At the end of their lives, people often say that their biggest regret is that they didn’t take enough risks. This is especially true for women, who are much less likely to take risks than men. Being overly cautious can lead to many life regrets and missed opportunities, which is probably why people who take more risks report being happier with their lives. And it’s a good idea to take a risk as soon as possible: Research has shown that the willingness to take risks decreases significantly as we grow older.
So why do we often choose not to take risks, even if it means letting valuable opportunities pass us by? Simply put, it’s because taking a risk involves the chance of losing something valuable to us – whether it’s money, confidence, or self-respect. There are no guarantees when it comes to risks, since failure is possible. The truth is, though, that many of life’s worthwhile endeavors involve taking risks: entering into a new relationship, finding a more fulfilling job, or anything that involves stepping out of your comfort zone with the chance of improvement. If you feel like you’ve been settling, and there’s a risk you want to take, here are a few things to consider:
Choose Your Risk Wisely. Just like any decision you make, your risks should be carefully calculated. Taking a risk can feel like jumping off a cliff, so before you dive off of it, make sure you’ve thought it through. If something goes awry, will you be damaged financially? How about emotionally or physically? It’s okay if you know you will be disappointed if things don’t go as planned, but make sure that possible failure isn’t irreversible.
Remember, It Won’t Kill You. As humans, we tend to overestimate the negative impact that a risk will have on our wellbeing if we don’t get the results we want. According to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, each of us have a set-point for our level of happiness, which we go back to time and time again – no matter what happens to us. For example, people who win the lottery will only become happier for a few months, and then they will return to their baseline happiness level. Conversely, people who suffer tragic accidents and end up paralyzed will be negatively affected for a while, but will go back to being as happy as they were before the accident within six months. So if you’re worried that your risk will result in permanently negative consequences, think again: Chances are you will end up returning to your happiness set-point regardless of what happens.
Ask Yourself What You Would Be Missing If You Backed Out. It helps to look at what it would cost you not to take the risk – would you always wonder what would have happened if you had gone for it? Would avoiding this risk be out of fear? Sometimes the possibility of personal growth means the risk is worth it. If that’s the case, it’s time to step out of the box you’re in. If you don’t take risks, you significantly lower the possibility of personal growth, making it easy to feel stuck and frustrated.
Stop Making Excuses. Taking a risk means there’s a possibility that you may end up with results that are less than ideal. It’s common to rationalize fears by thinking of every possible logical reason not to take the risk. However, many of these reasons are just excuses to stay in your comfort zone. Challenge yourself by writing down all your reasons for not taking action and going through them, one by one. Are these actually good reasons to abstain from taking the risk? Or are they just excuses?
Start Small. If you can’t just plunge forward into the unknown, start taking small risks and work up to bigger ones. Not all of us are born with the natural ability to jump ahead. With practice, you can start building up your risk-taking skills right now. Try a strange new cuisine, or get a spontaneous haircut in a style that you haven’t tried before. Before you know it, you might just be ready for that big risk you’ve been meaning to take.