What's the difference between the doer and the dreamer? Often, it comes down to risk. "Taking that final leap of faith can be so hard," says Monica Mehta, author of The Entrepreneurial Instinct (McGraw-Hill). "Risk-taking is not something you learn in school."
After extensive research, Mehta discovered that successful entrepreneurs have a unique approach to risk--one you can mimic, until, over time, your brain genuinely accepts it. In her book, Mehta shows how you can learn to be more comfortable with risk, more decisive about taking smart risks, and better able to turn things around when you make a wrong decision--whether you're starting a company, changing jobs, or wondering if life really would be better on the other side of the country.
Before trying to improve your risk-taking, Mehta says it helps to understand a bit of physiology. Most people have a natural aversion to risk, controlled by the brain's loss-avoidance system. At one point, that was crucial in keeping us from becoming woolly mammoth food. But when your loss avoidance system is on, your brain chemistry prevents you from taking a risk, even a smart one.
Many of the decision-making techniques you use to evaluate risks are almost guaranteed to activate your loss-avoidance system. Trying to plan your way around difficulties, for instance, forces you to focus on everything that might go wrong, all but guaranteeing a win for the status quo.
You need to stay out of loss-avoidance mode, and get another part of your brain--the reward centers--humming.
Here are eight strategies Mehta suggests:
1. Figure out what motivates you Some people are motivated by money, others by a altruism. Whatever your motivation, it can help keep your reward centers activated. Some people find it useful to prepare a 'vision board' – a collage of all the things that inspire you, displayed prominently in a place where you'll see it often. For better or worse, anger, spite, and revenge are also powerful motivators.
2. Do the fun part It's easy to get caught up in everything that might go wrong with a big change. So spend time indulging in the stuff that could go right. If you're thinking about a move, go online and look at all the fun things your new community offers. If you're considering a new job, think about all the great things you will have time for with a shorter commute.
3. Take baby steps Each little success sets you up for the next one. That's because right after you have a success, even a small one, your neurons work more effectively, you learn more quickly, and you're more likely to see creative solutions to tricky problems. Even a hobby that seems to have nothing to do with your professional life can help you be more successful at work, if you can use it to repeatedly achieve small goals over time.
4. Set priorities You'll never risk the things that are most important to you. So rank everything you value. Then look at the change you're thinking of making, and try to do it in such a way that your top values are protected. Risk the stuff on the bottom of the list instead.
5. Have a drink Yup, this works. In moderation, of course.
6. Say yes Saying yes to pretty much everything in your day-to-day life (within reason, of course) helps build optimism that somehow, things will work out.
7. Choose the company you keep Your environment counts. Risk-taking--the good kind--can be contagious. So hang out with people who are great at taking smart risks. One of the most powerful predictors of whether someone will become an entrepreneur, for example, is whether they know other entrepreneurs. And it's not just entrepreneurs who take risks: Why not spend time with your rock-climbing friend or the musician who does great improvisations?
8. Practice quick decision-making Asking too many questions keeps us from being impulsive when we need to be. So practice when the stakes are low. Next time you go to a restaurant, order the first thing that looks interesting. Wear colors you normally wouldn't. Strike up conversations with strangers. As Mehta writes, "Push the boundaries of your comfort level until you realize it just doesn't matter." -- Kimberly Weisul
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