On Learning to Crash Well: Personal Risk Intelligence

Ok, so…I’m clumsy.

Hello, my name is Jenny and I’m accident prone.

Perhaps that’s why I would come up with an idea like ‘learn to crash well’ as a guiding principle. Plus, I tend to tilt a little more to the risk averse side of the scale (at least according to my definition of risk).  Thus, learning to crash well is a perfectly sound, prevention-focused way to take physical risks in a risk averse way!

Risk is heavy on my mind lately. Actually it has been in the background of my thoughts for months as I move toward my goal of leaving my day job to coach and write full time.  Risky, wouldn’t you say? I certainly have hesitations. But there’s risk in not making the choice to leave too: continued frustration; continued delay of living out my values and  my priorities; continued missed opportunities for adventure, connecting with friends and family, and well-being balance.

Here’s the thing about risk, which we all know but find so easy to ignore: Risk is everywhere all the time.

It’s in action, inaction, decision, indecision. It’s in change. It’s in the status quo. It’s particular and it’s relative; it means something different to everyone. For some, risk is base jumping from an 80 story building. For others, its walking 80 steps to say hello to someone new. Rock wall with bridge on side.jpegFor some, risk is traveling to a new country with no friends, no language ability, and no idea how to order a meal. For others, risk is traveling to a local  restaurant to sit alone at a table enjoying a meal, solitary in a crowd of strangers. We never escape risk and its consequences.
Instead, we become familiar with certain risks and their consequences, making them palatable with personal narratives, stories, and beliefs.

So maybe this is why while at my local dog nutrition store a few weeks back I got into an interesting conversation with the owner (we’ll call her Sandy) about risk and mountain biking. Sandy mentioned she would soon be taking a course to help teach her the basics since she was a novice, barely comfortable on her road bike, and that her whole goal was not to crash.

As a fairly new trail rider myself, and having already taken one or two (ahem) spills on my bike, I blurted out that not crashing is an unrealistic goal when you combine a bicycle moving at even modest speed with rocks, roots, ruts, rodents, turns, and terrain. The environment is too dynamic and unpredictable, and our skills too undeveloped to expect not to crash.

Thinking to ease her mind and give her my own novice perspective, I shared this opinion: “Instead of aiming not to crash, which is unrealistic (crashing is highly probable, if not inevitable), why not accept the fact that you’ll eventually crash and learn to crash well. That way, it’s easier to relax into the ride, loosen up, and be more fluid…all of which help you not to crash.” Needless to say, she looked at me as if I had two heads, decided right then and there to forego the entire endeavor, and said, “I can’t risk it.”

Sandy’s decision was informed by her skill level, past experience, life context and circumstances, and – most key – her certain expectation of a possible outcome.

Three weeks later, I’m still thinking about risk, crashing well, the opportunities we don’t take, and the potential hazards we avoid.

What I’ve come to accept is that risk seems risky because like Sandy we naturally tend to focus on expected outcomes above all other factors. Things we choose to do (and not do) are undertaken with the goal of achieving a desired outcome as we each define it: to stay safe, to have fun, to avoid embarrassment, to be successful,  to get rich, whatever. Outcome is the standard by which we measure the worth of any given risk. And why the heck would it be any different? Why would someone take a risk if not to get what they define as a desired outcome. Duh, Jenny.

But what if the outcome metric is a flawed standard?

Consider that there are several reasons one might take a risk that have nothing to do with its outcome. For example, you might take a risk because it moves you in the direction of your goals. You might take a risk because taking it is an expression of who you are or who you want to be. You might take a risk because you’ve gathered information, you’ve thought through the cost of decision and indecision, you’ve gotten clear on your values, and you’re ready to make aligned choices, regardless of the outcome.

Uncertain future or next unpredictable life goal concept, colorful wooden alphabets combine word FUTURE with random direction arrow on dark black chalkboard wallBecause here’s the thing about outcomes: they are by their very nature unknown, uncertain, unpredictable, and uncontrollable because they are in the future. No matter how hard I try to set in motion particular events or try to construct certainties today, there are too many external forces at play that can and will send the outcome in a direction beyond my control. So why rely so much on something inherently unreliable when making decisions?

And let’s be clear. At their core risks are decisions. So why not connect risk-taking with a decision-making process that focuses on the quality of thinking leading to which risks we take and the quality of the risk itself? Considering a risk decision in a thoughtful and intelligent way, considering the cost of action and inaction, knowing whether the attempt will move you towards or away from your goals, and being clear that the risk is in alignment with your personal values, the worth and cost of the risk-decision become clear.

This is the equivalent to me of learning to crash well, what I’ve come to think of as  personal risk intelligence. Interestingly enough, as you improve the quality of your risk decisions, the probability of achieving desired outcomes increases as well. What’s more, over time you become more proficient at making quality decisions efficiently and quickly, even in times of uncertainty. Fancy that.

Interested in increasing your personal risk intelligence ? Try out one of the tactics below.

~Gain an understanding of your relationship to risk by considering the following questions:

  • How do you define risk? What is the risk of action and what is the risk of inaction?
  • What does risk mean to you? What would “risky” look, sound, or feel like in  your world?
  • What type of risks are you attracted to?
  • What type of risks are you averse to?
  • What is something you do that feels safe, familiar, or comfortable to you but which someone else might describe as risky?
  • What risks could you take to move yourself toward your goals, priorities, and values?
  • Which risks could you avoid to move yourself toward your goals, priorities, and values?
  • What risk(s) do you think about but aren’t taking? What is the cost of your indecision and inaction?

~Improve the quality of your decision making. My own journey to refocus my 公園で遊ぶ女の子thinking on process rather than outcome has been informed by Dr. Uptal Dholakia ‘s writings here and here. For my part, I use the Whole Brain® Thinking model to guide me in making holistic, well-thought out decisions.

~Deepen your understanding of and relationship to risk with Margie Warrell who has written extensively on risk, courage, and bravery in her books and articles here and here.

Check out my feed on Instagram @plenumcoaching for quotes, affirmations, and journal prompts.

Want to discover how you can cultivate yourself self and your relationships by getting clear on your thinking, values, beliefs, and goals so that you can commit to meaningful actions that move you toward where and who you want to be? Well, you’re in the right place because as a coach, that’s what I do!

Visit my Let’s Get Started page to learn more about coaching and schedule our first session together.

Not sure if coaching is right for you? I understand. Coaching represents a significant commitment of time and resources. It is important to me that you have all the information you need to make the best decision for yourself. I invite you to read about My Coaching Approach and to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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