“The brain has a thing for novelty,” says Sukel. “When you encounter a risk, or situation where the outcome is uncertain, the risk and reward centres of the brain unleash a neurochemical called dopamine, or ‘the pleasure chemical,’ although it probably would be more accurate to call it a learning chemical. Uncertainty releases it to help you pay attention.”
So calculated risks feel good. But how do we know when we’re taking a risk too far? “That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?” says Sukel. “If there were a formula, we’d all be millionaires and never die. With that said, the most successful risk-takers do the most research. It’s not sexy, but by knowing the knowns and understanding the unknowns and how they may affect you, you can make smarter decisions.”
So how to do that? Glad you asked…
Understand your risk baseline
Smart risk-taking starts with self-awareness. Are you impulsive or more risk-averse? Understanding that can help you think things through, and decide whether to pull back or push ahead.
Do your homework
Understanding the ins and outs of a scenario is beneficial. Freedivers didn’t just decide one day decide to dive tens of metres without breathing apparatus for fun, they had years of practice building their skills. Upfront work pays off on the back end.
Go for it
Sometimes the only way to get better at taking risks, regulating your emotions in response to them, learning what’s important and what’s not, etc. is to just start taking them. Start small and work your way up as you go.