10+ Risk-Taking Tips: How To Take Risks That Pay Off
Hanna Kielar14-minute read
October 19, 2021
What do you think of when you hear the word “risk”?
Risk-taking can be scary for some, as it can invoke the idea of change or the possibility of something going wrong. Inevitably, this can lead some to retreat from risk. But are you really doing yourself a favor by shying away from risks and change? Probably not.
Change is the only constant. You may not have realized it, but we encounter decisions and risks every day, multiple times a day. Some of these risks are small, like trying a new restaurant, while others are life-altering, like deciding to start a new job or buy a home. Risks can bring great changes and new opportunities you hadn’t anticipated.
In order to learn healthy risk-taking behavior, we talked to experts and looked at the psychology of risk-taking, how to take risks in life and some additional tools to help you become a better risk-taker. Then we’ll explore how to apply these tactics to home buying to help you make important decisions like refinancing, applying for a mortgage or weighing the pros and cons of a starter home vs. a forever home.
The Psychology of Risk-Taking
There are many factors at play when it comes to risk-taking. We’re just taking a look at a few that may resonate with you, including how your age, past and personality can play a role in your ability to seize opportunities and take risks.
We want to note that the contents of this article do not replace an evaluation or advice from a mental health expert.
The Older You Get, The Fewer Risks You Take
The decision-making regions of the average adult brain are composed of 80% excitatory cells and 20% inhibitory cells1. On average, the cells responsible for inhibition don’t work at full capacity until your mid-twenties. There is also evidence that links the decrease in dopamine levels we experience as we age with a decreased interest in taking risks.2
Other life events can impact peoples’ willingness to take risks. For example, new parents have another person’s well-being to look out for; people approaching retirement may want to take a steadier financial path to not jeopardize their savings.
Your Past Can Play A Big Role
Studies show that a person’s past and upbringing can impact their risk-taking capacities.3 Some people struggle to take risks while others may have the opposite problem. Understanding where you fall on the scale can help you better gauge future decisions.
Look at past decisions, ones that went well and ones that didn’t, as well as opportunities you feel you let pass by. The more experience we have in certain situations, typically, the faster and more accurately we can evaluate options.
Personality Can Portend Risky Behaviors
It’s likely true that your personality traits can also help indicate whether or not you’d be willing to take risks. Many of these studies have focused on negative risk-taking behaviors4 but others show that these predictive traits transcend into other risk-taking scenarios, like sports, for example.5
Dr. Fran Walfish, a family and relationship psychotherapist,6 gave us a list of personality traits that she sees in people who are successful at getting out of their comfort zone and embracing risk and change:
- Solid ego strength: The person doesn’t have to be “right” all of the time, nor do they need to have things always go their way (or the highway!).
- Capacity to self-examine and be accountable for one’s own mistakes. The person can take an honest, painful look within and own up to an error and offer a genuine, heartfelt apology.
- Humor: The ability to laugh at oneself and the natural missteps everyone takes.
- Pain threshold: Pain is usually the motivator for change. It’s the gasoline that drives a person (to seek change).
- Reasonably healthy communication skills: The individual can generally make their feelings, needs and wants known through verbal expression.
- Determination and will: The individual is usually not passive. They are the type of person who doesn’t give up easily and has the drive to make it to the finish line.
Understanding these different factors as they relate to you can help you find room for improvement and recognize when you’re holding back too much (or in some cases, not enough).
How To Take Risks (Successfully)
There is no exact science for successful risks – hence the term “risk.” But there are steps you can take to approach risk-taking from a healthy place to give yourself the best odds of a positive outcome.
We’ve gathered tips from experts who work closely with risk management and helping people embrace change.
1. Know The ‘Why’
The first step in facing risks and tough decision-making is to provide yourself with some inspiration. Rev. Dr. Rick Patterson notes that you should “know the why” – understanding motivation makes all the difference. Whether you’re taking on risk or avoiding it, the key to successful decision-making is knowing why you’re doing what you are doing.7
To take that a step further, Meredith Prescott, LCSW,8 recommends that you “set your goals on what you wish to accomplish. Outline them clearly. Make sure that they are specific and measurable. We are often so afraid to fail that we avoid decisions. Challenge your negative limiting beliefs. What evidence do you have that you aren't good enough or that you will fail?”
2. Open Up To Unseen Possibilities
Being a risk-taker can help you stand out in many situations which could create new opportunities you hadn’t even thought of. Understand that though there are potential negative consequences, there are likely positive outcomes that you hadn’t considered yet.
Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CEO at ImpactParents9, explains that “many people find comfort in reliability and certainty. And as a result, they fear what they do not know. They want to be able to anticipate what's going to happen to such an extent that even when they are terribly uncomfortable, they'll take no action. For these people, the fear of change is greater than their fear of the status quo.”
3. Practice On A Smaller Scale
Unfortunately, there’s no switch that you can flip to become a better risk-taker, like most things, it takes practice. Prescott recommends that you “identify what is holding you back from making a change. Often, procrastination stems from fear and an inability to tolerate uncertainty. Sit with discomfort and acknowledge that you will never have certainty. Talk about your feelings and name them!” (8)
Some great exercises include:
- Take small, daily risks
- Talk about what you want
- Journal about what holds you back
- Visualize what you want in great detail
- Roleplay as the person who’s already achieved it
- Engage in other confidence-building exercises
- Recite meaningful mantras
- Make it a time-limited bucket list
Visualization And Role Playing
Taylor-Klaus explains that, “if you can't envision what change will look like, then you cannot even see how to take the first step. The best solution for this is to go through a process of envisioning the change you want to see, in as much exquisite detail as possible. Role-playing and building confidence is another key to creating change.” (9)
Flex Your ‘Risk Muscles’
Nicole Arzt, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and board advisory member for Family Enthusiast10 suggests, “practice training your ’risk muscles.’ The more you can step out of your comfort zone, the easier those ‘bigger risks’ tend to feel. Think small – get in the habit of ordering a new entree at your usual restaurant, take a different commute home, reach out to someone you wouldn't normally talk to ... In other words, embrace change within your daily life. The more you can be open to change, the better you position yourself to novelty.”
Commit To A Bucket List
Arzt also points out that, “a bucket list is such a good way to force yourself to try new things and take risks. But the catch is that you need to make it a time-limited bucket list (i.e. for 1 month or 1 year). Write down three to five things you'd really like to accomplish or try. Take the time to identify the steps you'd need to take to achieve that goal. Place this list somewhere visible. The more you are reminded of your goals, the more willing you are to go after them.” (10)
4. Reframe Your Fears
Don’t just look at the negative outcomes, give equal (if not more) thought to the positive outcomes. Chris Norris, certified sleep science coach,11 explains, “knowing the benefits of your actions will make yourself more convinced to take risks because you will gain something out of it ... When you take risks, you open the opportunity of gaining a lesson, so be brave enough and do it.”
Joel Thielke12 reminds us that “we can reframe [our limiting beliefs] into empowering beliefs. So take ‘change is scary’ and turn it into ‘change brings new possibilities.’ Or ‘taking risks opens me up to more success’” to look at your fear from a new perspective.
If you find yourself feeling stuck, Dr. Brian Wind, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and chief clinical officer at Journey Pure,13 recommends that you “identify the thought patterns you have when it comes to embracing change and risk-taking. Maybe you tend to grumble or push back against changes, blame others or blame the world when it happens, or wait for the change to pass without adapting.”
He also recommends that you “learn to manage these thoughts whether it's through relaxation techniques such as meditation that will help reduce your anxiety about the change and feel more in control. You can also focus on the ways that you have successfully adapted to change or managed risks in the past and how these experiences, lessons and skills can help you manage the change you are going through.”
5. Pursue Goals With Conviction
Taylor-Klaus explains that, “ultimately, avoidance happens over time, and change happens quickly. All it takes is about 20 seconds of bravery to start the conversation and the rest unfolds quickly from there.” (9) You can’t just want something, you have to actively make it happen. Complacency is comfortable for a lot of people, so it takes effort to go after what you want and the willingness to take risks.
Lynell Ross, resource director at Test Prep Insight14 reminds us that “it’s easier to stay where you are, not change jobs, not ask someone out, or not make an investment because of the fear of failure. People subconsciously think that if they don't try, they can't fail. However, a time comes when staying the same may become more painful than risking change.”
Actively seek out opportunities and learn to better evaluate the risks.
6. Calculate Risks And Ask For Help
Dr. Walfish recommends that you “become informed before you make a decision. Do the research and find information on your own.” (6) Create a pros and cons list that touches on everything from the very best outcome to the worst.
Above all else, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ross points out that, “if you feel like you want to make a change, but can't make a decision, ask for help. Whether you are considering a business move, financial decision or relationship change, seek the counsel of an expert to help you make your decision, but ultimately, you get to make the choice. Then no matter what the outcome, take responsibility for your choices.” (14)
But Don’t Overthink It
While it’s important to make careful calculations, there’s also value in loosening the reins on your fear. Expert investor and CEO coach Eric Lochtefeld15 points out that “if it scares the heck out of you, chances are it comes with huge rewards and is calling on you to do it! Every major win I have in my life is because I chose to take a risk.”
Founder and president of Suburban Jungle Alison Bernstein16 agrees that overanalyzing situations can be detrimental and lead “to analysis paralysis ... with the world changing so fast, it is important ... to stay nimble and at the ready to embrace a new course.”
7. Read Your Emotions And Reactions
Carrie Krawiec, LMFT17 tells us that “often people shy away from risk or avoid it altogether because they believe stress or anxiety is bad and are avoiding the feeling. The body, however, doesn't really distinguish between anxiety and excitement and it could be you are missing the opportunity for something exhilarating.”
Dr. Walfish also recommends that you “determine if there is a legitimate reason to panic or worry, or if you are reacting before anything has gone wrong.” (6) This is another reason why it’s crucial to get more in touch with yourself and your feelings. Is this reaction a true gut reaction or does it stem from an outside factor? Pallah Burdis, MSW18, points out that your “social learning system can also hinder [your risk-taking] trait due to learned behavior from others who don’t take risks.”
8. When In Doubt, Sleep On It
Heightened stress and anxiety could hamper your ability to fairly assess a risk. Stay in tune with the wisdom and cues your body provides. If you’re oscillating too closely in between decisions, sleep on it and evaluate your options again with a clearer mind.
Teresa Lodato, CPCC19, encourages you to “calm your nervous system to access innate and learned wisdom to make better decisions, see possibilities. Remember past experiences and learnings. Tune into your [body’s signals] to help inform decisions. When in doubt simply choose an option and see how it makes your body feel.”
9. Study Your Failures
Know that not everything will go according to plan – that’s just the nature of life. What’s more important is what you do after a perceived failure. Krawiec explains that, “through risk and challenge (even if the outcome is imperfect) we make ourselves vulnerable. When we use our own skills and abilities to get through it, we gain strength and pride … Don't expect perfection the first time.” (17)
As Krawiec cleverly puts it, “‘FAIL’ can [serve as an acronym] for the ‘first attempt in learning.’ People avoid something when they think they should know what to do perfectly without trying it. Instead predict, plan and praise gradual approximations for success.” (17)
Flip the script on failures. Lodato explains that “every perceived ‘failure’ can provide learnings which helps build a sense of resilience. Recognizing times in the past where you have overcome challenges while considering what helped you at that time get through it, can provide opportunities to reuse those skills to move through the present challenge.” (19)
10. Embrace Change And Adapt
Darcie Brown, LMFT20 explains that “humans are meant to grow and change, so when we resist change, you may start to realize dissatisfaction with your life, or even depression. If you shy away from risk, remind yourself that it's OK to be scared, but you can do it anyway.
“Also, remember that most decisions aren't permanent. If you don't like where you end up, you can always change course. And the more you lean into change, the more you realize you are capable of embracing it.”
Risk-Taking In Home Buying
Your home is likely the biggest purchase you’ll make, so understandably, the process may seem daunting. The real estate market can be tumultuous,21 but buying property is also one of the most mentioned ways to build wealth22, making it a risk worth taking. Smart home buying moves can help you move up the property ladder and even get to a place where you support yourself through your investments.
With the right steps in place, you can mitigate your risk and land the home of your dreams.
Think Big Picture And Long-Term
Just like any other risk, understanding your “why” is key. Think about why you want to purchase a home. Are you looking for your forever home, a starter home or an investment property? Understanding what you want out of a property can help you save time sifting through options that don’t fit your ultimate goal.
Know Where You Stand Financially
The first step in evaluating home buying risks is to know your financial situation and what options you have. There are many avenues to homeownership, but the greater your financial health, the better your mortgage rate options will likely be.
Before applying for a mortgage, pay off as much debt you can, look into credit repair (if needed) and do a deep-dive into your budget to see where you can save more for a down payment.
Educate Yourself And Look Into Resources
Make sure to look into local programs or get advice from your local HUD advisor to make the most of your situation. For example, researchers believe that single parenthood may be a driving force behind the women’s housing gap. Single parents may not have the same financial flexibility to wait out the market. See some additional resources below:
- Home buying for people with disabilities
- Guide for first-time home buyers
- Down payment assistance options
- Home affordability calculator
Speak To A Mortgage Expert
While there are a ton of great resources online to help inform you about the process, there is no substitute for personalized assistance and advice. Speak to a mortgage expert to help you figure out a home buying plan that’ll set you up for success.
Follow Trends And Be Patient
Sign up for alerts on MLS listing sites and keep a close eye on the mortgage rate trends. If you can afford to be patient, you should try to hold out for the property that fits your criteria. We know that’s not always possible depending on your situation – this makes seeking professional guidance all the more important.
10+ Risk-Taking Quotes And Mantras
Still need a push to go after what you want or to take a leap of faith? Below, see some great risk-taking quotes to keep on hand for daily inspiration:
- “The real risk is doing nothing.” – Denis Waitley
- “Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
- “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn
- “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein
- “Taking risks doesn’t mean you don’t feel fear, acknowledge fear, or let fear inform you; you just don’t let it stop you.” – Caren Merric
- “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” – William G.T. Shedd
- “Don’t be afraid to take a big step. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”– David Lloyd George
- “The best time for new beginnings is now.” – Unknown
- “Embrace what you don’t know, especially in the beginning, because what you don’t know can become your greatest asset.” – Sara Blakely
- “Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it ... Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey
- “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” – Andrew Carnegie
- “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
Print out and frame one (or more) of our wall art prints to inspire you to be courageous and keep you moving towards your goals:
Don’t miss out on a good thing for fear of change. The only thing that’s guaranteed in life is that things will change. If you practice thoughtful decision-making on a daily basis, evaluating and taking risks will only become easier.
- Carnegie Mellon
- Current Biology
- Developmental Science
- Personality and Individual Differences
- Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport
- Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV, and co-star on WE tv
- Rev. Dr. Rick Patterson
- Meredith Prescott, LCSW at Prescott Psychotherapy + Wellness
- Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CEO at ImpactParents.com
- Nicole Arzt, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, who serves on the advisory board for Family Enthusiast
- Chris Norris, Certified Sleep Science Coach and Editor at Sleep Standards
- Joel Thielke, CEO at Motivational Hypnotherapy
- Dr. Brian Wind, PhD clinical psychologist and Chief Clinical Officer at Journey Pure, and former co-chair of the American Psychological Association's Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance
- Lynell Ross, Resource Director at Test Prep Insight
- Eric Lochtefeld, expert investor and CEO Coach and Founder of Bliss Champions
- Alison Bernstein, Founder and President of Suburban Jungle
- Carrie Krawiec, LMFT at Birmingham Maple Clinic
- Pallah Burdis, MSW
- Teresa Lodato, CPCC and founder of Founder Becoming Aware Coaching
- Darcie Brown, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Darcie Brown Wellness
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