To Make a Change -- Take a Chance

Life is really all about CHANGE. In order to make a CHANGE, you have to be willing to take a CHANCE. To take a chance is to risk. So let's spend a few minutes investigating RISK. We'll examine these characteristics and contingencies:

· what risk is;

· what it does;

· how to recognize what risks are necessary - or not - in a specific situation;

· how to assess the degree of risk you need to take; and?

· how to take risks.

First, what is RISK? Simply put, risk is:

- a response to the unknown, taken in order to produce discovery and yield a gain...or

- a reaction to pain in the present, taken in order to escape the unpleasant present or future consequences of that pain, to prevent a loss. We like to think that the most intelligent approach to risk is to attempt to make every risk a calculated response rather than a reaction...even when pain and possible loss are the motivators.

This isn't easy. It requires a high degree of objectivity, even when a current situation is at the crisis level. And part of the answer is to slow down, to step back, to look at the situation as though someone else were experiencing it, then objectively calculate the nature and degree of risk you'll have to take to solve the immediate problem.

A hint: look also at the longer-term consequences of current risks. For example, to risk leaving a job for another that pays more money could have good short term outcomes, but if the job you move into involves working with people you can't stand, or affiliating with a company that may go out of business in a year or two, then today's risk may not be worthwhile.

There's a caution here, as well. Risk is often exciting. Some people like excitement, and these are people who occasionally take risks just for the thrill of it. Be careful. Before you attempt a risk, even after you've thought it through thoroughly, go inside yourself and get a sense of how you feel about it. If your head tells you it's silly but your gut insists that you try it, STOP. Think it through one more time. You may save yourself expense, embarrassment, the loss of a friend or a job...make risk a tool, not a recreational activity!

Wisely used, risking is a vital key to enhancing your personal power. We'll talk more about this later, but for now, let's take a brief look at a concept that may assist you in determining whether a risk is advisable. Take out a clean piece of paper. Draw a fairly large square?now divide it into four equal quadrants. We're going to put labels into each quadrant and some indicators outside of the square itself. The purpose of this is to give you a matrix to work with when you begin thinking about taking risks in any particular life situation.

The upper left quadrant of the square is the position of greatest power -- MASTERY.

Write that label in the upper left quadrant. Mastery involves taking action on things you can control.

At the upper right is STRIVING. Label that quadrant now. Striving is what people often do when they encounter a situation they can't control -- but believe they can! This is a reactive position that simply can't result in a feeling of completion or accomplishment. It seems to go on forever. Note that both of these upper quadrants involve action. So, to the left of the big square, opposite the upper two quadrants, write the word ACTION. But notice that the actions are of opposite polarity. In the MASTERY position you're in control. It's a positive position. So put a "plus" sign in the MASTERY quadrant. In the STRIVING quadrant you're not in control. So put a MINUS SIGN in the STRIVING quadrant.

The lower quadrants are also critical to personal power and self esteem, and they, too, have "charges" on them. Both are no action positions. To the left of these quadrants write the label NO ACTION. The lower-left quadrant is called GIVING UP. This is what some people do even when they are actually in control. It's a victim position. Clinical psychologists and medical researchers have noticed that people who behave in this quadrant often develop the physical symptoms of stress -- arthritis, back pain, even cancer. The perceived "payoff" in this quadrant is, of course, that you're rid of the problem because you've succumbed to it. The consequences are out of your control, making this a very negative position. Put a MINUS SIGN in this quadrant, because whenever you give up, you give away some self-esteem and make it harder to take risk the next time.

The lower right quadrant should be labeled LETTING GO. This position, taken when you don't have control over the circumstances you're in, results in a feeling of relief. In essence, you've released the source of stress -- that which you can't control. Observers of people in this position note that quite often the letting go results in a creative spurt that suggests alternative solutions to that particular problem. So here's the great paradox: even when you don't have control and don't take any action, you may effect positive change. Letting go opens the door to creativity, and it's risk-free. So put a PLUS SIGN in this quadrant.

Because the two boxes on the left are "control" positions, put that word ? CONTROL ? beneath the left half of the square. Under the other half, print the words "NO CONTROL."

Now the matrix is complete, and with this structure in mind we can do a little analysis of appropriate risk taking.

The first caveat is that risk taking should be reserved for situations where you have some control. Taking risks in "no control" situations is likely to be a waste of time and energy. Thus, noticing what we said before, that you always have control over yourself -- and NEVER over anyone else or their actions -- could there be some legitimate criteria for risk taking? We think so.

I like to simplify -- or at least organize -- topics so you can easily remember them. So here are the A-B-C rules for risk, as I've experienced them over the years.

- "A" is ASSESSMENT. It's the process of coming to recognize the need, taking time to move away from it emotionally so you can calculate or estimate the risk-reward ratio, and confronting the fear that inevitably accompanies the need to risk. This is the first step in reducing the overwhelming idea of risk to a size you can handle. This is the "getting ready" process.

- "B" stands for a BEGINNING. Most of us, when we face the need to risk, have the most trouble when it comes to taking that first step, the first action that will set the change process into motion. If you've assessed the risk adequately, you'll know several things. First, you'll be aware of the possible plusses and minuses of the outcome. Second, you will have had at least a moment of objectivity. But it may still be difficult to get going. Yet, the idea is just that -- to GET GOING. So ACT -- but act with the knowledge that you'll reach a point of no return, a moment at which you can no longer go back to square one. The trick here is to know that point and to apply all the pressure ? all the commitment to change ? that you need to move through it and on to the "C" of risk taking?

- "C" is CONCLUSION - which implies COMPLETION, and the end of any risk taking is a moment at which some old idea or belief has to be abandoned, because the situation is new. The final key is to be willing to let go of that old idea, form a new one, and to use it enough so that it becomes a belief. This is, indeed, life change in the real world.

In summary, change is something you can't accomplish without risk. Risk is something you can't take without some fear. And fear is FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL, so -- just maybe -- this little ABC exercise can help you to handle risk a little bit easier the next time it comes up for you. Next and finally, here are five criteria for risk-taking. If you observe all of these, you should be able to develop a plan that entails the least possible risk and creates an environment most likely to produce a favorable longer-term outcome.

- First, have a goal. You need an endpoint from which to work backward as you figure out what risks are or might be appropriate to assist you in getting where you want to go. Any other risk would be pointless, because there'd be no way to ensure or predict the outcome except in terms of some sort of "excitement" you'd get from taking it. That's sort of like playing "Chicken" in a car or passing another car on a blind curve, "just for the fun of it."

- Second, ask questions -- lots of questions. At the end of this article is a questionnaire. Go to it now and complete it using real-life situations you're facing. When you're done, you'll probably have a much clearer idea of what you should or should not risk.

- Third, get a handle on what you stand to lose before you undertake any risk of consequence. This is very important. Often we evaluate risk only from the point of view of what we have to gain from it. Our fears keep us from addressing realistically the potential for loss. Don't jump before looking down to see how high above the ground you are.

- Fourth, risk in stages -- in increments -- usually taking the smallest risks first. It's amazing, but life seems to work this way. You take a little risk, it works, then you're better prepared to take bigger risks. It's also saner. Keep doing this small-scale risk expansion over and over, as often as necessary in your particular circumstance. Soon you'll be in this position. You'll be ready to take the final leap, to accomplish your mission and reach your goal -- and you'll feel a near CERTAINTY about success, because you will have built a ladder of success in the smaller risk taking. Result...? Bingo. You've done it. Just in case you think this is a crock, I want to assure you that I do it in my life every day. It's the fundamental reason you're reading this right now. When the idea for this seminar first took shape, not only didn't I think I could do it, virtually nobody else did, either. I didn't have a lot of encouragement, except from a couple of good friends and from my daughters, who had watched me take incremental risks for years. They KNEW I could do it, even when I didn't. And today, here we are.

- Fifth and finally, take your own risks. Don't expect that others will risk for you -- and don't let them do it. There are several reasons for this. First is that if someone else takes the risk, you'll never experience the full value of the reward if the risk is successful. Second is that if the risk doesn't pan out, you may lose a friend or develop one heavy resentment. In either situation -- win or lose --you will have abdicated your own responsibility and compromised your own integrity and authenticity. Keep your risks at home. It's safer, easier and much less risky in terms other than the risk itself -- terms such as anger, friendship and other relationships.


Before taking any risk -- and during each stage of the risk-taking -- ask yourself as many questions as you can think of about the situation, about your next step, about your short- and long-term goals and about yourself. The more questions you ask and answer, the greater the chance you'll discover whether or not the risk should be taken and the less the chance that the risk, if you do take it, will fail. Here are a few questions that might apply to your risking situation. Pick a specific situation you're in now or might be in soon, then answer the questions below that relate to that situation.


- Is this a necessary risk? What makes it so?

- Can I reach my goal without taking this risk?

- Is the potential gain greater than the potential loss?

- What can I lose by taking this risk? How will I know I am losing this?

- What can I do to prevent these losses from occurring?

- What do I need to know before risking in this way? Why don't I know it already? Who can tell me?

- What would be the right time to act? Will that time ever come?

- What would be the worst time to act? Is that time at hand?

- Who wants me to succeed at this risk? Who might profit from my failure?

- What part should I let each of these kinds of people (friends/enemies) play in my life and in this risk?

- When I risk like this, what feeling am I trying to express?

- Will people think better or worse of me if I succeed? Will this matter to me?

- Do I want people to think about me in certain ways? How will this risk affect this?

- Whose attention would I like to get?

- Why can't I just talk to them and tell them?

- Am I ever a little bit irrational? Is this one of those times? How do I know? What can I do about it?

- Am I afraid? Of what? If not, why not?

- Will I ever be "ready" to act?

- What's holding me back?

- When will I have risked more than I can afford to lose?

- Make a list of all the significant people in your life, place them in priority order (highest to lowest) then ask yourself about each: How might I hurt this person in taking this risk? Would that matter in our relationship?

- Is anyone pressuring me to take this risk?

- What would make me change my mind about taking this risk?

- Am I doing this to please someone else? Have I told this person I feel this way?

- Have I ever contemplated or taken this risk or one like it before?

- Could I have taken it more safely the last time? If I didn't take it then, why did I postpone it?

- If this risk doesn't work out, when should I give it up?

- Will this risk really make me happy if it works? How do I know? What else might make me happy? How do I know?

- What has been the impact on me of all the questions I've asked so far?

- What would happen if, even with all I know, I didn't risk now?

Copyright 2002, 2005 Optimum Performance Associates/Paul McNeese.

Paul McNeese is CEO of Optimum Performance Associates, a consulting firm specializing in transitional and transformational change for individuals and institutions through publication. His publishing company, OPA Publishing, is an advocacy for self-publishing authors of informational, instructional, inspirational and insightful nonfiction.

Email: [email protected]
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