The Science—and Art—of Taking Risks

How to put in the work now to ensure that you will go for it later

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When people ask me how long it takes to learn to do a perfect handstand, I say “Today, one day less than if you start tomorrow”.  And when they tell me they’re afraid of falling, I tell them “every fall brings you one step closer to the perfect handstand”.



That is what the art and science of risk taking is all about.  Falling is a physical phenomenon – subject to the laws of physics.  We can use those same laws to engineer a safe landing every time.  Fear of failure is emotional – what I’m really afraid of is confronting the meaning of failure – what it might say about me as a person.  Am I a loser? a non-athlete? bad genes? wrong body type? too fat?


We process both physical and emotional danger in the brain – the limbic system, so they’re neurochemically identical, they feel the same.  But they’re not the same – it’s the emotional fear that floods my bloodstream with stress hormones and makes my chest pound, my breath quicken, and my hands sweat.


I can teach anyone a simple physical maneuver – tuck and roll – used by every stuntman to ensure a safe fall.  But there is no physical neurochemical equivalent I can teach that will quiet the limbic system, or the stress hormones and flood of catecholamines.


The physical training is simple.  But, According to Michael Gervais, host of the Finding Mastery podcast, the emotional side of the training involves “learning to be OK with failure … and viewing short-term failures as a part of long-term personal success and fulfillment”.


To learn to take risks, my biggest obstacle is my hyper-critical self-talk that’s ready to pounce on any slip-up and label me a failure.  I have to learn to silence that inner critic and tell myself a different story – I’m a badass just for showing up and willingly risking failure every day.


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