When it comes to taking steps to making progress on an idea, or taking risks towards achieving a goal, there are two kinds of people. There are people who make decisions based off the facts. They find comfort in knowing that the theory they will employ in order to achieve their goal has been tested, has been successful, and will ultimately set them up to succeed as well. These kinds of people spend more time on the fence when making decisions, as facts are hard to come by. They entail a tremendous amount of research, analysis, organization and ultimately security in the proposed idea. When it comes to taking risks, these people are not the first to jump in. On the other hand, there are the optimists. People who find that the spontaneous nature of their decision making leads them to believe in something before there is any sort of proof that it will work. Often times blinded by optimism, these people spend no time on the fence at all… they leave it all to chance and jump right in. If I had to categorize myself as one of these types, I’d fall more on the “optimist” side of the spectrum, however, it’s not entirely that black and white. Facts produce results, but optimism gives you the the courage to take risks… so how do you identify which is the “better” way to go? Let me try and explain….
Let’s start with the factual mindset to taking risks and understand how it affects starting on a particular goal or ambition. The notion that something you want to do provides the opportunity of failing is a scary one. There is constantly a “what if…?” involved in being entirely blind to a situation. You’ve heard it before in many different settings… “I’ll swim in a pool but not in the ocean because I don’t know what’s in the water….” This is not to say that people who are more inclined to be factual risk takers means that they are scared, it means they like to be as knowledgeable as possible about the situation they are attempting to put themselves in. This is a good characteristic. Imagine for a moment you are an athlete – knowing your competition’s strengths and weaknesses allows you to plan your game better. Here, the facts are not limiting your decision making, on the contrary they are driving your decision making and if deployed successfully, they are giving you an upper hand.
Optimistic risk takers see failure in one of two ways. Either they are entirely oblivious to the possibility of failing, or they have taught themselves to embrace it. Optimistic minded people strive to redefine what is possible even if it means believing in something they can’t see, or something that has not been done before. This is what it means to have faith in yourself, or in whatever it is you are working towards. I think we can all agree that having such a belief in yourself is important, as the benefits go beyond what the outcome of your project or goal may be. Believing in yourself builds confidence, and allows you to create an identity, characteristics that are crucial to being successful in any way. Optimism is often a characteristic of leadership, but not for the sole purpose of making people feel happier. Optimism should not be understood as a feeling that covers up or ignores negativity, rather, it should be deployed as a belief that something new will come out of whatever risk is being taken.
Now that I have successfully built a winning argument for both mindsets, it seems we have a dilemma. Two very different approaches to taking risks that both seem to have positive outcomes. One using knowledge to gain an upper hand on a situation, and one using the power of a positive mindset to create a new outcome. So which one do we use? This is a hard question to answer but I will do my best to do so. I’d like to start by having you ask yourself which of the two mindsets above you identify with most. Once you’ve made your decision, I want you ask yourself “what has this mindset STOPPED me from achieving?” Yes – you read that right. I want you to ask yourself why the mindset you identify with is in fact not working for you.
What you will find is that the reasons your selected mindset has failed you occasionally, is because you are lacking characteristics of the opposite mindset. Let’s go back to our athletic example. An athlete who only looks at the facts of her/his opposition without taking optimistic risks in the moment has not given the opponent anything they did not already know. If you can play the fact game, so can your opposition. If we relate this to the larger picture, if you approach your life with a fact based mindset then the furthest you can go is the facts that you used to make your decision. In the same way, a solely optimistic mindset may make you feel great, but could in fact set you back. I deliberately did not say that it will make you fail because I see failure as a form of success… successful learning that is…
The true power of risk taking is in the marriage of optimism and factually based decision making. Change your perspective for a moment. The facts you look to were not always facts. Yes they existed, but somebody believed they were facts and was optimistic enough to prove them. The key to following your heart and taking risks in a constructive way is to realize, that facts can change. Facts have to be proven. Facts are relative to the forces that brought them to be so. Optimism is what creates new facts. With an optimistic mindset it’s not that you are ignoring the facts, it’s that what you believe in you do so with so much faith, that for you it IS a matter of fact. This is the true way in which the world progresses. Be optimistic about finding new facts. Be optimistic that your beliefs can in fact become reality.
The secret to risk taking is to be optimistic that your opinion, project, business, vision or whatever it may be, has the potential to become a fact. It’s all about balance. “Educated risk” some may say…
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