Taking small risks reveals much about who you are
Are you living on the edge?
A new U.K. study shows Britons take assorted “moderate risks” per week — think going out in cold weather without a coat or not checking their bank balance before going shopping.
In fact, even being reckless on a smaller scale can lead to large issues in life, as more and more risk-takers are finding out.
That’s the takeaway from a study of 2,000 U.K. individuals, produced by London-based Skipton Building Society and OnePoll.com, listing the top “small risks” Britons take on a regular basis.
Here’s how the report lists the top 10 small risks taken by everyday people:
- Leaving the house without an umbrella or jacket.
- Going to bed past 11 p.m. on a work night.
- Having something different for lunch.
- Leaving the house with your phone battery below 20%.
- Differing from your usual menu choice when dining out.
- Eating something past its “sell by” date.
- Getting an unplanned takeout meal.
- Leaving the house without your phone.
- Turning up at a restaurant without booking first.
- Dipping into your long-term savings.
Apparently, small risks are acceptable risks, according to Stacey Stothard, the study lead at Skipton Building Society.
“What’s interesting is this research presents a good snapshot of how we recognize and accept risk, together with our own personal boundaries and how far we’re prepared to push them,” Stothard says.
People naturally see risk in different things, having different appetites for those risks, but the gap between what we consider to be risky, together with the potential reward, is ultimately what our decision is based on, she explains. “And this will likely differ depending on the wider risk subject and our personal involvement in it.”
Just how risky is it to go outside with your hair wet or take the last train home from the city?
“It’s impossible to avoid risk,” says Tommy Breedlove, a featured keynote speaker, published author, and a business, relationship, and mindset coach. “Every time we go to sleep there’s a chance we won’t wake up. Every time we walk out the door and get into a car there’s a chance we won’t come back. Life is a risk in general but is also a giant reward.”
As Breedlove points out, whether we know it or not, we take small risks every day. “Nothing in life is guaranteed,” he says. “The only thing truly in our control is our mindsets, actions, and attitudes. If we don’t take risks, we will certainly die with regret.”
Besides that, there’s a difference between small risks that are slightly out of our comfort zone and large risks such as climbing Mount Everest, quitting a job to start a company, or ending a long-term relationship.
“I do believe taking one small, manageable risk at a time on a daily basis leads to great rewards,” Breedlove explains. “When it comes to our health, small risk-taking over a long period of time, such as smoking, drinking, eating junk, and not exercising, can lead to significant and even fatal consequences.”
That said, Breedlove believes that taking small risks in our businesses, careers, and hobbies leads to greater happiness, fulfillment, increased courage, and helps us live our lives without massive regrets.
“Outside of family and health, I think taking small risks in life, business, career, and fun is a healthy activity and doesn’t need to be managed, but more prioritized,” he says. “If you never take any risks, even small ones, you’ll never achieve any great reward in anything that you do.”
Risk-takers don’t sweat the small stuff
Ask an actual risk-taker, big or small, and you’ll hear a great deal about the folly of worrying too much about risk.
“I believed myself to be a non-risk-taker. I thought I was pretty conservative, but after reading the U.K. list of the top 40 ‘little risks,’ I realized that I must be living life right on the edge,” says Melanie Musson, a writer for the life insurance site, QuickQuote.com.
Musson says she “wouldn’t dream of filling her car up with gas until she’s driven at least 15 miles with the gas light on. “I go outside barefoot regularly,” she says. “Wet hair never stopped me from heading out in the cold. In my opinion, the reward outweighs the risk of these and other ‘risky’ moves I make.”
She also says there is no such thing as an “accumulation” of little risks.
“In fact, if the reward outweighs the risk (at least in my mind), I’m actually accumulating rewards,” Musson says. “Waiting until my car absolutely needs gas is rewarded with fewer trips to the gas station. Going outside barefoot is rewarded with time saved by not putting on shoes. Leaving the house with wet hair sees its reward in extra sleep instead of time spent drying my hair.”
“Because I have never experienced a negative result from taking these risks, I’ve truly only been heaping rewards into my day,” she says.
Focusing on the potential downside and not various scenarios related to risk-taking is another good way to look at the issue.
“I’m a chief executive officer so I think a lot about risk, both big and small,” says Reuben Yonatan, CEO at GetVoIP in Fresh Meadows, New York.
In Yonatan’s view, when you think about risk, it’s always about looking at the worst-case scenario, not the likelihood of the event.
“This is why we buy health insurance in the U.S.,” he says. “While you’re unlikely to have a major medical event on any given day, if one happens and you don’t have insurance, it can quickly leave you in bankruptcy.”
Or, take something as simple as not wearing a coat.
“On a mild day, it’s not a major risk because if your car breaks down and leaves you stranded in a remote location, being stuck outside isn’t going to have major negative effects on your life,” he says. “You’ll just be cold for a while.”
“But if you leave your coat behind on a day that’s well below freezing, you could die if your car breaks down. Is that likely to happen? No. But the impact on your life would be huge,” Yonatan adds.
Much ado about nothing?
Health and well-being experts say any outcomes, good or bad, depend on the risk taken. In that regard, small risks are usually risks worth taking, and people shouldn’t worry about them — to a point.
Some of the top risks listed in the U.K. study — for example, getting something different for lunch — don’t seem very dangerous, says Shane Owens, a Ph.D. and psychologist in Commack, New York. “Others — like not paying household bills on time — might lead to more serious issues, especially if that behavior is chronic.”
That distinction is important as one decides to either manage risk properly or avoid it altogether.
“Small and medium risks are vital for growth,” Owens says. “It’s important to take risks that are value-driven, which will bring you closer to your short- and long-term goals. For example, despite the danger of rejection and embarrassment, we should approach people we want to befriend or date. Or, sometimes we should risk feeling stressed and losing security in order to pursue a new job.”
If you’re worried that taking too many risks may lead to problems, don’t sweat it, Owens says.
“It’s always important to keep in mind what you’re trying to accomplish and what you might lose,” he adds. “It’s also good to learn from your mistakes and stop taking risks that rarely pay off or cost too much.”
What do you want from life?
The best advice on managing smaller risks? Think it all through, Owens says.
“Start by deciding what you want from your life,” he notes. “It’s easier to take appropriate risks — which are essential for health and success — when you know how your actions relate to your goals. Having a clear picture of your values also helps you to avoid taking chances that are unlikely to pay off.”
It also helps to accept that life is inherently risky.
“People who accept this and take control of their choices in risky situations live more rewarding and successful lives,” Owens says.
A deeper dive — Related reading on the 101:
Even if you’re no spring chicken anymore, you shouldn’t stop taking risks!
Here’s what you need to know if your risk-taking includes traveling to a dangerous country.