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5 Ways to Make Taking Risks Easier

You ever have a hard time trying something new? 

Yesterday I took my very first tennis lesson. And although I’m not usually averse to learning new skills or taking little risks, I have to admit that I was nervous.  

I’m staying with a friend and her family who invited me to join them at the court for a workout with the rackets. I said yes immediately, always willing to try something new. Plus, how could it not be fun?!

However, it’s been a while since I tried something new with an audience watching me. And as I walked up to the court I began to feel all sorts of fear. 

I began to worry about how many times I’d mess up. How much would I look like a fool? My thoughts drifted towards self-preservation, and I started looking for “outs”: “Maybe I can hide behind my friend?” “Maybe I can fake an injury” “What if I just hang out in the bathroom for the next hour?”

Fear is a powerful motivator, and it was doing it’s darndest to pull me away from the experience in front of me. 

How often do you hold yourself back because of fear? Maybe you’ve refrained from approaching your boss to ask for the raise you want because you were afraid you’d be rejected. Or stopped yourself from giving important feedback to your co-worker for fear of damaging the relationship. Or maybe the fear of failing prevented you from developing your innovative idea into a business?

Fear is a powerful motivator, and it was doing it’s darndest to pull me away from the experience in front of me. 

No matter how much practice we have in facing fears, it never seems to get any easier. 

Thankfully I caught myself before my self-talk sent me running to hide from the tennis coach. I noticed the things I was saying to myself and started asking different questions.

“What if I give it a good effort?” “What if I do suck, what’s the worst that can happen?” “What am I really here for?”

I started to see my own self-limiting thoughts for what they were and shifted my expectations. 

I changed my thinking, decided to be a beginner and have fun. When I shifted into learner mode I immediately relaxed and grounded. 

I felt like a kid again bouncing around on the court, learning about footwork and foundations and follow-through. My mind lit up with questions and my cheeks started to hurt from smiling. It turned out to be a wonderful experience to which I’m glad I said yes!

As we begin to move past this pandemic and start gathering again in our teams and organizations there will be heightened levels of nervousness and lots of new ideas and activities to explore. There’s lots of uncertainty which means there will be fears and anxieties. But If you can learn to lean into the chance of failing, to rethink your approach to risk-taking in yourself and others, you’ll learn faster, solve more problems, and have more fun along the way. 

Here are the five things I find make risk-taking easier, whether you’re taking your first tennis lesson, suggesting a new idea, or preparing for a difficult conversation:

Words of Encouragement

A major factor in quieting the voices of fear was knowing that my lesson-mates were likely to be really supportive of my efforts, regardless of the outcomes. And sure enough, the lesson was full of “great try”s and “way to go”s. 

It’s not complicated, but it’s worth considering whether you and your team are taking risks in a nurturing environment. Are you able to recognize when others are putting themselves out there and encourage them through it? And if you’re in a space where there’s not a lot of external encouragement, can you train your own inner voice to be more encouraging?

Learning with Others

Seeing my lesson-mates go through their own learning processes made me feel safer taking risks of my own. It didn’t even matter that we were at different skill levels or learning different things. Just knowing I wasn’t alone in leaving my comfort zone gave me a little bit of comfort.

How can you share your learning process to help others share theirs? Are there risks you’re taking at work or at home that you can be more transparent about? Make your space feel psychologically safe by showing how safe you feel yourself.

If you’re the one taking the risk, can you find others who are in a similar position of learning and risk-taking to work alongside? 

Remember the Goal 

In the midst of looking for ways out of the experience I started asking myself why I had even agreed to the tennis lesson in the first place. Getting clear on my initial motivation made it a lot easier to follow through. I wasn’t out there to play like a pro. I said yes to having fun and the chance of learning a thing or two.

If you’re finding it tough to lean into taking a risk try taking a step back to remind yourself what you’re hoping to gain by taking it. As Simon Sinek says knowing your why makes doing the what easier.

Rethink Failure

Another important question that helped me get over my fears involved revisiting what it really meant to fail. I thought to myself, what TRULY is the worst thing that can happen? As soon as I realized that a little bit of looking like a fool wasn’t that bad, and that no matter what I’d look like there would be learning, taking a chance seemed a lot easier. 

What’s the worst that can happen as you step out of your comfort zone? How can you help your team value the learning that will happen no matter the outcome of your risk taking?

Contain the Risky Business

I found it very helpful to know that my tennis lesson was limited to an hour. Having a clear start and finish time I found it easier to put myself out there. If I knew this lesson would be ongoing, or “as long as it takes to be good” I might have had a harder time leaning into the risk. 

Are there ways you can better define risk-taking time for yourself or your teammates? Can you create a finite space for playing with new ideas, offering constructive feedback and learning from mistakes?

No matter how much practice we have, taking chances will always be uncomfortable. Being able to recognize the our self-limiting thoughts, shift our thinking, and take small actions is the key to continual growth and success.

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

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