As a child, I loved taking risks. Growing up around rattlesnakes, barbed wire fences, and frisky horses that liked to kick the saddle out of my hands, there was very little I thought I couldn’t do.
The key was putting my mind to it.
With age comes wisdom—or so I thought. As an adult, I was less amenable to taking risk. I was very strategic about relationships, careers, and spiritual formation. And I realize that there is a place for strategy, as long as it does not make your thinking soft.
Soft thinking is the opposite of mental toughness. If you suffer from soft thinking, you are afraid of seizing opportunities because you are afraid that your emotions, thoughts, or behavior might spin out of control—or, you are afraid to leave your comfort zone.
As it turns out, the key to managing risk is still in our mind.
There is no way to sugar-coat it—you’re afraid of risk and don’t seize the opportunities in your life because you don’t:
1. EMBRACE A LITTLE TERROR IN YOUR LIFE
Strong minds seize opportunities because they allow themselves to be terrified—quite often. As a result, terror is a feeling that they are familiar with.
If you continually place yourself in situations where there is a little risk involved and the outcome is not known, your comfort zone is stretched.
Our brain likes to feel comfortable and seeks pleasure over pain. That’s why we’re tempted to abandon ship at the first sign of distress.
Our desire to avoid losses is almost twice as powerful as our desire to take a risk. This explains why we often walk away or fail to recognize new opportunities.
If you start your day without feeling a little terror from the challenges before you, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.
2. THINK FAST ENOUGH TO MOVE AHEAD OF THE HERD
Strong minds seize opportunities because their minds are agile and flexible.
Thinking fast is automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, and subconscious. It means we can throw out long debates in favor of snap judgments and hard-wired rules of thumb that have served us well in the past.
Thinking fast is driven by your past experiences and memories. If you move into your discomfort zone on a regular basis, you frequently experience doses of terror and uncertainty. As a result, your mind does not get mired down with fear when new opportunities present themselves.
Fast thinking is efficient and effective, and essential if we want to seize opportunities in the fast-moving world of life and business.
3. THINK FORWARD WITH CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION
Strong minds seize opportunities because they do not allow themselves to get stuck in a rut.
In business and life, the comfort zone has never been a good place to be. It may feel comfortable but then we face another kind of risk: one of being irrelevant, obsolete—and extinct.
If you plan to think forward, you will need to continually question conventional wisdom, reinvent your work, and welcome disruptive innovation.
In short, you will need to live in a petri dish in which you are continually experimenting with new ideas and maneuvering in a perpetual zone of distress and uncertainty—and sometimes, even embarrassment.
4. MOVE ON FROM THE PAST
Strong minds seize opportunities because they learn from their past mistakes so they don’t repeat them.
Our ability to think fast and think forward is determined by our brain, and our past behavior.
As children, our brains were flexible, creative, and unpredictable. As adults, however, our brain becomes more rigid—anything with unvaried repetition like careers, cultural activities, and skills all lead to rigidity.
Once we make the same decision a second or third time, a habit is formed, and one that becomes quite inflexible.
Rigid patterns of thinking tend to become self-sustaining over time. Habits of behavior produced from past failure is not the same thing as learning from a mistake.
Habits are often a default reaction that leads to rigid thinking; learning, on the other hand, requires a flexible mindset that is always collecting and processing new information.
Often, we are not aware of these rigid patterns of thinking until we pinpoint their genesis in our memory. At that point, we recognize them for what they are and are able to move on from them.
Turn your ghosts into ancestors.
5. FEED YOUR CURIOSITY
Strong minds seize opportunities because they are always looking for new things to do, and once they are engaged, they turn their full attention to it.
Researchers have found that curiosity is the single necessary condition for creating a flexible and agile mind.
When we are curious, we are engaged. Giving a subject our full attention and concentration is important if we want our brain to be more flexible and agile. It’s also important that, once we thoroughly understand a subject, we move on to something else.
To keep the brain fit, we must learn something new, rather than simply replaying already-mastered skills.
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Never lose a holy curiosity—Albert Einstein
How have you taken a risk and seized an opportunity?
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