How to Become Less Afraid of Taking Risks

11/04/2016 09:40 am ET Updated Nov 04, 2016

Risk-taking can be terrifying.  When an opportunity presents itself, sometimes all we can do is provide the reasons why we should not take the risk--it's not our time, we don't know enough, we don't have enough, we aren't enough.  Ouch.  The sentiment that the stuff that constitutes ourselves is not capable of being substantial enough to overcome a task (or to eclipse our doubt) is frightening.  Our fear that we will fail on top of the fear that we aren't capable, leaves little room for risk-taking.  Instead of making an assessment--yes or no--we've now managed to bum ourselves out severely.  We also set an expectation, going forward, of not trying— and not evaluating new opportunities.  We've decided that our wheelhouse contains the same set of skills that we’ve always had, and that stagnation defines everything we do.

Perhaps you aren't this harsh with yourself.  Maybe you revisit opportunities or examine how you may improve, in order to become better qualified the next time.  Enough of us consistently limit our capabilities. We wonder whether we can accomplish what we set out to do. This self-doubt warrants building a process that not only increases our esteem in the things we can competently do by determining how and when to acquire skills. The following are three direct approaches to establishing that framework, and becoming less afraid of taking risks that might bring you opportunities.

(1) Develop Grit.

According to Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, grit is a mutable characteristic.  This means that it can develop over time—and that if you haven’t built up your ability to follow a course consistently, even in the face of pitfalls and failure, you can grow your capacity over time.  Grit looks like the ability to withstand harsh circumstances, and to trod through difficulties to receive the results you desire.   Duckworth refers to an interview with Will Smith on the Tavis Smiley show, where Smith, when discussing talent and doggedness of pursuit insists, “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I'm not afraid to die on a treadmill [...]  I will not be out-worked.  Period [...] You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be--all of those things, you've got it on me in nine categories.  But if we get on a treadmill together [...] there's two things: you're getting off first, or I'm gonna die.  It's that simple."

That level of stick-to-itiveness, defined as grit, is what more often than not determines outcomes—even more than talent and IQ.  Grit can be sharpened over time, by ensuring that the work that you engage aligns with your "ultimate concern," so that while you may encounter challenges to your goal, you persist in pursuing it.

(2) Make better assessments to take calculated risks.

If you are afraid to take risks, chances are you don't have much confidence in your ability to make assessments.  If that is the case, it's okay.  It is something you can change.  You can work on making better assessments by evaluating circumstances more thoroughly and making better decisions.  These concepts are all central to the kinds of outcomes you want to produce consistently.  You have first to acknowledge that you could stand improvements in your process, and then commit to a framework for the above.   Your structure might look like a pro/con system for evaluating assessments. 

You may ask yourself the six core questions (who, what, when, where, why, how).  You could even create a process where you write your initial assessments and revisit at regular intervals to write second, third, and fourth impressions.  Additionally, you can consult trusted friends.  With the data that you've received from their impressions and your own, you can draw parallels and determine if an opportunity or situation is right for you.  This process gives some distance and perspective. Evaluating circumstances functions in much the same way, except you select outside sources--consulting books and articles, overseeing what ancient scripts or books of old, or philosophies had to say about a subject and construing parallels to your situation. 

(3) Create space for reflection.

Space for reflection looks different for different people. If you meditate, create focused silence to think outside of your problem.  Search for answers by seeking oneness within yourself. Usually, introspection will come after extended silence and inner focus, and you can use that reflection to inform you of how and what to think about the circumstances that surround you, and your reaction to it. 

Your presence at the moment gives you proper focus and opportunity to reflect on the circularity of life.  In this sense, while technology and innovation have improved our world tremendously, relationships and the nature of humans has not changed so much that we cannot find resonance in consulting works that have stood the test of time, for themes that have always been apparent in human lives. To that extent, if you are a person of faith, pray.  It has the same benefit of presence that meditation offers--focusing you inside of yourself and pushing you to be present.  Whatever your faith regime encourages you to do might be helpful in generating insights and in calming you so that you can maintain a reasoned approach when uncovering how to stand in the face of difficulty and how to approach fear, and how to evaluate where it comes from and what to do about it.

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