As a Marriage and Family Therapist who is also a human being, I am called – like everyone else – to face myself when opportunities to grow involve taking risks.
This week I’m in Oakland California at the Couples Conference sponsored by the Milton H. Erickson Foundation as part of my ongoing commitment to honing my skills in the craft of helping couples heal together.
The thing is . . . . as I was preparing to come here, I saw this trip as a risk. It isn’t a real risk, but in my body I experienced signals that it is. You know . . . . when you are going to do something new and your body signals some vague sense of “danger” and your brain says: “I don’t want to.”
Yes. That’s the kind of danger I’ve been feeling leading up to this trip. Moving through the feelings toward taking action anyway is where the risk comes in.
Risk: A situation involving exposure to danger.
Danger? Hm. If risk involves danger, then is there such a thing as a good or a healthy risk? If there is such a thing as a healthy risk, how can you tell the difference between a “good” risk and a “bad” one?
Unhealthy risks include: gambling, reckless driving, alcohol use, smoking, substance use, and unsafe sex. These activities are easier to identify as potentially harmful. If your body signals these things as danger, you would probably be correct in your assessment, especially if (as is often the case) these behaviors feel compulsive – like you don’t have any control over yourself when you are doing them. Bad risks usually carry regret, even if the harm or danger isn’t immediately obvious.
But what about those risks that don’t seem, on the surface, to be life threatening or objectively harmful? Consider the following examples:
Are you afraid to talk to someone new. What is the actual risk?
Does public speaking gets you thinking about hiding? How could you come to harm in that situation?
My example of leaving home (I’m a homebody) to sleep in new surroundings and “hang out” with people I don’t know! Where is the danger?
Like many others, I feel trepidation when new situations and opportunities come into my life. What I have learned, though, is that when a new situation does not present an actual threat to me, there is usually something internal going on, prompting me to avoid the risk. Identifying the internal process, working through it and taking action toward the goal is where growth happens.
Thinking about coming to therapy, changing a habit or working toward a goal means stepping into the unknown. The way you have been doing things is familiar and comfortable. Making change requires risk.
Once you decide that you want to succeed at something, you have to commit to doing things that are hard. Essentially, it means that you will take the risk to do things that are outside of your comfort zone.
Ultimately, all change and personal growth requires some level of risk.
How do you manage risk?
How comfortable are you with being uncomfortable?
When life offers you an opportunity, what do you do? When you have the chance to grab that opportunity and the grabbing makes you a bit unsteady, how do you respond? Maybe you get a knot in your stomach. Maybe you feel sick. You think of all of the potential outcomes that you would prefer to avoid. You go back and forth between the decision to “go for it” and the decision to do nothing.
Learn to get comfortable with your discomfort and you may be surprised at the way you grow. More importantly, you may be shocked at how easily you can overcome difficult situations. Because you trust yourself to be your own source of comfort in the face of risk.