Humans approach decisions with “Loss Aversion Thinking” meaning we will sacrifice the opportunity to win more in order to not lose less. Don’t worry, almost everybody does it, it’s how we’re wired. It dates back to when humans were battling to survive and our thinking was something like this:
Mistake > broken leg > infection > can’t move > eaten by lions.
We didn’t have first aid, medicine, or 911 so even a small mess up was a disastrous mistake. It’s understandable that our thinking for thousands of years was: “Why risk a small upside victory when the downside loss could be huge?”
Do you notice yourself thinking like our ancestors, still measuring the huge downside? Most people don’t because it’s built in to their personality, their lifestyle, their habits. We instinctively weigh the downside more heavily because who wants to die being eaten by a lion?
Our instincts tell us to be safe, to not risk it. But our instincts are wrong.
We are no longer fighting to survive but are instead on the other end of the spectrum: we are fighting to live.
We can take bigger risks because there is a bigger safety net. We can risk more because the downside isn’t near certain death. We can push the limits of what we think we are able to do because the same worries are no longer relevant.
Mimi’s Lack of Risk
I am writing this at Starbucks and to test my theory I ask the girl across from me, “What if I asked you to come climb the crane next door?” She gives me a “you must be crazy face”, thinks about it but before she can answer I interrupt and ask, “You’re thinking this is a bad idea, why?”
“It’s dangerous, we could get hurt.”
See, Mimi’s thinking automatically drifts towards the downside: the risk, the danger, and everything that could go wrong. I then walk her through the process of how instinctive her response is, how her thinking led her to her decision, and the different lifestyle she would have if she changed her thinking.
Now, hopefully next time Mimi is approached with a situation that is dangerous, she will think about what I told her. It probably won’t be something adventurous, it usually isn’t. It’s typically a fairly mundane action like going to a party where you don’t know anyone, saying yes to something out of the ordinary, or taking someone up on their unusual offer. The problem is that when evaluating a situation, we naturally outweigh the good with the bad, scientifically about twice as much. Our lifestyle has changed but for many our instinct remains. Now, it’s time to change this habit in order to live life more fully.
Change your thinking from “What could go wrong?” to “What could go right?”
Seriously, that’s it. You don’t HAVE to do what you are evaluating but soon you will start to realize that the downside you think is so disastrous is actually not that bad. Then, if you do this enough, you will start to realize that the upside is actually way greater than the downside. And then you will start taking the upside risk.
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The idea that our ancestral habits have implanted themselves in our instincts has been covered in depth by some truly powerful authors, so go to straight to the source to learn more: check out Seth Godin’s Lizard Brain to Julien Smith’s Flinch to Stephen Pressfield’s Resistance, they all cover the idea that we instinctively settle for less instead of pushing for more.