Nothing ventured, nothing gained

September 18th, 2014


This just in: the boundaries you view as separations from other people don’t actually exist. The concept is simple enough. But, I’ll admit as a disclaimer, some people find this to be earth-shattering.


Give it a moment’s thought: are the things you view as roadblocks actually impediments or do you just construct them that way in your mind? It’s a million-dollar question and it’s one that applies to nearly every instance of your life.


From social situations to life and death situations, this tendency persists. When viewing nearly any situation, humans tend to exaggerate potential threats. But if we overestimate threats and we’re aware of that fact, you might be wondering why we don’t kick the bad habit.


And that’s a very good question.


The propensity for pessimism stretches deep into both your personal past and our collective past as human beings. It finds its roots in some of the most basic human instincts.


Let’s consider an example. You’re sitting in class and the professor poses a question. You know you have the right answer (or at least you’re pretty sure it’s right). Do you raise your hand? Not always. Sure, sometimes you want to give other students a chance to bask in intellectual superstardom. But there are other reasons, aren’t there? When choosing whether or not to raise my hand in class, I find myself panicking rather than preparing to answer the question. Worries rush through my head. In fact, many of those worries are ludicrous.


Maybe the teacher will tell me I’m wrong, maybe students will laugh, maybe my voice will crack, maybe I’ll start convulsing uncontrollably. Who knows what terrible fate might befall me if I raise my hand. If my heart rate were any indication, a doctor might be wondering if I was engaged in the fight of my life.


And if I weren’t certain that other students experience similar feelings, I wouldn’t have mentioned it.


To a certain extent, these worries are natural. Humans tend to fear anything that could negatively impact their current state. It’s probably one of the major factors that determined you as an evolutionary “winner.”


Those who avoid potentially harmful risks are the ones who survive long enough to procreate. It’s the most basic component of self-preservation.


But the next time you find yourself compiling a litany of ridiculous or improbable reasons not to talk to a love interest or pursue a job opportunity, take a second to reconsider your rationale.


We’ve established that self-preservation is essential to survival. But to thrive, humans must do much more. Just as shining a light on an object in a dark room casts a long shadow, anxiety distorts and amplifies our perception of potential threats. To combat nervous feelings that might otherwise paralyze you, try to be more objective. Question your conclusions.


Instead of assuming that answering a professor’s question will lead to your inevitable death, give it some more thought. Your professor will never realize you are the smartest person alive if you don’t take the initial calculated risk to raise your hand.


With all of these abstract directives, you’re probably wondering where to begin. I’ve found that a distilled version of the psychological practice of cognitive behavioral therapy works best for these issues. The remedy is as simple as the problem. It begins with thought. Rather than allow the dark cloud of anxiety to crush you, address your fears individually.


So over the next week, implement a new trend for yourself. Return to my original question when you’re facing a particularly anxiety-inducing situation. Ask yourself, “are the things I’m viewing as roadblocks actually impediments?”


To follow the earlier example, students probably won’t openly laugh at you for your answer. You probably won’t start convulsing uncontrollably.


In fact, the biggest question you actually face in the class example – and in life – is the question of what you stand to gain. You can’t reach the ceiling until you make the decision to start climbing.