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Life just keeps presenting us with tough choices. Should I accept this new job? Should I ask her out? Should I tell him how I feel? Should I start my own business? Should we launch this month? Should I travel alone? Should I post this video? Should we get married? Should we have kids?

Every choice we make, either big or small, easy or difficult, daily or rarely, has potential benefits and risks attached to it. Often, we know what it is we want to do, but we still don’t do it. Why is that?


Settle For The Current Situation

According to Margie Warrell, author of the book ‘Brave’ and international speaker, we humans are naturally afraid of putting our vulnerability on the line. The current situation, even if we don’t enjoy it, can appear like an easier, tolerable and saver option. With the development of brain imaging technology, we can now verify that human beings are wired to go against risks.

So, in other words, we find it much easier to settle for the current situation by keeping our mouths closed and our heads down rather than making a change, taking a chance, or speaking up and engage. When we believe that taking actions could leave us vulnerable to failure or loss of money, social status, pride, respect, or reputation, we have an inborn tendency to misjudge four core elements in assessing risk.


1. Over-Estimating Negative Probabilities

Daniel Kahneman mentioned in his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ when assessing risk, potential losses tend to emerge larger than potential gains. We tend to focus more on what might go wrong than what might go right. Whatever we focus on, we magnify our imaginations and causes us to misjudge and over-estimate the likelihood of it occurring.

In fact, the risk of something going wrong is often far from what we guess – the odds of it going right, are often far better.


2. Exaggerating Consequences When Things Go South

We come up with dreadful and dramatic worst-case scenario images in our minds, and we know it’s true. Rather than imagining that we would act quickly to head off or mitigate a situation if things started going off track, we give in to our disastrous images and imagine everything spiralling disgracefully out of control while we passively stand by forever shamed by our failure.

Okay, maybe I went too far. Maybe we aren’t so dreadful and dramatic. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that each one of us is neurologically wired. When we have a negative mindset, it only amplifies how bad things could escalate if our plans don’t work out, and we fail to appreciate our ability to intervene to prevent further impact.


3. Underestimating Our Own Abilities

Too often, we let our doubts about whether we have what it takes to succeed get the better of us. What’s going to happen further in life is that we neither take on new challenges nor proactively pursue new opportunities. This is all because we don’t have enough trust in our capabilities.

Ask yourself how often you fail to judge your own capacity for risks, such as taking on a bigger role or pursuing a huge goal?  If you ask me, it’s far too often.


4. Denying The Cost Of Inaction

How often do we mislead ourselves with expectations that our circumstances will somehow just get better over time or solve itself? We have a habit of making excuses to stay in the current situation where playing safe is ‘feasible’ and not putting ourselves at risk of failing is ‘sensible.’

Eventually, we will realise when things aren’t working out well only tend to get worse over time, not better. And unspoken issues in our relationships and lives will only grow larger, not smaller.

As Margie Warrell mentioned, these four human tendencies explain why many so-called smart people find themselves living in a constrained loop of their own potential. They can’t escape the continuously dissatisfied feeling in their careers, stuck in their relationships, and living lives they would have never chosen, because they are playing safe.


Overcome Playing Safe

So, how do we identify which risks are worth taking? Start by asking ourselves these questions:

  1. What would I do if I am more courageous?
  2. How will inaction cost me one year from now if I do nothing?
  3. Why is my fear of failure holding me back from taking risks that would serve me or my business?

Whatever answers come into your mind, take notice. They are pointing you to a brighter future that you can only create when you commit to taking more decisive and courageous actions. Will there be risks involved? Of course. But remember in the back of your mind that you are wired to overestimate the size of risks and to underestimate your ability to handle them.


“You are capable of more than you think.” – Lao Tzu


Fear regrets more than failures, as history has shown that we fail far more from timidity than we do from over daring.


  • Are you a risk taker?
  • Which of the four human tendencies relates to you?
  • Have you ever taken a risk that changed your life?


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