Taking Chances & Making Changes

Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Liz Hale, shares a few tips on the psychology of taking chances.


Many people attribute the fear of taking chances with the fear of failure. We gravitate towards homeostasis as human beings. We like being comfortable. It’s all about shifting our focus. Psychology is very simple – whatever you focus on is what you’re going to think; whatever you think is how you’re going to feel; and however you feel is exactly what you’re going to do. We have to want to change and experience life to the fullest, more than we want to stay comfortable. That requires risk!

Let Future Regret Motivate

Simply put: If you are never scared, embarrassed, or hurt, it means you’re not taking chances, pushing and pursuing personal growth. There is risk in not risking: there will come the day, 20 years down the road, when we’ll look back at our lives, and we will be more disappointed by the things we didn’t do than by the ones we did. Pain or imagined regret can be motivating. I think this is why “Life-Lists” have become so popular. Individuals are making lists of things they want to accomplish while they’re alive. Live with the future (or end) in mind. And remember, it’s not actually doing something new that frightens us; it’s what our thinking is about doing something new that is detrimental.

“I’ll Handle It!”

So how do we contain these fearful thoughts? Have you ever noticed how children will take a chance? They’re not frightened of being wrong! A six-year-old was putting her whole heart and soul into a drawing of God. And her teacher said, “But nobody really knows what God looks like.” And without missing a beat, she said, “They will in a minute!” If we’re not prepared to be wrong or challenged, we won’t risk trying our hand at anything new. Ask yourself, “what is the worst possible thing that will happen if…” I try and make crème brulee and it fails; if I reach out to someone and thy dismiss me; if I paint the house and I don’t like it; if I go skiing and get hurt; etc. Answer this with, “I’m going to do the best I can to prepare myself and then I’ll handle whatever happens!” Get to the place where NOT trying your hand at something causes more discomfort than trying and failing. You will be wiser regardless of the outcome. But the most important mind exercise you can do is to list out exactly how you want a new experience to go; act as if you are journaling what already happened. List how it “went” which was exactly how you want it to go.

Learning = Doing What You Can’t

Learning something new actually changes the brain physically. It’s true – and that’s why the best thing for being sad or blue is to learn something new. The brain is primed to seek and respond to what is novel. Any major break away from the ordinary – brushing your teeth with the opposite hand – stimulates the brain. Our memory, cognition, and motor abilities start to decline around 30 (if you can believe!) but anytime you learn a new skill, you change the brain physically. Let’s say you learn a new piece on the piano – from Chopsticks to Chopin – if you looked at the brain after mastering it, you’d see changes in the response of millions of neurons. The brain is a ‘plastic’ instrument that has continuous capacity for change.

Keep doing what you cannot do – it’s the only way we learn anything, and it keeps our brains fit which is every bit as important as physical fitness.

Take One Risk Everyday

This is from the wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt. “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” This could be anything from trying a new food to saying “Hello” to a stranger on the street. Ask an acquaintance out to lunch. Pick up the phone and call a professional you’ve admired but believed was too busy to answer your question and ask it. Take up a new sport, class, or hobby. If you feel someone responds oddly to you say, “I’m taking new risks…this is one!” There is something about honesty that brings defenses down and confidence up.

Risking daily allows you to live in an ampler world. Risking allows you to be somebody else – someone gutsier – in small doses, and then savor overtime the rewards of that courage.

Again, it all goes back to our beliefs. And particularly our belief about what we feel we deserve.

“How Good Can I Stand It?”

A question I often ask my clients is, “How good can you stand it?” Most of us can’t stand it really good – “I mean, what would the neighbors think? What would my family say? If it’s too good, surely something bad will happen. I don’t deserve to have things too good.” Very often we hit a comfort level and don’t go past it because of our self-imposed limits. We all have a threshold of deservingness. I have found the best to clear out the confusion is to start being grateful for anything, even this pen or my notes. When I do, I change my inner state and begin to attract (or at least to notice) more to be grateful for. When you are honest about the goals or life-list you want to accomplish, answer them with “Why not me?” Just how good can I stand it? And keep raising the bar!


Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.

Add comment