Sunday, June 27, 2010

Harness the Power of Risk

In a recent conversation, a young man expressed his concern about asking a woman out for a coffee date. He explained that he was feeling anxious, and wanted to know how to eliminate the risk associated with his request.

Later, a mother and her teenage son told me about his difficult first year of college. Since he hadn't performed as well as expected, his parents felt uncertain about the advisability of supporting his return, and wished they could eliminate the risk of doing so.

How do you eliminate "risk"?

To answer this question, consider the definition of "risk." The dictionary states, "the danger that injury, damage, or loss will occur."

Risk involves possibility.

In the first situation, the man hadn't dated the woman yet, so he had no relationship to lose. The possibility of injury or damage was not a physical likelihood. So what was he anxious about?

As he reflected on his feelings, he realized that most of his apprehension was historically based. In the past, he had been intimidated by interpersonal encounters, especially with women, and had experienced rejection and diminished self-esteem. Despite feeling more self-confident now, his anxiety about her response had well-established roots that produced a habitual (historical) reaction pattern of hesitation and fear.

In the other scenario, the college student's mother had been concerned about his adjustment to a large school even before he started. Then her anxieties were substantiated by his initial lackluster performance. Although he significantly improved in the second semester, his mother was now worried that the problems he had managing his first semester's social and academic activities would continue into his sophomore year. As a result, she felt nervous about the possibility of wasting money to pay for his education.

In both circumstances, people anticipated the reoccurrence of some unpleasant past experiences, and they couldn't see any other possibility. In this way, their past history dictated their dire expectations of the future.

As you can see, your perception of risk will be dramatically affected by your past history and habits. To change how you respond to "risk," you need to change your perception and habits.

To begin the process of change, write your responses to these questions:
  • What's a current situation (action) that involves some possibility of relative loss or harm for you, or feels like a risk?
  • What unpleasant past experiences and habits do you associate with this kind of risk?
  • What have you felt and how have you reacted in the past?
  • How would you like to feel and act in the current challenge?
  • What new skills or resources do you have?

Now you have articulated your history with this kind of risk, and what you want for the future. To freely engage in this new way depends upon these two factors:
  • Are you willing to accept and let go of the past?
  • Do you believe in your ability to act as you wish and competently manage your responses in the present?
When you answer "Yes!" to these questions, you declare your commitment to be fully responsible for yourself. You know that a past rejection or adverse experience does not necessitate a fearful reaction. The past is gone, no longer exists, and represents your having done the best you could at that time.

Now you can choose how you will respond to any "risk" you encounter.

The world in which you live is a realm of fluctuating possibilities for growth, development, and expression. By taking "risks," you clarify and determine those possibilities that create options for you.

Anais Nin beautifully captures this compelling, life-giving nature of risk with her words:

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

Love and Peace,

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