11 February, 2019

Taking risks can radically redefine your success and personal growth, but one of the greatest initial challenges is daring to break out of routine in the first place.

Human beings like stability; it has allowed us to blossom and thrive as a species. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that we’re hardwired to avoid anything that disrupts the established routine.

From rules to hierarchies, human societies are structured to protect our resources and avoid loss at all costs. This natural aversion to loss is drummed into us by evolution, harking back to a time when taking reckless risks could result in losing precious food, or worse – becoming food yourself.

But of course, times have changed. People in developed societies lead comfortable and relatively prosperous lives, with an array of dinner options readily available at Tesco.

Yet the primal fear of loss still looms over us. In fact, from economics to ideologies, we become so attached to the things we accumulate, safeguarding our ‘resources’ against potential risks – even if they are mostly imagined.

As a species, we really hate losing – even more than we like winning – and this tendency towards loss aversion makes the status quo seem like a reliable and safe option. 

Learning how to fail

Needless to say, these primal instincts feed into the way we live our daily lives. From staying in a mundane job to holding back from asking for a payrise, the risk of jeopardising stability is what makes us say ‘not yet’ to the things we really want to do.

The fear of failure can be so potent that it overshadows the (often likely) possibility of winning. It means that we put off things that don’t directly contribute to our successes, even if they’re things that would allow us to develop in the long-term – that dream road trip across South America is postponed indefinitely in favour of a promotion. 

So how can we shift our mindset?

The key to this lies in redefining success. If we only measure success in terms of monetary value, it closes us off to anything that might pose a risk to our material stability. If, however, we shift the emphasis to personal growth, the threat of failure becomes redundant; every failure becomes a lesson learned, taking us one step closer to our full potential. As Einstein supposedly said, ‘failure is success in progress’.

The risks worth taking

Releasing yourself from a monetary definition of success suddenly opens up countless opportunities – a world full of risk and wonder, in which anything is possible. 

Mariana Alessandri, writing for philosophy magazine Womankind, states: ‘by anticipating instead of fearing failure, you can freely become who you want to be.’ That’s to say, learning to be comfortable with the prospect of failure allows us to follow difficult but worthwhile goals.

Womankind offers a simple thought experiment: what would you do if success didn’t matter? To which projects would you commit your time and energy if doing it made not an ounce of difference; something you’d do because you believe in it, enjoy it or feel that it would give meaning to your life?

Through identifying the things you would do even if you knew you would fail, you suddenly have nothing to lose and everything to gain. This small but powerful shift in mindset is a vital step that will help you achieve your goals. 

Daring to succeed

Taking risks allows us to expand the parameters of our experiences. By widening the parameters and increasing the variables within our lives, we effectively increase the number of ‘random’ events that can arise – what some might call ‘luck’.

But actually, as Tina Seelig says, there’s nothing random about luck. What seems like a lucky blessing is simply a consequence of introducing an element of risk into your life.

Children take risks all the time, which is how they learn so much so quickly. Take the example of riding a bike: a child can go from someone who doesn’t ride a bike to someone who does, in literally a couple of hours.

Naturally curious and adaptable, children are able to absorb immense amounts of information and learn new skills at incredible speed – and a lot of this comes down to taking risks. As Adrian Voce puts it: ‘children are instinctively making hundreds of decisions as they assess the level of risk they want to take, mastering day-by-day an increasing repertoire of skills to add to their bank of experience.’

It’s not necessarily the case that this capacity abandons us as we enter adulthood; but it’s certainly true that we’re conditioned into a mindset that prioritises financial gain over personal growth, in which the risk of loss is a daunting prospect. But, as Arianna Huffington tells the Guardian, ‘failure is not the opposite of success but a stepping stone to success.’ 

Adopting a positive attitude to failure doesn’t mean jumping into big risks – it’s about slowly adjusting to life outside the comfort zone.

Through embracing the possibility of failure, and opening ourselves to a world of risk, we can redefine what success means all together and put learning at the forefront of experience and personal development. In short, daring to fail is the key to success in life. 

Take a risk and dare to venture into the world

5 simple steps to take more risks:

  1. Make a list of the things you would do even if you knew you would fail. By doing so, you identify the things that are ultimately worth doing regardless of the result.
  2. List the things that you’ve been putting off and saying ‘not yet’ to, and set yourself a time limit to achieve them by.
  3. Commit to doing one thing that scares you a week, whether it’s abseiling at a local climbing centre or having an honest conversation about an issue that’s been bothering you at work.
  4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: expose yourself to small risks on a regular basis. As you gradually build up a reserve of confidence and daring through small regular risks, the big things will suddenly seem achievable.
  5. Reflect on how you feel after taking a risk. Whether you keep a journal or simply internalise it mentally, review how you feel before and after taking risks, then reflect back on it after a couple of weeks to assess your growth.

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