Some time ago we introduced our Mountaineer Lightbox on our blog. We also featured Alex Honnold, who spent years preparing intensively for one goal: climbing El Capitan. The almost 1,000-meter-high rock massif in Yosemite National Park, California, with its vertical design, is a challenge even for the most experienced climbers. Alex has added yet another challenge and has dared the ascent without secure climbing equipment, fully aware that every wrong grip could be his last. A small mistake would most likely cost him his life.
Even then, we wonder why he took this risk, which lasted almost four hours. The reasons are almost simple (though sometimes not so simple) for normal people to comprehend. It was his dream, and he could finally make it possible. He is constantly looking for motivation and inspiration in his passion, virtues that have led him to extremes. Alex Honnold is certainly not a person like any other. He may seem nondescript, but his mindset and his relationship to fears and risks are not really comparable. So, once again, we look at the breadth of society, at those for whom standing close to an abyss is a little bit nerve-racking. We ask ourselves, what makes us accept risks?
Risk with profit: Sometimes you just have to choose a partner with your eyes closed
We can divide risks into two basic variants. On the one hand, we take risks behind which we suspect a chance of winning. Some of these risks are commonplace, such as business decisions. In most cases, however, the potential positive outcome should outweigh the risk. The full range of possible uncertainties can certainly be found in the equity market. Here we can either proceed in a calculated manner or simply gamble.
Ultimately, we most often make decisions that involve risks in a professional environment because the goal is to be successful: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” This starts with hiring a new employee and increases to the purchase or sale of an entire company, for example.
We also regularly take risks as independent individuals. Imagine us swiping right and maybe even deciding on a partner. Yes, that will also happen in 2019. Though we haven’t given up hope in traditional romanticism just yet. At this point it is also interesting to see how others’ appetites for risks affects us. When Alex Honnold climbs unsecured at an altitude of 1,000 meters or Felix Baumgartner plunges from 37,000 meters to the earth, our mouths are gaping, much like the knees of our children’s pants. We admire people who take risks and ask ourselves if we could do the same. But how do we react if this affects us directly? If you have a family, you should ask yourself at this point how your spouse would feel if their spouse jumped off the ISS with a parachute. The thought isn’t really sexy, is it?
Risk with a kick
A kingdom for a successful transition: Felix Baumgartner and the daredevil wife of Uwe, 59 from Wanne-Eickel, lead us directly to the second, very sexy risk variant, the one with the kick. We also take risks to feel we’ve made something out of them—for the feeling of winning and growing with them, for the energy boost they give.
Anyone who has ever dared to bungee jump or swim with sharks will know this magnificent feeling. This is certainly where people most clearly separate into venturous or even more reserved.
Where does this willingness to take risks come from? From our survival hormone, adrenaline, which flows through our body as we experience maximum elation.
Higher, faster, farther: Adrenaline is a healthy drug, but it depends on the dose!
Whoever overcomes or endures a risk surfs the hormone wave, pretty much like a junkie. Risk can be a drug and thus lead to diseases such as gambling addiction. Another example is extreme sports. At some point, the kick is no longer enough. An experienced kick, a mastered challenge cannot bring the same kick when repeated. So the search for a new kick becomes partly pathological, and the personal goals are connected with even larger and more lasting risks.
The principle of risk compensation
Another phenomenon is risk compensation, or the Peltzman Effect. In his research, the eponym, a US economist, discovered the connection between risk reduction in our environment, for example through technical developments (anti-lock braking system), and an increasing willingness to take risks in society (more aggressive driving style, close tailgating). In other words, measures to improve road safety or occupational safety may be wholly or partly ineffective or even reversed because road users or workers feel safer. It therefore seems that, in principle, people tend to naturally be risk seekers.
Life with or without risk?
Risks are necessary for our character development, because a life without excitement is no alternative. We need them in order to get a feeling for our willingness to take risks. The opposite would mean stagnation: Nobody is buying and financing their own home or moving up in their job. We need to find a balance between this willingness and the responsibility we have for ourselves and our fellow human beings.