Are you playing it too safe for your own good

Last week I reported on the research that was done on senior citizens who were asked what advice they would give us younger folks. Their first piece of advice was PLAN YOUR LIFE. They said a great life, a successful career, and meaningful relationships aren’t a matter of chance. They are the result of planning.

Their second piece of advice was TAKE A RISK. Those who were happy in their later years had taken some risks and were still doing so. Those who had played it safe were typically unhappy and wish they would have gone for it.

Their advice on taking more risks might have surprised you. But think about it for a moment.


► 1. The life-giving nature of constructive risk


When these senior citizens were asked what they would do differently if they could live their lives over, they said they would take more risks in life. Why? Because it’s not only exciting, it’s also life giving.

When you think about the high points in your life, when you think about the times you were really growing, when you think about the times you felt the most alive, you were probably taking a risk of some sort. You weren’t sitting back, taking it easy, trying to get away with doing as little as possible.

One of those risks may have been when you were pursuing a certain girl or boy. You gave it your all to catch the other person’s attention and affection. You were risking rejection and heartache, but you were also excited and turned on by the chase.

One of those risks may have been the time you discovered a better way to do your job. You risked someone saying, “But we’ve always done it this way.” Nonetheless, you felt proud of yourself and your ingenuity.

What about you? Are you taking enough risks? After all, if you want more of anything … a larger paycheck, a healthier body, a better job, more confidence, greater goal accomplishment, stronger work-life balance, or anything else … you’ve got to take some risks.

You simply cannot expect to get anything bigger, better, or brighter by doing the same old thing the same old way. And yet you and I both know plenty of people who take that stupid (yes, stupid) approach for years and then wonder why bad things keep happening to them.

Of course, taking risks is scary. It’s uncomfortable because it’s outside your comfort zone. Duh!

One way to get yourself to take the risks you need to take, to get yourself moving, off the couch, and back into the game of living to the fullest, is to …

► 2. Give yourself new programming.


If you’re not taking enough risks, if you’re too cautious, just tell yourself, “The next five years will go by anyway.” It’ll give you the get-up-and-go to get up and do it.

Jo Coudert learned that. She told her painting instructor that she might go to art school in the fall. He replied, “The next five years will go by anyway.”

She thought to herself, “What’s that supposed to mean?” Then she got a little peeved. She expected a lot more encouragement from her instructor.

Then it dawned on her. The next five years were going to go by anyway–whether she went to school or not. At the end of those five years, she could look back and say, “Well I went to art school, and now I’m years ahead of where I was then.” Or she could say, “Because I didn’t go to art school, I’m not any better at painting than I was five years ago. All I am is five years older.”

What a great insight. Now think about how you can you apply that kind of programming to yourself. Instead of telling yourself, “What if I failed … What would so-and-so say … or … I’ll think about it,” tell yourself, “The next five years will go by anyway.”

I shared that story in a program where I was speaking a while ago. One man in the audience, a financial planner, said, “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, but heavens, I’m already 35 years of age. And it would take 5 years just to finish medical school. And by then, I’d be 40 years of age.”

One of his colleagues gave the perfect response. He said, “Well you’ve got to decide. In five years, you can be 40 and a doctor, or you can be just plain 40.”

Where would you like to be in five years? What risks do you have to take to get there?

Finally, for today’s Tuesday Tip,

► 3. Put your imagination to work.


Most people live to some degree on autopilot. They go to work, get a paycheck, pay the bills, deal with problems as they arise, go to bed, get up, and repeat the process for years on end. They seldom stop and think about what they really, Really, REALLY want out of life, work and relationships. They’ve got a comfortable … or at least, a familiar … routine but not an exciting, growing, life-giving, life-enhancing experience.

To move beyond that, try this exercise. Write out ten answers to this question: “Throwing all caution to the wind, what I would really like to do is…” Write out your ten answers and get to work on one of them soon.

As my fellow researcher Richard Leider says, “The idea that one can continue growth while leading an orderly, predictable, and risk-free life is the grandest form of self-delusion.” Don’t fall for it.