When it comes to taking risks, there's something to be said for trusting your gut. But too many people confuse a gut instinct with fear.

They assume their discomfort means their gut is telling them not to proceed. So rather than step outside their comfort zone, they avoid the risks that could propel them forward.

Whether they stay stuck in a job they don't like or pass up a new business opportunity, many people struggle to calculate risk. They assume if something feels scary, it must be really risky. But that's not an accurate way to measure risk.

Fear Causes You to Overestimate Risk

Your level of fear usually has nothing to do with the actual level of risk you face. Take, for example, public speaking. It's often cited as the No. 1 fear most people have.

But public speaking isn't actually risky. Sure, there's some social risk involved--people may judge your speaking ability or find your message boring. But their judgment won't kill you. Still, because public speaking feels risky, many people won't do it.

On the other hand, most people don't think twice about jumping into a car and going for a drive. For the average person, that doesn't feel risky. Yet car crashes kill people every day.

In fact, statistics show the odds of dying in a car accident over the course of your lifetime are 1 in 606. There's zero chance you'll die of stage fright.

The Absence of Fear Causes You to Underestimate Risk

When you have no fear at all--like when you're really excited about a new opportunity--there's a good chance you'll underestimate risk. Additionally, you'll overestimate your abilities and your chances of success.

That's why some people fall for get-rich-quick schemes. The promise of a giant return on their investment deludes them into thinking they're going to succeed. Because it doesn't feel scary, they assume it isn't risky.

Balance Emotion With Logic

Mentally strong people don't fear taking calculated risks. They know taking the right risks could be the difference between living an ordinary life and living an extraordinary life.

But you can't calculate risk based on your level of fear. Instead, it's important to assess the actual level of risk by examining the facts. Create a list of the pros and cons and the potential risks versus benefits.

Writing down the facts and reading them over will help you view the risk with logic--and that's the key to balancing out your emotions.

When you're excited about an opportunity and know you're likely to overlook the risks, ask a trusted adviser, "What are the potential drawbacks?" Talking about the downsides can help you become more rational.

On the flipside, when you're too afraid to make a move, talk to someone about the potential benefits of moving forward. Hearing some words of wisdom from someone else may help you find the courage to take the leap.

You can also ask yourself, "What advice would I give to a friend?" That helps take some of the emotion out of the decision so you can more accurately assess the level of risk.

Published on: Feb 27, 2017