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A Simple Formula for Taking Risks

My friend decided to open a retail store in the midst of the pandemic. A move that felt incredibly risky to me. And yet, it's been such a success, she's moving into a bigger space.

When discussing this with her recently she acknowledged the risk saying, "I asked myself what's the worse case scenario? Ok, it'll be x amount of dollars and x amount of my time, can I live with that? If the answers yes, I do it."

My friend took a calculated risk. She knew her industry. She consciously crafted a business model poised to iterate based on lessons learned. She thoughtfully developed a unique experience to fit a niche. And she was willing to accept the worse case scenario if it happened.

This isn't always the case. Entrepreneurs and innovators often take risks with a deep conviction they will succeed. On the one hand it makes sense, why would you change it if you didn't believe in your idea?

On the other hand, if you only consider the upside, you're going in with blinders on.

When I was in middle school, my Dad, a serial entrepreneur, took his biggest business risk ever. The endeavor crashed and burned - he lost everything. If it wasn't for the fact our house was in both my parent's names, we would have been homeless (a valuable lesson learned for myself).

The loss was so devastating my Dad entered a horrible depression, and contemplated suicide. He was so sure of the bet he placed, the potential for failure nor the consequences came to mind when he decided to go all in. He was caught off guard.

One of the myths perpetuated in the name of Positive Psychology is to only have happy thoughts. This myth is also pervasive among those striving to practice the law of attraction.

If you follow this line of thinking, you don't entertain the idea of worse case scenarios. You avoid thinking of challenges or obstacles. You suppress worries and fears. You try to think of only positive and happy things like rainbows and flowers and sunny days.

Unfortunately, positive thinking alone doesn't turn dreams into reality. What's more, when we don't face our fears or worries they play in the background of our thinking. It's like those times you have lots of programs running on your computer using precious internet bandwidth, which causes the video you're streaming to glitch.

You might try your best to only think positive thoughts or say affirmations but deep down the fear and worry festers, casting a shadow on your best efforts.

There's a simple solution for consciously taking calculated risks and moving beyond the fear, it's the Stoic practice called the pre-meditation of evils.

Just like my friend did, you ask what's the worse case scenario. From there, you play it out as though it's happened. Then you imagine how you would respond, if your worse fear came true.

The beauty of this practice is two-fold. One, when we suppress our fears they often take on a larger than life quality which feels insurmountable. Whereas when we face them we realize, it's not as bad as we imagined.

Second, when we work through our response to a worse case scenario fear we are prepared. Our brains don't know the difference between what we imagine and what we experience in reality. So, once the thought exercise is complete, we have internalized how we will overcome such obstacles, laying the foundation for action should the worse case scenario occur.

This approach takes what my friend does for evaluating risks and adds one more element. Beyond just asking, "can I live with it?" It's challenging you to identify, "how will I live with it?"

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