What do you think about skydiving? Not appealing? Ok. Think of any other comfort-zone-stretching activity. The one you want to do, and you know will be good for you, but you just can’t… Let me know how you feel about that activity after you read through to the end. ~julie
Have you heard about Risk Compensation? The idea is that we all have our own inborn Risk Tolerance — think of it as a set amount to Risk we are willing to take — and when we increase safety, we feel more comfortable and therefore take more chances, to move ourselves back to our desired level of Risk.
The theory of Risk Compensation comes from analyses of vehicle-related deaths before and after seat belts became mandatory. It turns out, seat belts made drivers safer and at the same time made pedestrians less safe, because the seat-belted drivers took more Risk: speeding, changing lanes quickly, running red lights…
It’s a cautionary tale. And similar examples abound.
If Risk Compensation is real — and I believe that it is —then efforts to increase safety often will backfire. People will respond by taking more chances in a (subconscious) effort to achieve their inborn Risk Tolerance.
It’s also encouraging.
If Risk Compensation is real — and I believe that it is — then we can use it to our advantage. We can trick ourselves into action. Force ourselves out of our comfort zones, without feeling so forced.
Let’s take the driver example.
How do you compel a person to be more aggressive while driving? Increase safety measures, like wearing seat belts or installing airbags (as shown in the studies). Or send them to an elite driver training school, like a race car driver would attend. We’ll call these options Preparation: Changing the environment or ourselves so that we are comfortable taking action (speeding).
Now imagine that your seat belt is broken, the air bags don’t work, and the tires are bald. If your beloved suffered a terrible accident and was bleeding profusely, would you speed to get him to the hospital? Of course! Because you'd have a Purpose.
Preparation and Purpose. Two things that can move you swiftly over your barrier from inaction to action, while maintaining your inborn Risk Tolerance.
How about that skydiving example?
Neither Cory nor I would ever elect to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, without a parachute. That would far exceed our Risk Tolerance. But, with a little bit of Purpose (my desire to have fun) and a ton of Preparation (a skydiving instructor strapped to my back and poised to pull the cord) I happily jumped. Cory is an Army Ranger. He completed his Preparation (he was trained and practiced), he had a Purpose (it’s his job), and he also leapt from a fully-functional airplane.
Purpose and Preparation. Increase either (or both) enough and you can motivate yourself to do anything.* Even when the task seems way outside your comfort zone.
Want to travel the world? Can you connect that desire to a compelling Purpose? Or Prepare through detailed research and planning?
Want to quit your job? Can you envision your alternate future and feel the depth of your future wellbeing? Can you lay the groundwork for financial stability?
Want to say I love you? Can you connect speaking your truth to a personal value? And do the inner work necessary to sit with your own vulnerability?
What are the things that you want to do? The I wish I coulds… The only ifs… The stretch goals that might tear you apart?
What purpose do they serve in your life? How can you connect them to your values, your desires, your wellbeing? How can you prepare to take them on? What can you learn? Who around you can help?
Use your natural tendency for Risk Compensation and trick yourself into action!
*Note: There may be some things that no amount of Purpose or Preparation will ever compel you to do. I imagine those things aren’t all that appealing, either. But it is important to understand the limits of the model.
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Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy