Risk Has Two Sides - Here's Why We Often Dismiss the Upside Potential
As you move in the direction of your dreams, you often feel a pull to do things you’ve never done before. The comfort zone is no longer comfortable — you know you need to take chances and go beyond the limits of your mind. Your heart knows that growth is where the treasure lies. But your brain thinks otherwise; it’s a lover of comfort zones who balks at the idea of risk and uncertainty.
FEAR: THE SIGNAL THAT YOU’RE STEPPING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Pursuing new paths and taking risks always comes with a feeling of fear. If it didn’t, we should be worried because that would signify that our brain isn’t doing its job. The brain activates the fear response to protect us from danger — whether that danger is real (a tiger behind the bush) or perceived (in our minds).
The beauty of being human is that we also have a mind that can discriminate between the different levels of danger.
The mind is our gateway to responding consciously, rather than reacting automatically.
When we feel fear, the path of least resistance is to stay in the comfort zone of what we’ve always known. The path that provides the potential for greater rewards is harder to step onto— it requires mental effort.
LOGIC AS THE BRIDGE
Logic can be the bridge to get us on the path to taking the calculated risks that may be necessary to pursue our dreams. Once we know we are not our fear but the one who perceives and feels it, we can use our mind to analyze potential scenarios from a more objective and rational standpoint. Instead of running away from the fear response, we can utilize it as a guide in a longer process of decision-making.
THE GREAT NEWS: THE OUTCOME IS UNCERTAIN
Words like “uncertainty” and “risk” are often viewed in a negative manner. But on the scale of probabilities, an uncertain outcome could result in something positive just as it could result in something negative.
Being “realistic” too often means only considering one side of the probability curve — the downside risk. The other side of that curve contains all of the wonderful possibilities our minds can’t yet picture: the upside risk.
Why is it that downside risks feel so much bigger in our minds than the upside possibilities?
The brain’s negativity bias will always put our focus on what could go wrong first. It doesn’t take into consideration the fact that things could turn out far better than it can imagine.
Downside risks can often be more tangibly calculated while upside risks cannot. The brain only contains data from our past experiences and knowledge. Even our imagination is limited by the mental concepts we are familiar with. We literally don’t have the words to describe the field of possibilities that lies behind the walls of those concepts. To the brain, this is the territory of uncertainty. The brain’s motto could be summed up as: “Remember your failures and just stick with how you’ve always done things and with what you know.”
How do we overcome this automatic focus on the downside that triggers our fears?
A BALANCE TO YOUR REALISM
Both sides of the curve — the upside and the downside — need to be taken into account to fully analyze any situation.
Planning for upside risks requires having a vision to help us focus on specific strategies to get to a desired outcome.
Planning for downside risks eases our minds about potentially negative outcomes and allows us to move forward despite those risks. Having a plan “B” can give us the freedom to move towards plan “A.”
Here is a simple but powerful exercise to help you balance out your realism and overcome that fear of taking action:
ANALYSIS OF WORST & BEST CASE SCENARIOS TO OVERCOME YOUR FEARS
By looking at both sides of the probability curve, this exercise helps counterbalance some of the negative thinking that automatically happens. You are creating a space between you and your fear and using logic to weigh the potential outcomes.
1. Get clear on your vision or goal. Zoom in on all the fears.
What specific actions would you need to take in order to move closer towards that vision?
What is the one thing that is holding you back most right now? What is your biggest fear?
Become aware of that fear. Sit with it for a moment. Notice that you are the one observing the fear. You are not it. How else would you be able to perceive that you “are afraid”?
Now that you’ve disidentified from your fear, you can look at the situation from a more objective standpoint.
2. Consider both sides of the probability curve: Upside & Downside
Make two columns in your journal or Word document: Worst Case & Best Case.
Worst Case Scenario
Make a list of some of the worst things that could happen if all of your fears were to unfold. For each of these, consider how you could resolve that potential problem by writing “If this happens, I Could……”
If the fear is a social one more than one having to do with physical comforts, think about how you could be compassionate towards the people that you are afraid will judge you or misunderstand you.
Think about the specific steps you need to take right now and the fears that are associated with each step. Does taking this particular step decrease or increase the possibility of the worst case scenario?
Best Case Scenario
List as many potential best things that could happen if everything worked out according to the plan. See everything going even better than you imagine. Describe how that looks and feels.
Then, think about what other doors might open up if those things happened. Under each wonderful outcome, list what this would enable you to do by writing: “Now I Can also…..”
Keep going as long as you like. “If THIS happened, then it would enable me to do THIS…” etc.
Get excited about all the possibilities that open up when your best case scenario unfolds. Get excited about how you could spend your days working towards something that fulfills you and that helps others.
Use this release of dopamine as the fuel to propel you forward anytime you feel fear coming on. If you don’t turn your fear into fuel it will accumulate in your body as stress.
Be grateful that your fears are confirming that you are on the path of growth!
As you went through this exercise, You may have noticed how easily you slipped into the negativity bias — exaggerating the chances of potential failure while underestimating the chances of the Best Case scenario. Remember, that’s just your brain trying to protect you. Be logical and consider both scenarios.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO LEARN LESSONS AS YOU GO
When you make a leap into the unknown you could fall. But you could also fly higher than you have ever thought was possible. If you fall, you will get back up. You’ve used your mistakes to correct your course in the past. Every time you learned how something doesn’t work, you came one step closer to figuring out how it does. Without those experiences, you would not be where you are today.
There is nothing to fear but fear itself. Your mind is greater than the fear — and so are you. Be realistic — take into account the upside and downside risks and then go for it.