Covid-19 Has Increased Our Risk Sensitivity. Yet It’s The Risks You’re Not Taking You Might Regret Most
Ever looked back and wished you’d been braver?
Of course you have.
We all have.
We’re wired for safety and belonging; to avoid putting ourselves ‘out there’ where we risk the possibility of falling short, feeling foolish or socially shunned. Cancelled even.
Our brains are twice as sensitive to potential losses as they are to potential gains; programmed for certainty and predictability. We want to make plans based on a future we can predict with some degree of confidence. Clearly certainty and predictability have been in short supply over the last 18 months.
The rising spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 has only exacerbated uncertainty and ratcheted up the fear factor at the very time many were hoping life was finally moving forward to whatever version of normal emerges post Covid-19.
Yet long before the masks were a fashion accessory, we were at the forces of a culture preoccupied with risk and bombarding us with reasons to feel afraid.
Terrorism. Immigration. Online predators. Identity theft. Cyber-warfare. Corporate restructuring. AI. Big brother. Deep state. Getting cancelled.
The list is long.
As I shared in a recent virtual speech (a short clip below), the Covid-19 pandemic has only magnified our perception of risk and normalized hyper-caution. Little wonder that so many people have become so preoccupied with potential threats to their security and wellbeing – far beyond Covid-19 – that they’ve lost the ability to discern the legitimate fears that are serving them them from those which are driving them to live too safely, holding back from taking the very chances that would move them forward – personally and professionally – and ultimately, make them more secure, not less so.
In the process many people have unwittingly confined themselves into a restricted circles of their own potential, hemmed in by their fear of everything they cannot control. And let’s face it, that is much of life.
Yet left unchecked, fear of what we can’t control or don’t want or understand can hold our lives – our potential and future with it – hostage.
Over-caution can ultimately be an act of self-sabotage as it stops us from taking the actions that would enable us to learn, to create, to contribute and grow into a bigger version of ourselves. A better version. A braver version.
We don’t only sell ourselves short, but we short-change the people we live and work with also. It’s why at the end of life, one of the greatest regrets of the dying is that they lived too safe and risked too little.
Helen Keller once said:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
In the midst of a pandemic, it’s easy to rationalize caution and playing it safe. I am all for avoiding unnecessary risks (and why getting vaccinated was a no-brainer decision) and wholly against fear mongering that leads people to miscalculate risks and succumb to confirmation bias, group think and wild conspiracy theories.
You likely don’t have to look too far to see highly sensible people who rationalize their cautiousness by saying they are just being sensible. It’s always easy to find reasons why not to take a chance, make a change or do something that breaks ranks with your immediate social sphere.
It’s not the right time. It’s too uncertain. Too risky.
I’m too busy. Too young. Too old. Too unsure.
Yet let’s not kid ourselves that sometimes being “sensible” or “cautious” can put us at the greater risk, to paraphrase Thoreau, of going to the grave with ‘the song still in us.’
Delay grows increasingly expensive and the unlived life is the ultimate human tragedy.
It’s why in today’s culture of constant alarmism, living bravely is indispensable for living well. Having the courage to step back from the fray, to challenge our own thinking, to reframe risks and to venture beyond our security/certainty/safety zone despite the instinctive desire to stay firmly within it.
So if you do nothing else from reading this, ask yourself,
What would I do today if I were being brave?
Tacitus, the great Roman historian, said, “The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.”
It was true then. It is true now.
Being brave doesn’t imply disregarding legitimate concerns or taking foolish risks.
It simply means that you don’t discount the cost of avoiding that which makes you uncomfortable and that you consciously choose to lay your vulnerability on the line for the sake of a nobler cause.
It means placing more attention onto what you’d like to make ‘more right’, thereby leaving less attention to fret about what might go wrong.
After all the, odds are better than your brain might have you think.
Margie Warrell is a keynote speaker who unlocks the potential that fear holds hostage, helping people to live and lead more bravely. Host of the Live Brave Podcast, her recent books include You’ve Got This! and Stop Playing Safe.