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Do You Rarely Take Risks? Maybe it's Time You Do

How to enjoy a richer life by pushing through fears.

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Woman floating through the sky doing different activities
Justin Tran
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“You’ve got this,” I said through gritted teeth as perspiration dripped down my forehead and down my face, joining the pool of sweat that had gathered between my breasts.

I was rock climbing at a resort in Arizona under excellent guided supervision and although I was also harnessed in, I felt terrified.

“One foot after the next. Just find your next foothold,” Rico, my super-fit guide, said encouragingly from roughly 15 feet below.

Why was I doing this? Who did I think I was?

I was surely not the same person who nearly two decades ago donned a backpack and traveled around South America for a year. That person was adventurous and bold and brave, descriptions which, lately, I hardly recognized in myself. I used to run marathons that nearly qualified me for the esteemed Boston Marathon (no easy feat). And now, I could barely climb a few boulders with the help of a harness and a guide?

According to clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, what I experienced that day at the Boulders Resort & Spa — the doubt and fear magnified by a little voice in my head telling me I can’t do this — is perfectly normal.

Manly, an expert on aging and author of Aging Joyfully: A Woman’s Guide to Optimal Health, Relationships, and Fulfillment for Her 50s and Beyond, believes in the rewarding nature of (careful or mindful) risk-taking and is a proponent of getting out of one’s comfort zone no matter what age you are.

“Consciously and unconsciously many people’s lists of personal ‘I should nots’ or ‘I cant’s’ become longer as they age,” she said. “I’ve found that many people tend to retract as they get older. During the aging process, our mindsets often become more fixed and, as a result, we can become less expansive and growth oriented.”

The way to combat this? Take risks.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to being brave or acting courageously, but there are many notable benefits to doing so, and they are health-boosting and inspiring.

Refuse to close down

Ever since she quit her corporate job to become an artist while in her 30s, Tricia Rose Burt, now 62, makes a point of being open to new things and experiences. The latest evidence of this is her podcast venture, something she was clueless about until she decided to go for it.

“I really didn’t know what I was doing at all,” Burt said. “I was concerned, since I'm usually the one that's on stage, Am I going to be able to be a good interviewer? Am I going to know how to [interview]? And as it turned out, I had been teaching storytelling for so many years, and that's all about listening and asking questions.”

Manly acknowledges the fear around trying new things and the way it leads people to stick with what they know and remain in their comfort zones. “The first ‘cure’ for the fixed, risk-averse mindset is to become conscious of the often natural tendency to close down as we age.”

It’s in becoming aware of this tendency that we can overcome it. This awareness is what leads us to take “purposeful steps to combat it,” Manly explained.

My inexperience rock climbing, in spite of being otherwise fairly athletic and fit, gave the whole ordeal a sort of risky air. But once I recognized the fear and allowed myself to feel the discomfort, I was able to face the risk head on. I considered cutting my climb short, but I refused to give in to defeat.

Seek compelling growth

The idea behind taking risks, however, is that the chosen risks should make sense for you, Manly explained.

“Being cautious and daring is slowing down to mindfully evaluate why it’s compelling, and ask ourselves, 'Is it right for me?’” said Manly.

This is the second "cure" — taking mindful risks that feel somewhat uncomfortable but which you personally find compelling. It’s the opposite of succumbing to peer pressure or engaging in an activity because everyone else is doing it although you have absolutely no desire to partake in it yourself.

Practice being brave

In order to be brave, we must practice acts of bravery. This is something Burt does regularly, and which Manly also encourages. It can be as simple as sampling a new dish at the restaurant where you’ve been ordering the exact same things for years. It’s less about the act of choosing to depart from what you know and trust.

A few weeks ago, I found myself with no plans on a Friday. My husband was out with a friend, and I had the urge to do something. I ended up going to a movie by myself on a Friday night, and while I regularly enjoy a solo movie outing, I never go on my own on a weekend night, when I’m sure to be surrounded by couples out on date nights.

It felt a little daunting at first, in spite of my being a rather independent person. But once I settled into my seat with my popcorn and a beer, I stopped thinking about how I was alone and what if everyone around me thought I had no friends. I just enjoyed the moviegoing experience.

Taking risks does not have to be as enormous as climbing a mountain. Bravery can come in just taking little steps in unknown terrain.

Experience growth and an enriched life

A lot of the conversation on being brave and acting courageously (though again we’re talking about smart, careful risk-taking) revolves around reaping the rewards of taking chances.

Michelle Feng, chief clinical officer at Executive Mental Health, said that the assumption that getting older is a downhill journey is just wrong. She calls it a mindset that can lead to “taking fewer chances and, in turn, experiencing less in life. But by being brave and choosing to carry out activities that might seem challenging, we are able to expand our life experiences in worthy ways.”

When I made it to the top of my climb and safely got myself back down, I felt a rush of endorphins. I was elated, positively overcome with a beaming happiness. It might have been the dopamine rush, but whatever it was, it’ll keep me coming back for more.

When is the last time you took a really big risk? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Fulfillment
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