What is risk-taking?

Taking a risk is when you experiment with a new behavior. This can have a positive or negative impact on your life, depending on the risk you take. Even when you take a risk and it doesn’t work out the way you expect, it can still be a positive, learning experience.

Benefits of healthy risk-taking:

  • learn new skills and experience new things (in work, school, or relationships)
  • experiment with new identities
  • increase your self-esteem
  • take on more independence and responsibility for your life

Problematic Risk-Taking

Taking a risk might become a problem if it has a negative effect on your day-to-day life. Often, these are actions can have long-lasting consequences, so it’s important to think twice before engaging in them.

Unhealthy risk-taking: 

  • unprotected sex
  • drunk or high driving
  • train surfing
  • drug or alcohol abuse, including binge-drinking
  • deliberate self-harm
  • dropping out of school or getting suspended regularly
  • breaking the law, e.g. shoplifting
  • severe or excessive dieting

How can you tell when risk-taking is a problem? 

When contemplating taking a risk, consider some of the following questions: 

  • Does it interfere with or have a negative effect on other parts of your life, such as relationships, school and work?
  • Does it put yourself or others in danger?
  • Do you have previous experience or enough information about the consequences of the behavior?
  • Is the risk worth whatever consequences might happen?

Less Risky Ways to Get That Adrenaline Rush

It’s possible to get an adrenaline rush without risking injury or the safety of yourself or others. For the more extreme sports, having a guide or mentor with you can help you stay safe while maximizing your experience.

Depending on what gets you going, you might try:

  • surfing or skateboarding
  • bungee jumping
  • skydiving
  • canyoning
  • rock-climbing
  • rollerblading
  • going on rides at an amusement park

Why take unhealthy risks?

The reasons you might take unhealthy risks include:

  • Peer pressure. It’s not uncommon to want to have respect from your friends or those whose opinion may be important to you. Engaging in a risky, dangerous activity or behavior may be a way for you to feel accepted and part of the group. 
  • Feeling grown up. Falsely believing that it’s a way of proving to yourself or others that you’re an adult and that you are responsible for your own actions.
  • Escapism. Dealing with problems or escaping from unhappy situations or feelings. It may not always be obvious that you are using the behavior as a way of managing your problem or unhappy situation. For ideas on how you might be able to manage your situation in a healthier and safer way, check out the article on Developing Coping Strategies.
  • Defiance. As a form of rebellion against something or someone.
  • Attention. To get attention or a response from someone.

Deciding to Change Your Behavior

You may be thinking about taking a risk or are already taking risks. Changing your behavior can be tough, particularly if you have been doing it for a while, feel pressure to do it, or if it means changing your lifestyle or separating from people you’ve always hung around with. For more help, check out our Problem Solving article.

The following steps may help you decide whether you want to continue or change your behavior:

Identify. Sometimes you may not be aware that a behavior is unhelpful or unhealthy. Identify the risks and benefits of your behavior and how it affects others and yourself (e.g. health, work, family etc).   

Analyze. Think about the positives and negatives of changing your behavior. This might include thinking about how you can reduce the risks associated with the behavior. Try writing a list of all the pros and cons for each risk-taking behavior you engage in. 

Decide. If you do decide a change in behavior is needed, start by making a plan to change. This might include action plans and setting small, gradual goals.

Act. As you start carrying out your action plan, make sure you reward yourself for reaching each goal by providing yourself with some positive reinforcement. You also need to be prepared with the right tools to be successful. Identifying barriers to change, coping skills, and social supports are necessary to carrying out your plan of action.

Maintain. Develop strategies for sustaining the changes. This may be through your social supports and by reminding yourself why you changed your behavior. Writing down all the reasons why you’re making this change and hanging it up on your door or bathroom mirror will help you remember when things get rough or you want to start doing them again.

Relapse. You might find yourself reverting back to the unhelpful behavior. It’s important not to blame yourself or feel guilty. Changing behavior can be hard and relapse is not uncommon. If you do relapse, go back to the Decide and Act steps. Don’t allow yourself to let relapse keep you down or to make more excuses for yourself from starting the process over again. Use it as fuel to dive in again and restart the journey.

Acknowledgments: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

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