Thursday, November 18, 2010

Take healthy risks for positive rewards

My motto was “Vote for Weaver, he’ll work like a beaver.”  It was a lousy slogan, true, and may have been one of the reasons I failed in my run for student-council president.  Another possible reason for not winning could easily have been that students didn’t want me to be their president!  At the time, I didn’t care the reason.  Of course, I ran against one of the most popular guys in the school and losing was a foregone conclusion (had I really considered it), but I had one heck of a good time making posters and banners, giving speeches, and shaking hands.  I gave it a lot of time and effort. 

At the time I didn’t think of it as a risk, although I stepped far beyond my comfort zone to do it.  Now that I look back, I found the experience to be valuable in both learning and personal growth.  I had never done anything like it before.  From my previous leadership experiences — head of the hall monitors, captain of the junior deputies, leader of my scout troop and my cub scouts as well, president of junior achievement — I realized this experience was just one more on my growth chart.  I really believed I had the interest of students at heart, and there were some changes I wanted to work on during my term — giving students more freedom and responsibility.  Also, I never thought about failure.  Even when I failed, I didn’t look back.  It had no immediate effect on me.  (Long term, it gave me an essay topic some 50 years hence!) 

Until now I haven’t reflected on the whole experience.  By challenging what was, looking to what could be, and having a healthy disregard for the impossible, I truly thought I could make a difference in the students’ world and in that of those people around me.  I thought big.  A risk taker — and I certainly didn’t think of myself as one at the time — challenges his or her comfort zone and becomes comfortable being uncomfortable.  

One of the things about running for student-council president that stands out in my mind is all the preparation that went into it.  I remember, for example, that all my friends who supported me had examined the situation and thought I could win.  We began early, even before my chief competitor (and winner) entered the race.  We knew the risk of losing, however, all of us thought the challenge and the run would be fun — there was really nothing to lose except, perhaps, our pride, but a loss of pride never entered our mind.  We were young; who cared? 

It was the group as a whole that clarified the objectives of the campaign, agreed on the slogan I came up with, evaluated basic approaches we needed to take, and decided on me to spearhead the movement — as the one most willing (or stupid enough!) to take the risk.   We planned the posters, designed banners, prepared small business cards with the slogan to hand out, even decided where we would stand around the school (covering all the exits) to hand out the cards and shake hands.  The strategy was a saturation campaign so everyone would at least know who I was.  Not a great deal of thought was given to campaign promises, the need for change, or any kind of campaign platform, and that, indeed, may have been one of our weaknesses.  These latter three items were to be handled solely in the campaign speech. 

Implementation was simple.  The group (there were about 5-10 of us) worked together on the strategy, and each member of the group was given a job to do with respect to advertising — seeking permission to hang the banner, obtaining janitorial help (a ladder) to hang it, getting the posters and business cards finished and then putting them up and handing them out.  Other members of the group worked on the campaign speech.  All of us looked at the entire experience as an adventure, not as a set of risks.  “Risks” were never a consideration.  To complete the adventure, we all looked forward to the action forthcoming. 

Part of any true risk-taking experience, too, is evaluation.  If you are to learn anything from what has taken place, some assessment must occur.  What did you do that was right or that worked?  Where did the campaign go wrong or what didn’t work?  Where could the entire experience have been improved?  That is, what could you have done better?  What could you have done that you didn’t do?  Overall assessment may be helpful as well.  Given what you know now, how might you approach such a situation differently?  Did you achieve the goals you set for yourself?  What were the obstacles, and how could you overcome them in the future? 

There were several important learnings that emerged from my run for student-council president.  First, and this is supported by research, I never regretted the effort.  A report in the journal Psychological Science reveals that whether you miss achieving a goal by a little or a lot, you won’t lament going after it nearly as much as you think you will.  The failures from risk-taking behavior, for the most part, don’t last long with respect to regret, sorrow, sadness, disappointment, or residual unhappiness. 

The second set of learnings from my run for president is that I still got a great learning experience, I still got the peace of mind that comes from knowing that I tried doing something,
and I still got the knowledge of how to do something.  My mind was now freed up to start working on other things.  As a kid, I was never a slacker; I always had things to do; and I always worked hard at whatever I tried. 

From this experience — and other similar risk-taking adventures — I have some advice for those who want to increase their ability at taking risks.  First, approach any risk with a positive mental attitude and strong positive expectations.  You must slay the dragons of negativity as soon as you notice them creeping in. Take any risk with an intensely strong belief that you will succeed. 

Second, if you approach any risk with a success mindset and the right mental attitude, more often than not you are going to succeed.  You will be amazed at the resources you are able to assemble — your own and those of others — to make success possible. 

Third, if the risk you are planning to take (or are currently engaged in) is not right for you, you will start noticing your intuition giving you certain messages (e.g., warnings, more information, barriers, etc.) about it that will help you make the right decision. 

The important thing to remember when it comes to taking risks is that you live life only once.  Life is too short to be wasted on things you don't want to do or on things that you have done over and over.  That’s how comfort zones develop.  You don't need to live on the sidelines. Trying to achieve new goals, cross fresh barriers, or develop new skills, will broaden your horizons, generate new knowledge, and expand your repertoire of options and alternatives.  With such results there will be no regrets, and you will die knowing that you did the best you could. Start now taking healthy risks.  If you believe you can, you can. 


Frances Lefkowitz, at, has an excellent essay entitled, “The importance of taking risks.” At the end of her essay, Lefkowitz discusses “The Rewards of Risk,” and ends her essay saying, “Perhaps the most immediate benefit of risk is that it's simply plain fun. Neuroscientists explain this bliss with biochemistry: New, challenging, and risky activities trigger the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that's part of the brain's reward system. Call it the ultimate antidote to boredom -- it's the best way I know of to wake up and feel fully and ecstatically alive.”  Lefkowitz also has an essay on “Risk-Taking Tips."

At Accessmy, Mary R. Rolison and Abraham Scherman, have a sophisticated essay entitled, “College student risk-taking from three perspectives.,” that I found both fascinating and enlightening.  Rolison and Scherman stated at the outset, “With so many college students taking risks involving so many negative consequences, it would be beneficial to have one general model or framework from which to understand college student risk-taking behavior,” but three were discussed, and no single unifying theory was proposed in the portion available online.  First, “one theory indicates that individual traits, such as self-esteem, social skills, impulse control, sensation-seeking, and locus of control, may explain risk-taking.”  Second, “problem-behavior theory has been offered as a way to explain risk-taking in adolescents and young adults.  Problem behavior theory looks at risk-taking from a developmental and personal environment interaction perspective.”  Third, “college student risk-taking could also be explained from the decision-making perspective. Furby and Beyth-Marom have proposed that adolescents may not be capable of competent decision-making.” 


Copyright November, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.


  1. Maximillion Ryan IIINovember 18, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    Believing you can - even when all other factors point to failure - can be the biggest boost in completing the task!

  2. That's true. It's also true that if the goal is unreasonable or beyond your capabilities, believing you can still accomplish the goal may be a big waste of time and effort. If you fail to set reasonable goals, beliefs may serve little benefit. The question then becomes, how do you know if a goal is reasonable BEFORE you set out to accomplish it? Some may be clear; others may not. You need an accurate and well-defined assessment tool.


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