The Benefits of Risk

Happy Friday, League of Wildness!

I was lucky to grow up in the 80s, when we were able to explore, take risks, and problem-solve on our own. Our playgrounds are now meme-material, but they offered so many opportunities to explore our potential and move our bodies. We took risks and received numerous benefits in return. More recently, I’ve seen people attempting to minimize any risks for themselves – and their kids –  and I wonder if they realize that taking risks serves an important purpose. 🤔

I often think about the playground equipment we had back then. It was usually high off the ground, made of metal, and unforgiving 😂Our playground equipment could break your leg if you didn't know how to navigate it, but that meant it was pretty important to learn how to do so. We mastered equipment that was too big for us and we knew when we were ready to try something more challenging, like climbing higher. We played on the same equipment from the time we were 5 years old until we were 12 and no one ever got bored because the equipment was adaptable and so were we. Using that equipment required a level of focus that we don’t seem to in the same way now that we are adults. For most of us, our intense focus and energy tends to go to our jobs. Yet we all benefit from the heart-thumping, adrenaline-pumping high of taking risks and we should do it more often!

Scott Carney talks about this in his book, “What Doesn’t Kill Us” where he says, “For the time that all that feel-good juice [adrenaline] pumps through your bloodstream you are in such a heightened state of alertness that you feel superhuman. More often than not you stop thinking altogether, reducing the higher mental functions to the bare tools you need to survive in a given moment. It’s addictive and awesome, and only happens when your body switches to survival mode.” In Carney’s other book, “The Wedge”, he plays catch with kettlebells with a friend. If you don’t catch it correctly, it’ll smash into your leg, so that’s a pretty intense consequence! When you elect to take a risk with a potentially painful consequence, your focus is immense and the rewards are great, offering an opportunity to build self-confidence, hand-eye coordination, proprioception, and balance among other things. 

It seems like the many ways we’ve altered our environment to fit us rather than us learning how to adapt to it have sapped us of the rewards of taking risks.  Life will always be risky. We prioritize safety over adversity to our detriment too often. We remove the option to take risks and it results in also removing the opportunity to grow and adapt. We also often overestimate risks. I frequently see parents telling their kids not to run at the park, and not to climb the “wrong way” on the equipment because they might get hurt. But they thought nothing of driving to the park, which statistically is one of the riskiest things we can do. We seem to have lost the ability to weigh risks. Or perhaps it’s that we don’t understand the trade-offs. We all accept the risks of driving because the trade-off is fast, easy transportation to anywhere we want to go. Driving gives us independence and freedom of movement. I think we fail to see the trade-off when we choose to not to take risks elsewhere in our lives, however.

As adults we often don’t give ourselves a daily “recess” where we can explore with that same sense of freedom that kids have. We do workouts, but they are scheduled and pre-planned. I’m not sure if I’d take the monkey bar challenge at this point in my life, but I do use similar skills in some of the activities I enjoy. Sometimes I need to balance on the top of a muddy beaver dam that has water flowing over the top while carrying a 30-pound backpack. Or I might need to balance on a log that serves as a bridge over a rushing stream. I still enjoy the focus and other benefits that those challenges bring.

Some of the other benefits of taking more risks include:
✅Resetting our old patterns. We often fall into ruts where we make the same decisions without thinking about it. When we take a risk, we are required to shift into a different thinking pattern which can help pull us out of those ruts.
✅A renewed sense of accomplishment. We learn that we are capable of more than what our daily routines offer.

✅It builds resilience. When we learn to take risks and survive, we learn that some of the things that feel like a big deal really aren’t. We learn we can handle a lot more than we thought we could.
✅Once you take one risk, it tends to open the door to new ideas and opportunities.

✅Increased happiness that comes from being more engaged in life.

✅Learning something new. Taking a risk often means learning a new skill, which improves our brain health by creating new connections. If the new skill becomes a hobby, it can lead to increased physical fitness as well.

Everyone benefits from taking risks. For kids, it comes naturally and we should allow them to do so and explore their abilities, including some of the consequences. Unsupervised, even! As adults, we often have to seek out opportunities as our comfortable, easy lives are largely risk-averse.

Some examples of risks we can take as adults:

💡Go to the gym you’ve been eyeing up but are too afraid to try.
💡Apply for a new job or a promotion.
💡Learn a new skill – look at what might be offered in your community. Here we have classes for blacksmithing, foraging, sailing, hide tanning, embroidery, snowshoeing, plant and animal identification, artisan bread making, basic building skills, and many other things. Usually, they provide everything needed for the class. State and city parks offer classes in many things as well, often for free or cheap, including gear rental.

💡Try a new adventure: go ziplining, skydiving, do a high ropes course, try scuba diving or rock climbing, go to a water park or theme park and try all the rides!
💡Try a new mountain bike or hiking trail

💡Rent equipment and check out a new sport like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing 

Do something that makes your heart race and adrenaline flow! This weekend seems like an excellent time to do so. What are you going to try? 

Awaiting your wildness,


PS: I highly recommend checking out Scott Carney’s books! They fit in very well with our own Body Hardening Manual, as well as the sub-challenges in our League of Wildness outdoors challenges.
What Doesn’t Kill Us (co-written by Wim Hof)
The Wedge

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