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Why is it scary to take risks?

Taking risks can be a frightening prospect for many people. Stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something new often brings up fears of failure, rejection, looking foolish, or making a mistake. However, avoiding risks altogether can also leave you feeling unfulfilled, stagnant, and full of regret about missed opportunities. So why is taking risks so scary for so many of us? There are several key reasons.

Fear of Failure

One of the biggest reasons risk-taking seems scary is the fear of failing or being unsuccessful. When you take a risk, there is always the chance that things won’t work out the way you hoped. For example, if you decide to start your own business, it could fold within the first year. If you try out for a competitive sports team, you may not make the cut. If you ask someone out on a date, they might reject you. Failure is never a pleasant experience, so it’s understandable why the prospect of failing makes us hesitate when presented with a risky opportunity.

Some common worries related to failure include:

– Wasted time, money, and effort if the risk doesn’t pan out
– Embarrassment or loss of dignity if others see your failure
– Feeling that the failure reflects poorly on your competence or abilities
– Letting down people who were counting on you to succeed

For perfectionists and those with high achievement standards, risk-taking may seem especially frightening. People who tie their self-worth closely to success can see failure as catastrophic.

Fear of Looking Foolish

Closely related to the fear of failure is the fear of looking foolish or stupid if you take a risk and it doesn’t work out. When you go out on a limb and try something bold and new, there is a certain level of vulnerability involved. You are exposing yourself and your abilities for others to judge. People may criticize your performance, laugh at your mistakes, or think less of you if you fail. This potential blow to your reputation or ego can be scary.

Some situations where you might fear looking foolish include:

– Auditioning for a play when you have no acting experience
– Trying a challenging new hobby like salsa dancing or surfing
– Speaking up with an unconventional idea at a business meeting
– Accidentally mispronouncing a word when you try to speak a foreign language

For many, the discomfort of potentially feeling humiliated or losing social status is enough to avoid taking risks altogether.

Fear of Losing Security

Most major life risks involve giving up some level of comfort, familiarity, and security. Leaving a stable job to start a new venture, moving to a new city, or ending an unhappy but dependable relationship all require sacrificing safety and predictability. This loss of security and stability can be terrifying.

Some examples of risks where security is jeopardized include:

– Quitting your job without another one lined up
– Investing your life’s savings into a new business
– Moving your family across the country for a promotion
– Leaving an unfulfilling marriage to be alone

As social beings, humans have a strong need for safety, structure, and certainty. When we consider taking a risk, our fears are triggered about losing the security we depend on for survival. Will we have enough money? Will we find a new support system? What if it all falls apart? The unknown is inherently frightening.

Fear of Permanent Negative Consequences

In some cases, a risk that goes badly could ruin your life forever – or so it may seem. The prospect of permanent, severely negative consequences is understandably terrifying and deters many from rolling the dice.

Some examples include:

– Deciding not to vaccinate your child could leave them with permanent disabilities if they get sick
– Donating a kidney to a stranger could lead to health complications that shorten your own life
– Investing your retirement savings with an unproven fund manager could leave you broke when you need the money most
– Coming clean about a long-ago crime may land you in prison for decades

With potential outcomes like these, it’s no wonder the prospect of risk-taking can keep people frozen in fear. The perception of permanent, irreversible damage haunts many.

Fear of Disappointing Others

For some, the scariest part about risk-taking isn’t what it will do to themselves, but how it may impact others. Parents, spouses, children, and friends often invest time, resources, and emotional energy into supporting your goals and dreams. Letting these people down if you fail can be a huge deterrent to taking risks.

You may worry about:

– Wasting the money your parents spent on college application fees if you don’t get into the school you want
– Hurting your spouse who relocated for your job if you quit to follow your passion
– Abandoning teammates who depend on you if you get injured trying a risky sport move
– Disappointing mentors who have offered you opportunities if you are unable to meet expectations

Knowing that your failure will also punish people you care about adds extra pressure and anxiety around risk-taking. Many opt to play it safe rather than take the chance of letting down people they love.

How to Overcome the Fear

Clearly, risk-taking can be very frightening. However, allowing fear to stop you from taking chances also has costs in terms of missed experiences, opportunities, and potential growth. Here are some tips for overcoming fear of risk:

– **Gain perspective** – Remind yourself that risk-taking is rare existentially threatening. Look at the actual data on the likelihood and consequences of failure so you can see the risk more objectively.

– **Start small** – Taking mini-risks helps desensitize your fear response and builds confidence. Try low-stakes risks like a new restaurant, raising your hand in class, or minor investments first.

– **Have a backup plan** – Reduce anxiety by preparing fallback options in case the risk doesn’t pan out. Save an emergency fund, keep job contacts handy, or scope out backups.

– **Shift your mindset** – Rather than seeing risk as something dangerous to avoid, reframe it as an exciting chance to learn and grow no matter the outcome.

– **Lean on your support system** – Make sure trusted friends and family are there to encourage you and provide a safety net in case the worst happens when you take a risk.

– **Focus on the reward** – Keep the potential positive outcomes of taking the risk front and center in your mind. This will help overcome the fear of failure.

– **Trust your instincts** – Listen to your gut feeling about when a risk is worth taking or not. Don’t force yourself into situations that intuitively feel too hazardous.

– **Learn from experience** – Pay attention to how calculated risks turn out for you. Over time you’ll get better at determining which risks are smart gambles versus unnecessary dangers.

– **Practice self-compassion** – If a risk does lead to failure or disappointment, be kind to yourself rather than judgmental. Recognize it as a learning experience.

By implementing mindset shifts, safeguards, and small steps to build tolerance, you can get more comfortable taking risks. With time, the fear starts to lessen its paralyzing grip. Don’t let anxiety deprive you of the growth and fulfillment that comes from measured, thoughtful risk-taking.

Common Fears Related to Risk-Taking

While the overall concept of risk-taking may seem intimidating, usually there are specific fears behind that hesitation. Being aware of common fears can help put words to your inner worries. Typical fears people face when considering risks include:

– Fear of failure
– Fear of embarrassment or looking foolish
– Fear of losing security and stability
– Fear of irreversible damage or consequences
– Fear of wasting time and resources
– Fear of physical harm or death
– Fear of isolation or losing relationships
– Fear of change itself
– Fear of regretting the choices made

Often it helps to dig deeper into which specific outcomes you dread so you can better prepare mitigation strategies. For example, someone afraid of leaving their stable job may realize it’s specifically a fear of losing their work friends versus the paycheck that most worries them. From there they can focus on preparing their social support network.

How Taking Risks Benefits Your Life

Stepping outside your comfort zone to take chances undoubtedly brings anxiety. However, it is also essential for a meaningful life. Facing fears and taking risks can enrich your life in many ways:

**You gain key skills** – Risk-taking builds courage, resilience, and self-reliance to face difficulties. The skills developed by challenging yourself will apply to all areas of life.

**You achieve more** – Playing it safe leads to a dull, average life. Taking risks sparks energy and drive, leading to bigger accomplishments.

**You build confidence** – Facing fears and trying new things shows you what you are capable of. Risk-taking flexes your confidence muscle.

**You find passion** – Seeking out new experiences helps reveal interests and ignite passion. Risks can uncover your life’s work.

**You impact others** – Taking initiative sets an example, creating ripples that inspire family, peers, and community. Your risks may motivate others.

**You form connections** – Stepping out of routine lets you meet new people and form diverse relationships you may otherwise miss.

**You gain insight** – When a risk succeeds or fails, the experience provides invaluable wisdom about life and yourself.

Without some amount of risk, it is difficult to reach your full potential and enjoy a bold, colorful life. The rewards are well worth facing the fears.

Examples of Risks Worth Taking

If fear is holding you back, it can help to look to others who took fruitful risks. Here are some life-enriching risks that can pay off nicely despite the scariness factor:

– Asking for a raise or promotion at work
– Moving across the country for a dream job
– Starting a new business venture you’re passionate about
– Learning to surf, ski, or skydive
– Asking your romantic crush out on a date
– Adopting a child on your own
– Chopping off your hair or trying a dramatic new hairstyle
– Auditioning for a talent show or play
– Enrolling in night classes to learn a new skill
– Trying an extreme sport like rock climbing or hang gliding
– Volunteering to share your story publicly or give a speech
– Traveling solo to a foreign country that’s way outside your comfort zone

When risks align with your curiosity and purpose, great rewards can come even if you stumble a little along the way.

Risk Assessment Strategies

While facing fears has value, not all risks are smart to take. How can you thoughtfully assess which risks are worth taking versus those that are too dangerous? Here are some tips for evaluating risks:

– **Trust your intuition** – Our ancient instincts often pick up on red flags our conscious mind misses. If something feels very unsafe, pay attention to that feeling.

– **Get objective data** – Do research to determine real probabilities of failure and potential consequences. Data often reveals risks to be less catastrophic than we assume.

– **Consider the upside** – Weigh the potential benefits against likely downsides. Think through your goals and how much this risk could positively impact your life.

– **Talk to others** – Get insight from trusted friends or mentors who can share outside perspectives on the risk. Their experience is invaluable.

– **Examine your motivations** – Make sure a risk aligns with your values, purpose, and priorities. Taking a risk for the wrong reasons often backfires.

– **Assess your risk tolerance** – Consider your personality, stage of life, responsibilities to others, and safety net. Not everyone is suited for high-risk ventures.

– **Have a backup plan** – Evaluate if you have contingency plans, resources, and support systems in place to recover if the risk goes south.

– **Start small** – Take incremental mini-risks first to evaluate your ability to handle bigger risks down the road. Mini-failures also teach.

With careful discernment, you can pursue risks that enhance your life while avoiding unnecessary hazards.

Tips for Taking Smart Risks

Here are some strategies for taking well-calculated risks:

– **Set mini goals** – Break a large risk into smaller steps that feel more doable. Achieving each milestone builds your confidence.

– **Enlist support** – Find others who believe in you and will cheer you on when the going gets tough. Accountability partners keep you persisting.

– **Limit downsides** – When possible, choose risks where the negative impact of failing can be contained. Have fallback plans to minimize damage.

– **Hedge your bets** – Rather than going all in, test a risk with a trial period, part-time effort, or low financial stake. See if it’s right for you before fully diving in.

– **Learn as you go** – View risk-taking as an experiment, not pass/fail. Let each attempt teach you something to tweak the next time. Failures become data.

– **Have an exit strategy** – Know when to walk away rather than double down on an idea that isn’t working. Be ready to adapt. Not every risk is meant to last.

– **Balance risks** – Pursue a mix of low, medium, and high risks. Don’t take on too many high risks at once. Sprinkle in some “sure things” too.

– **Keep emotion in check** – When emotions run high, we often miscalculate risk and reward. For big choices, wait until intense moods pass.

– **Trust your gut** – If a risk still makes you deeply uncomfortable after assessing it rationally, listen to that inner voice. Don’t force yourself.

With wise planning, you can often craft risks where benefits outweigh the costs.

Ways to Take Risks Without Endangering Your Mental Health

For those with anxiety, depression, trauma, or other mental health conditions, risk-taking can be especially daunting. However, avoiding all risks can also worsen mental health. Here are tips for taking risks thoughtfully if you have mental health concerns:

– **Team up with others** – Sharing the risk burden with a partner or group lowers the sense you are facing the danger alone.

– **See a therapist** – Work with a professional to assess your risk tolerance accurately. They can help you face fears at a safe pace.

– **Practice self-care** – Make sure healthy sleep, nutrition, socializing, and stress relief are priorities. Caring for yourself builds resilience.

– **Learn your triggers** – Reflect on past experiences to identify specific risk factors that may worsen anxiety or depression symptoms.

– **Have a support system** – Enlist loved ones to encourage you and watch for signs you are becoming too overwhelmed.

– **Take medication if needed** – Discuss with your doctor if anti-anxiety medication could help ease intense fears temporarily while you build risk-taking tolerance.

– **Be compassionate with yourself** – Silence your inner critic. Judge yourself kindly if a risk sets back your progress. Give yourself credit for trying.

– **Go at your own pace** – Don’t compare yourself to others without mental health challenges. Move slowly and celebrate small victories.

With the right care strategies and support team, nearly everyone can find fulfilling ways to take risks that enrich their lives.

How to Bounce Back After a Failed Risk

Things will not always go smoothly when you take risks. But with resilience, you can bounce back even when a risk leads to “failure.” Here are tips for recovering well:

– **Let yourself grieve** – Give yourself space to be disappointed when expectations aren’t met. Accept the emotion rather than suppressing it.

– **Avoid self-blame** – Don’t beat yourself up over what you “should” have done differently. Setbacks happen to everyone.

– **Identify lessons** – Rather than dwelling on what went wrong, reflect on the insights gained for the future. There is value in every experience.

– **Reframe failure** – See setbacks as data points and stepping stones, not an indictment on your worth. Failing simply means you tried.

– **Express gratitude** – Look at the progress made and skills gained during the risk-taking process. Be thankful for what you achieved along the way.

– **Take a break** – After a major letdown, give yourself time to recharge before rushing into the next thing. Let your mind reset.

– **Get support** – Shared burdens are lighter burdens. Let trusted friends and family remind you of your capabilities. Their perspective is grounding.

– **Find the humor** – When you can, look for the comedy in a failure. Laughter relieves stress and brings catharsis.

Rather than letting a failed risk stop you in your tracks, leverage it as a growth springboard. With time, you’ll get back on track.


Risk-taking triggers deep fears in many of us. However, avoiding risks altogether comes at a major cost to reaching our potential. By understanding common risk-related fears, planning contingencies, starting small, trusting our gut, and learning from missteps, we can take risks that expand our lives versus endangering them. A willingness to thoughtfully face fears and embrace uncertainty little by little can lead to incredible growth, confidence, and fulfillment. With the right perspective and support team, anyone can become braver.