There's a science to risk-taking.
In fact, brain science has progressed to the point where we now know how every new experience causes physical changes in the brain. It's called neuroplasticity, and it's awesome. When you take a risk and start a new job or head over to Australia on a back-country sojourn, your brain creates brand new neural pathways as a way to adapt. It's a proven fact. You become a different version of you. Your brain switches to a "fine tuning" mode, especially when you visit a new place.
Think about how this works when you take a risk in life. Science tells us we make around 35,000 decisions per day. That's a lot of gambling! Your eyes flicker open when you wake up and you make a few decisions right away--reach over and turn off the alarm clock, pick up a bathrobe, head to the shower or wait until you are fully caffeinated. It's startling when you realize that, as kids, we only make about 3,000 decisions per day, so that's quite a ramp up period to adult life.
I'm convinced that life is a series of scientific experiments, or risks and rewards. You can imagine yourself in a science lab and letting the researchers poke and prod you if you want. Did you take the job right out of college or did you travel overseas first? Did you get married young or did you decide to go all Han Solo for a while and explore the vast outer regions of the netherworld (a.k.a., Brooklyn)? Did you go for the advanced degree or play it safe and take a low-level accounting job?
When you made all of those decisions in life, your brain didn't just go along for the ride. The more I've read about neuroplasticity, the more I've realized how much risk-taking plays a major part in success and failure. Those that succeed take risks. Of course, there's only one life experiment I fully understand: My own. I know exactly when I was playing it safe or taking risks, and I know exactly how my decisions led to failure, regret, success, or more of the same--e.g., the dreaded stagnant periods.
I'll tell you about one risky move. Shortly after college, I took a big risk when my wife was only a few months pregnant and decided to work at a youth camp. It was a little experimental on my part. I wasn't just working at the camp, I was running the camp. I was in charge of everything--ordering food, setting the schedule, making the sign out front, hiring the staff. Looking back, I wonder sometimes what I was thinking. Remember, my wife was pregnant. There was a major risk in trying something so new. And, it wasn't just my risk--it was a risk to everyone involved.
At the time, science didn't know as much about neuroplasticity and what happens to the brain when we try something new, but I was intimately aware of the change in myself. I didn't need any data. My thoughts were on fire. I imagined how we could paint some of the buildings, expand the programming, hire more staff. I invited my uncle who has started several companies in Nebraska to visit, and we both walked out into a field and talked about building a new lodge by a lake. It was an exciting time!
Then, the camp fired me a few weeks before my first daughter was born.
Did the experiment fail? Not at all. Getting fired from that job led to my first corporate job, which led to another, then another. I wouldn't be typing this right now if I had not taken that risk. And, it was one of the first times I realized I was a creative thinker and someone who liked to explore big ideas. It set the stage for my entire life.
So, once again, this is where things get personal. If new experiences really do open new neural pathways in our brain, and if taking a risk is the only way to find success, and if life really is one massive scientific experiment, let me give you this challenge: What risks have you taken recently? How have you decided to open new neural pathways? Which change do you need to embrace?
I'm here to help as always. Send me a note and tell me about a risk you are debating. I promise to give you some feedback. Let's embrace some neuroplasticity together.