Researchers out of the University of British Columbia asked the question, “What makes extreme athletes take risks?” It’s a good question, especially in light of watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Why do people do crazy things?
According to their research, extreme athletes do what they do in part because of how their brains are wired and in part because they are doing what comes naturally. Far from being deterred by the threat of accidents, some extreme athletes take even more risks when they return to their chosen sport after an injury.
But is it fair to call their actions reckless? It turns out the sports-specific risk-taking behaviour can be linked to the brain chemical dopamine, which is often linked to the sensation-seeking behaviour found in drug use. But unlike those who take drugs, extreme athletes score low on reckless impulsivity. They may appear to take short bursts of “Crazy Courage,” but they aren’t reckless; they take calculated risks, making decisions before they act.
So what does that mean for those of us who are not extreme athletes? Can understanding the difference between risk and recklessness help us channel our behaviour towards making great things happen? While our DNA plays a major part in making up who we are, we’re more than just a product of our hard-wiring.
For example, negative self-talk (“I’m too old to do that,” “I’m not smart enough,” “I’m a bad public speaker”), whether it’s something we’ve learned from past mistakes (opportunities) or something we’ve been told by others, can, over time, build barriers that prevent us from being courageous and taking risks.
Nothing great was ever built by avoiding challenges. In fact, the ability to take these short bursts of Crazy Courage may be our most important ally when it comes to facilitating personal change and making great things happen in our lives.
Why? Because courage is about stepping out of our comfort zones, breaking old barriers, and building new bridges. Courage lies at the heart of change; it’s the ability to walk unafraid, risk failing, and learn from the experience.
How many of us look back at instances in our lives and, with the wisdom of hindsight, wish we told ourselves to take that leap? How many times do we say, “I’ve lived all these years, but do I really have anything great to show for it besides my family and my job?” In our quiet moments do we ask, “If only I’d had the courage to make that split-second decision, would my life might be radically different: better, greater, and more meaningful?”.
Crazy Courage is not about being reckless: it is a measured blend of priority, curiosity, imagination, focus, feedback, people skills, and purpose that takes winners to the top. Crazy Courage means discovering your strengths, evaporating limiting fears, overcoming hesitation, and breaking free of irrational, negative self-talk. It means trusting your gut, busting your barriers, and building something, be it an Olympic record, a new way of growing vegetables, a book to help others—you decide.
Most of us can accomplish many times more than we ever do, but we’re limited by what we’re willing to try. Whether it’s due to a fear of rejection, our upbringing, embarrassment, losing control, or the loss of income, we make unconscious split-second limiting decisions and miss out on opportunities to grow and prosper on a daily basis. Those who see risk as something to be controlled or eliminated are not only saying goodbye to innovation and growth, but they are also passing up opportunities to find their true place in this world. Bursts of Crazy Courage help us know who we are, be who we are, and do what comes naturally.
Each one of us is born with the power to find our place in the world and to make great things happen in our lives. And most of the time, it all comes down to how we look at challenges, what we think of ourselves, and how we talk to ourselves.
Not so crazy after all.
Hutchinson, A., “What makes extreme athletes take risks?” The Globe and Mail web site, March 9, 2014; www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/fitness/what-makes-extreme-athletes-take-risks/article17369458/.