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Developing the Courage to Take Risks

written byMarilyn Atkinsonon 11/07/2015

How do we develop the risk taking habit? We need to promise it and practice it. We need to promise courage and promise action. The viral seeding of the risk-taking promise is an interesting feature of effective coaching. If I were to tell you that developing this one habit - to promise risk-taking action - could move you towards your goal very fast, would that interest you?  

It makes me wonder if re-engaging the risk-taking vision is a key part of re-energizing all personal power. To be risk averse means more and more habituated focus on roles and rules with the result that creative promising dies. When creative promising dies, excitement dies. As Bob Dylan, the 20th Century songwriter once twanged, "He who isn't busy being born is busy dying!"  

I once pondered this as I looked at my broken garden. A risk-taking bear, three long blocks from his mountain home, had just crashed into my garden, was shot with anesthetic by a wildlife ranger, and unceremoniously pulled out to the street on a tarp into a van, leaving a huge swath of broken plants! Surveying the damage, I was reminded of a long string of risk-taking bear associations, including climbing in the mountains carrying my trusty can of bear spray. To explore in British Columbia's mountains means preparing to meet "the Bear." We have lots of them.  

My favorite song as a five-year-old was Teddy Bears' Picnic, a funny kid's song about going in disguise through the woods to see the bears in frivolous action; a risky vision for a preschooler. Through enrollment in a Sufi program in my early 30s, I learned to promise courage to take action "beyond the old comfort zones." The aim of all participants was to do one outrageous thing, beyond the comfort zone, per day. That really required thinking outside the box! The result was that I found myself agreeing to sing a children's song to 4,000 people at a July 1st, Canada Day celebration.  

Stepping out on the small stage, with 1,000 children in the audience, I decided to give them a romping, stomping version of Teddy Bears' Picnic, the only children's song I knew. I used emphatic gestures, lots of risk-taking emphasis, and a strong tone of action-excitement! My voice was carried across a half-mile of people with the strong speakers, and the kids loved it! It was an exhilarating discovery to learn, on that spot, that I could be a successful singer for children when I needed to be.  

But even if the risk had not worked out, even if the audience had not enjoyed my brave foray into children's entertainment, I found the exercise itself to be a stimulant. It led to a wonderful, intoxicating, deep understanding that I could dare and do anything. With risk-taking action now in my inner life agreement, I began to dare to imagine big, plan big, assume big, and in this way trigger the entrepreneurial spirit in myself and those around me. My creative vision was engaged and the fire of provocative thinking was lit. All this by learning to playfully promise to jump into action at the first opportunity.  

Coaches, continue to infect yourself and others, both with "the risk" of dreaming "Big!" and also with the promise to take action on your big dreams. Remember that Ghandi, Mandela, Churchill, Martin Luther King, and many other renowned leaders have shown exactly the same viral risk-taking infection, especially daring to speak out with value and vision. Notice that this is very different than making foolish financial risks. Risk to communicate your dream and take action on it, and become a risk-taking action partner to your clients.  

Have you taken a risk lately?  

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Warm regards,
Marilyn Atkinson