The comfort of staying inside the narrow box of things you can be certain about is short-lived. As we grow and develop from infancy we take small risks. We do things that we can’t be sure we’ll succeed at, in fact, it was almost guaranteed we would fail at them. When you started taking your first steps, mumbling your first words and learning to feed yourself, you failed, over and over.
But at no point did you say, “oh well, guess that isn’t for me then”.
That as a concept was not available to you, the concept of failure had no meaning to you, there was no binary outcome of success or failure. You did things for “no reason”. It liberated you from the fear of the outcome.
Think about things you’ve done that have stayed meaningful for you. It’s the times yo u took a risk and it paid off, that you overcame the adversity against the odds and triumphed. When you asked for that promotion, when you signed up to run for class president, when you asked that guy/girl out on a date.
Allowing that fear to buckle your attempts to even try is something that came later. For me, as I grew older I started to understand cause and effect. Let forced me to see the outcome of my actions as important for deciding which ones to take in the future and which to avoid. A healthy habit in moderation, allowing you to avoid unnecessary conflict and keep stability. Like learning candles are hot and knives are sharp, they’re useful tools when not misused.
But then the one of the outcomes I started to care about was social inclusion, going through formative years of schooling and learning how to “fit in” means you stop trying things for “no reason”. The risk of being seen as different becomes a far greater deterrent than any motivation you can have.
This dies down as you get older but in that middle ground it is all you care about.
Retreating from taking risks
We stop taking those risks, the fear starts to build around new activities. The fear you feel now is because there is an outcome you don’t desire, and you are not sure you can avoid it. Or one you do want, and you are not sure you can attain it.
These are two separate issues. The former addressed by “fear setting”. Going down the thought process of:
- Assuming this thing happens, what will be conclusion – what’s my absolute worst case. Be specific.
- What could I reasonably do now to minimise the likelihood of that occurring?
- If it did occur, what could I do the minimise or reverse the negative impacts?
Then consider: Is this as terminal or awful as I was projecting originally? Usually these things are blown out of proportion in our imaginations. We could recover from almost anything.
The latter issue is a simpler one. If you don’t act, you guarantee it does not occur. If you have a coin to flip, you want it to land as ‘heads’ but you don’t want to flip it for risk of ‘tails’. Not flipping it is the only way you guarantee it never lands on ‘heads’.
The one universal constant
Inaction guarantees decay. Increasing entropy is the only constant. Heat flows from a hotter system to a cooler one, it distributes faster at hotter temperatures, it’s the foundation of the conservation of energy and heat transfer. One day in the very distant future it will likely lead to the heat death of the universe.
It is the universal truth. It applies on the universal scale but also the physiology of our bodies and the trajectory of our lives. A system cannot increase in energy without energy being injected from an outside source.
Choosing to take a risk injects a little heat into the system of your life, it’s our own little entropy-reverser.
These do not need to be life-shattering upheavals. You probably don’t need to quit your job, or move countries. Often these are far more severe reactions than are needed, and you may even just be running away from a problem that is inside of you.
If you’re living inside your comfort zone consider toeing the line rather than launching yourself out in a catapult. Iterative improvement.
Take a small step to start walking
Speak up in that meeting. Say “hi” to your coworker eating alone. Compliment your friend out of the blue. Go to the gym that you pay the membership for but never go to. Release that blog post you wrote, or the vlog you filmed but never released. Take your painting out of the cupboard and put it on the wall. Wear that outfit you have hidden in the back of your closet. Take risks.
Everything worth doing is worth doing badly, as we’ve explored before. If exploring the possibilities of what you can be is worth doing, then let’s start by doing anything at all.
Don’t shatter your routine but dance with the boundaries.