the brain is essential to knowing how to take smart risks. As with any skill, the more you practice and do it, the more natural it becomes.
Smart risk-taking can become a habit, like anything else. The simple practice of noticing where our attention is and bringing it back to where we want it to be plays a vital role in rewiring the way our brain looks at risk and uncertainty.
By repeating the three steps above, you will begin to develop the habits necessary to take small, smart risks. Once we identify habits that add value to our decision-making process, we can take a closer look at the ones we struggle with, and the ones that are holding us back from having the life we want.
The risk not taken is the opportunity lost—LaRae Quy
What risks have you taken that have brought you satisfaction in life and business?
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