16 01 2008


Are you a risk-taker? What types of risks do you tend to take? (e.g. emotional, physical, financial, professional) Taking risks can help you grow,develop,learn,get unstuck,become transformed. Women are usually not encouraged to take risks as men are..and for good reason. The world is less safe for women;thus parents are more protective of their little girls right from the start. Do you ever remember your mother saying “go on out and take some risks today, dear?” Unfortunately, some studies show that a condition of “learned helplessness” can occur where girls learn to depend upon others to do things for them and to take care of them… If you take your “risk history” (a long list of the risks you have taken in your lifetime like learning to walk/ride a bike, etc) – you may see how you “grew/learned” from each risk. And, the more risks we take the more courage we have to take more risks…like developing a “risk muscle” that strengthens the more it’s used.
In his book Risking, author Viscott states:

If you want to feel secure
Do what you already know how to do.
But if you want to grow…
Go to the cutting edge of your competence,
   which means a temporary loss of security.
So, whenever you don’t quite know
What you are doing
   that you are growing…

Risking takes us out of our Comfort Zone into a Learning/Growing Zone. Imagine a circle – this is your Comfort Zone – remaining in this zone too long can become stagnation. The outer boundary of this Comfort Zone is our cutting edge/growing edge. When we take a risk we break through this Edge..into the Learning Zone..This zone can feel disorienting..it is the unknown/an area of transition..a temporary loss of security. However,if we can tolerate remaining in this zone, we eventually develop the knowledge or skills we need for personal growth – thus we expand our comfort zone over our lifetime. For instance, remember how you felt when you learned to drive a car with a stick shift? I remember being very self conscious and aware of every movement. I made lots of mistakes..but that was learning. Now, when I drive, I am completely comfortable and unaware of my movements- back into my my Comfort Zone, now expanded.

A process of learning goes like this: first there is unconscious incompetence (we don’t know what we don’t know); then conscious incompetence (we know what we don’t know); step 3) is conscious competence (we are aware of what we know); the final step is unconscious competence (we now know it so well that we do it automatically) – we are back into our Comfort Zone again. Research shows that neural pathways in the brain develop more thickly or we actually develop new neural passages as we learn new things. Thus there is physiologic proof that risk-taking is the path to personal growth!

Back to the circle model – from comfort zone to learning zone we need to be careful when take risks that we don’t go too far out of our Comfort Zone – beyond the Learning Zone – into the Anxiety Zone. No learning can occur in this zone because all our energy is going to just managing/controlling the anxiety.
For each person this Circle Model differs – each of us has our own Comfort Zone – Learning Zone – Anxiety Zone.. The key is knowing when to stay in our Comfort Zone – choosing when to go to our Learning Zone – and being aware of when we are in our Anxiety Zone.

The role of a coach can be to help a client be aware of this growth process -to encourage her to go into her Learning Zone and support her in staying there in order to grow and learn.

Sometimes the risk taking process can be a long, slow process – but sometimes there can be a strong push through that growing edge — maybe because someone feels stuck. Ideally we want to choose our risks and decide when to take them (e.g. a “controlled or planned” risk). Of course, no matter how much one plans and prepares to take a risk, there is that moment when one must take the leap to action – the point of no return. For example, say you want to learn to fly on a trapeze. A “controlled risk” would mean learning and practicing the skills needed to accomplish your goal. Ultimately, however, you will have to let go of the trapeze to catch the other trapeze – that is the “moment of truth” in a risk – when you just have to let go and trust in “success”. However, even if you fail you will have learned what to do next time..we learn from our mistakes. Sometimes we are forced to take risk that we have not planned or controlled…risks we are not ready for – (e.g. a crisis occurs like a death or divorce or unexpected job change). We are forced out of our comfort zone at a time we weren’t expecting.. We have the opportunity to learn from these risks (Learning Zone) or be overwhelmed by anxiety(Anxiety Zone) and thus learn nothing….

How does one take a “controlled” risk? There are three steps:
1) Preparation: what is the risk you want to take? what are your motivators? the desired results? the worst/best possible consequences? is this the right time? what steps do you need to take? who will support you?
2) Commitment: Take action..take the risk: go for it!
3) Completion: What were the results? What did you learn? How would you do it differently next time?

In a recent book,The Adversity Quotient , Paul Stoltz identifies three types of people: Quitters, Campers, and Climbers.. His premise is that the most successful people are those who not only tolerate but benefit from adversity..they learn and grow by the challenges and opportunities that the inevitable adversities in life give us.. He uses the analogy of climbing a mountain. Quitters don’t even try to climb…they give up and quit when they face any adversity..Campers climb a little way up the mountain…they deal as best they can with adversity but then they camp out and stay in their Comfort Zone). Climbers keep on going – they are the risk-takers who grow from the challenges of adversity; they go on to the top of the mountain (Stoltz compares this to reaching Self-Actualization as described by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs Theory).

What blocks us from taking risks?? If we can identify our blocks we have a greater chance of taking risks (being a Climber). Fear is the main block..fear of making mistakes, of losing friends, of getting hurt, of losing our identity…and mostly fear of the unknown. Susan Jeffers, in her book, encourages us to “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!”

We all have a need for security and we develop habits that are hard to break. Lack of self confidence/low self esteem can keep us from taking risks and, especially if we have a history of negative experiences from taking risks, we will be less likely to risk. Sometimes simple lack of information can keep us from taking risks we need to take. The people in our life play a big role..they can either keep us from risking or be big supporters of our risking.

What are your blocks? Make a list – how can you reduce or eliminate them? Again, a coach can help you identify and reduce your blocks to risk-taking; and a coach can help you with the The Three R’s of Successful Risk-taking:
1). Readiness: be aware of the type of risk you want to take..is this the right time? can you handle the consequences of the risk whether you succeed or fail? are they worth it? are the benefits greater than the losses?

Do you have a support system in place to help you take this risk? (a coach? a friend? a therapist?) What steps do you need to take to prepare you to take this risk? what is motivating you? what is blocking you?

2). Rehearsal: can you practice taking the risk ahead of time (e g. if you are going to give a speech – practice it!)..can you learn new skills before you take the risk?

3). Relaxation: remember to breathe and relax before and during the risk-taking

The 3 R’s can help you to take a risk, but ultimately you just have to take that leap into the unknown – break through your growing edge and just “go for it!” so…Think About This Today….

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out for another is to risk involvement
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing… does nothing… has nothing… is nothing.
You may avoid suffering and sorrow, but you simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love…..live
Chained by your certitudes, you are a slave; you have forfeited freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.
   (author unknown)



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