Tyler’s Note: This is a Riskologist Field Report by Lisa Mazzocco from Chase Your Unicorm. Field Reports are written by readers just like you, so be nice, enjoy the story, and take action on the lesson. To contribute your own Field Report, go here.
Let me tell you something about myself: I have the power to see the future.
Here’s another secret: So can you.
There’s just one problem with seeing the future.
I’m scared of it.
Let me explain. One of the most fascinating parts of being human is that, unlike other animals, we have the capacity to dream. If I lived by simple physical logic, my reality would work like this:
- My eyes would see “X.”
- My brain would store “X.”
- Therefore, I could only think about and act out “X.”
But that’s not the case. Thanks to neurological phenomena someone far more qualified can explain, I can picture an existence that’s inverse and opposite of what I currently know.
And, provided my frontal lobe is intact (plug for bike helmets), I also have the capacity to plan—meaning I come fully equipped to change dreams into reality. No batteries required!
The limits of being X-Men (and X-Women)
In my case, though, I rather like reality as-is—my “X”, if you will. Every morning, after I go for a run along Lake Michigan, I enjoy my organic Greek yogurt and The New Yorker before heading off to work with the talented, energetic, supportive people at my firm. It’s quite lovely, really. And, most of the time, I’m perfectly content to keep disruptions to that loveliness at bay.
But, to scale up my impact on the world, as I aspire to do, I realize I can’t settle into this indefinitely. If a big, cool, hairy adventure comes along that gives me the chance to step up to a new reality, will I be ready to take it?
Frankly, I’m not sure. Maybe, I thought, I should start preparing myself now. Yes… good idea.
I will build my “adventure tolerance.”
So, at the beginning of March, I spent a few days observing myself, on the lookout for “adventuresome” moves. Here’s what I came out with:
- I overcame my skepticism and bought chia seeds.
- I tried a ballet class at my local yuppie conditioning center… er, gym.
- I went out to a bar on…gasp…a Wednesday!
Conclusion: No eating live scorpions, no walking a tightrope made of unicorn hair. My “normal” days, it seems, are fairly homogeneous. Where do I go from here?
The Physics of Making Waves in Life
For most of us, the answer is not to quit our jobs and travel the world every time we seek adventure. The majority of our time is spent operating within a consistent environment defined by our city, our work, and our resources.
This lends a steady-state undercurrent to life that can start to feel stagnant… but it doesn’t have to. In fact, this is precisely what goes into the beginnings of a major wave.
Waves form when water traveling at a steady pace toward land suddenly meets the slope of the shore—the slope effectively slows the water down, and allows water coming behind to overtake it. There you have it: a wave.
What we can learn from the physics of this natural wonder is that it’s perfectly fine, even beneficial, to start in a steady-state.
To make waves, we just have to build up our slope.
The Adventure-Muscle Workout
I decided the best way to ramp up my risk tolerance was to slowly condition my adventure muscle. The workout I’ve adopted this month aims to do just that, and it’s utterly simple: seek out one small risk or adventure per day. To count, this adventure:
- Must make me consciously uncomfortable
- Must not endanger others
- Cannot be a repeat of a previous adventure
The key questions I wanted to answer were, (1) what kinds of bite-size adventures was I taking, and (2) was I allowing them to grow a little taller, a little scarier over time?
I’m a data junkie, so to answer those questions, I kept a log: what was the day’s adventure, and how did it make me feel. I also wanted to avoid biasing my actions with early conclusions, so I didn’t let myself re-read any of the adventures along the way.
At the end of the month, though, I did review the log, and I realized my adventures fell into three distinct categories. I then broke down each week’s adventures into these categories to look for trends.
The three categories are defined by an escalating level of risk:
- Tweak: Do something I normally do, but a little differently
- Ex. Walking home from work instead of taking the bus
- Risk level: Low. The path is different, but the outcome is known.
- Attempt: Do something totally new and random
- Ex. Buying a cupcake for a homeless man
- Risk level: Medium. Outcome is unknown, but has just as much chance of being good as being bad.
- Confront: Do something that I actively avoid under normal conditions
- Ex. Speaking out for a cause I believe in amidst a room full of people who believe the opposite
- Risk level: High. The path is awkward, and the initial outcome will likely be loneliness and feelings of failure—precisely why I avoid these adventures; they present the steepest slope but, as physics tells us, that means they can also lead to the most magnificent wave.
The Empowering Conclusion for Adventure-Seekers
Observing the results, one trend sticks out pretty clearly: as I actively seek adventure, I become more willing to take on greater risk.
Now you might argue, “Duh! That’s the outcome you wanted, so this is just a self-fulfilling prophecy.” But don’t forget, I took steps to control for bias. I didn’t analyze any part of the data until it was all collected. (Plus, if you’re one with a large appetite for scientific rigor, you’re probably not truly an adventure-seeker.)
So if you’re with me on that, then the results of this pseudo-experiment suggest a powerful concept: you can actively increase your innate tolerance for adventure.
It starts with awareness. Your “lizard brain”—the part that wants to keep you alive—will tell you to avoid risk. That’s handy when you’re deciding whether or not to wrestle a polar bear, but sometimes the lizard brain (LB) gets over-protective.
The key is to trick it by starting small. Pushing through a few Tweaks helps the LB shake the comforts of repetition. This makes it more optimistic about the chance to Attempt something unusual. When this leads to joy, the LB will realize it’s been a skeptic and that maybe those things it hasn’t been willing to Confront are more attainable than they once seemed.
“Adventure” manifests into something unique for each of us, but as members of AR,we unite around one theme: we want more of it. If you’re committed to that, tweak something today. Grab a notebook. Write it down. After a few weeks, look back—I think you’ll find that your adventure tolerance is increasing.
And when that big, cool, hairy one comes along, you’ll be ready for it.
Lisa Mazzocco writes at Chase Your Unicorn, where she chronicles her pursuit of athletic accomplishments in hopes that it will empower you to pursue your own “imaginary” goals.
Image by: thekellyscope