In many of the domains that require us to make choices — careers, relationships, sport, or even our daily interactions with others — the choice is often binary.
1. We can live our lives trying to avoid loss.
2. We can live our lives in the pursuit of gain.
As I discussed in the post ‘Living in the Wrong Age — Why Modern Life Creates Anxious Brains’, nature has evolved us as a species to be risk averse. To avoid taking chances, to protect what we have. We tend to overreact to perceived threats as, for our early ancestors, the penalty for over-reacting was often less than the penalty for under-reacting. Thinking they had seen a lion behind the bushes when it was actually a rock caused needless anxiety, while thinking they had seen rock behind the bushes when it was actually a lion resulted in death.
Being aware of these evolutionary forces that shape our behaviour can help us to break out of our automatic safety-first reaction to many of life’s challenges.
Many consider Bobby Fischer to be the greatest chess player of all time. Long time friend of Bobby Fischer and former chess grandmaster, Adam Robinson, believes that the secret to Fischer’s success was that he wasn’t afraid to lose. He would never consider being risk averse when playing chess. He was always willing to lose in order to win. That set him apart. He always considered the bigger picture. Making a mistake meant that he learned something new and became a stronger player. This strategy led him to breaking the Soviet domination of chess to become world champion in 1972.
If you’re feeling stuck, limited, or like your life is shrinking and your options diminishing, consider whether you’re living your life only in order to avoid loss. If so, consider flipping the switch and living your life in the pursuit of gain. What have you got to lose? Probably less than you think.
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