Co-author – Kris MacKain, Ph.D
Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go — T.S. Eliot
You are facing a major life change (career, relationship, location) and are torn apart by two conflicting desires. Do you take the plunge or play it safe? What are you most likely to do? Do you approach the change from a cautious or an adventurous perspective? Specifically, do you:
- Pass it through the lens of your fears or your hopes?
- Evaluate the situation from a past, present, or future perspective?
- Allow people to influence you with their opinions about why it will not work?
- Reflect on the many opportunities you will have and how you will succeed?
Whenever we face change, irrespective of our personality type (adventurous or cautious) or unique set of circumstances, we often have at least two voices debating in our heads.
Voice #1. “But what if….”
The first voice is often triggered by fear but, in reality, has no grounding in an immediate or real danger. This cautionary voice reinforces and amplifies our anxieties by presenting every imagined negative consequence for the risk we want to take. This voice whispers the worst-case scenarios — all the horror stories that may likely occur if we act on our ideas for change. This voice also plays into the fact that change is difficult for most people and reinforces our inclination to retreat to our comfort zone and keep us firmly stuck in one place.
But there is another voice, solidly grounded in the reality of the present, that we can choose to heed instead.
Voice #2 – “Go for it….”
The “Go for it” voice encourages us to be present — not be derailed by past disappointments or anxieties about the future — to take a leap of faith, and venture out into new territory. This voice plants us solidly in the present making it easier to see more clearly the potential opportunities in making a change.
Here are some steps that can help us to make positive changes in our lives without letting fears about repeating past mistakes or negative fantasies about the future dictate our choices.
- Begin to observe our thoughts and realize that the “observing self” is solidly in the “now”. The act of observing interrupts our fixation with either the past or the future and allows the “go for it…” voice to be heard.
- Take the plunge. When we take action, our initial apprehensions about, for example, less income or alternative living arrangements, begin to recede and are replaced by a growing sense of possibility.
- Distinguish between far-fetched and feasible ideas. It’s important to evaluate our ideas to see if they are reasonable. This is accomplished by seeking sound advice, doing thorough research and preparation, and consulting with those who have taken similar steps.
- Be willing to fail. During our lifetime most of us have accumulated a list of failures. Our failed ventures need not define us now nor inhibit us in making decisions about our future. Rather, we can learn from our mistakes and use that knowledge in moving forward.
(Originally published October 2012)
Several years ago we decided to move to Mexico.
The dream was to experience more fully other cultures and seek out new adventures, move our consulting base to Mexico, rent out our home in the USA, and prove the naysayers — those who warned us about the dangers of living “down there”– wrong. As we considered the move, we realized that while other people saw risks and danger, we saw adventure and opportunity.
As we considered the risks others posed, we came to realize that almost all of these were based on one or more of the following: faulty assumptions, negative fantasies, knee-jerk prejudices, and/or misinformation. Furthermore, these particular Americans were so wedded to their negative ideas about Mexico that when we provided facts that contradicted their views, they refused to believe the truth and became even more entrenched in their position.
As it turned out, none of the “what-if’s” happened. and, what was most exciting and unexpected for us, was that our lives expanded and are now much richer and more interesting than we could have ever imagined. We began our journey with positive expectations, but they represented a mere fraction of the actual adventure of living here.
What to many was regarded as a dangerous risk has evolved into the most exciting and expansive adventure of our lives.
Our dreams often reflect our deepest aspirations about the kind of life we want for ourselves and for that reason, it is important to listen to them. Someday, when you look back over your life, do you want to be saying “I wish I had…” or “I’m so glad I did!”?
What change do you want to make that entails a risk?
What dream will you realize by taking this risk?
How can you reframe risks into opportunities to make your dream a reality?
What opportunity for personal growth and contribution will you lose if you do not take the plunge?