13 Aug 2014

What are you willing to risk? While this may be a legitimate question in a poker game, it is also an essential life question.

We all know that risk is both a verb and a noun. We understand that risk involves taking action that is uncertain; it could result in positive or negative outcomes.

We’d like to think that every risk situation is approached with a firm calculation of potential outcomes. But we know we’re not just logical beings; we are complexly emotional. We also know that we make decisions based on limited information.

Teenagers engage in reckless behavior, from driving too fast to unprotected sex. That is because the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for risk assessment and decision making— is not fully developed until age 25.

But many adults exhibit the same types of irrational and irresponsible behavior as adolescents. Smoking, eating too much (or the wrong things), ignoring relationship red flags, and making unwise financial decisions, are just some of examples.

I know someone who is too afraid to drive; yet she has made risky life choices that have resulted in chronic stress and financial strain. The risk-assessment part of her being seems to be broken.

We tend to underestimate potential negative consequences for things we want. We just do them.

In other areas, we fail to accurately assess what could happen if we don’t take care of the things we already have.

A common example is not backing up your computer. With more and more of our lives stored on and dependent on technology, why doesn’t everyone back up? Cloud backup and external hard drives are super-easy and incredibly affordable. You can get a 500GB external drive for under $50 in the U.S., and a 1-2T drive for a 100 bucks or less. There is NO reason to risk losing all your data because you never got around to doing regular backups.

Then there are computer passwords. We don’t think about what could happen if someone found all those little pieces of paper with our passwords written on them, or if someone got hold of one password and were able to access all our online accounts. (See Death By Password article about password-keeper software.)

Risk will always be part of life.

Having a healthy sense of risk is an essential life skill.

Think about various aspects of your life and do a fresh risk assessment. Areas to consider:

  • Personal finance
  • Investing and saving
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Other behaviors that affect health
  • Computer risk
  • Online behavior
  • Relationship behavior
  • Spiritual attachments
  • Hobbies & other free time use
  • Driving
  • Maintenance of possessions
  • Career


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