Do you sometimes wish that your life was more exciting and challenging? Yet when such opportunities arise you decide not to grab them because the risk of your decision backfiring is, in your mind, too horrible to contemplate. Therefore, your watchword is ‘better safe than sorry’ but your yearnings do not disappear: a continual tension exists between being cautious and wishing to take chances. A risk-averse outlook keeps you disgruntled as you accumulate a lifetime of ‘if only…’ regrets (e.g. ‘If only I had asked her out when I had the chance but I lost my nerve’; ‘If only I had gone on that training course, I could have been higher up the company ladder by now. I didn’t want to take the risk of failing the course’). In an echo of Socrates‘ famous remark that an unexamined life is not worth living, Hauck states that ‘the life that has no risk in it is not worth living’ (1982b: 57).
We view risk-taking as a sign of psychological health because you want to pursue ambitious goals, are not afraid of setbacks and failures, and want to make your life less self-restricting and more adventurous. However, it is important to stress that we are not advocating that risk-taking per se is always good for you, but that each risk you take is carefully considered, not recklessly engaged in (e.g. you drive your car very fast to impress your partner with your ‘coolness at the wheel’; she is terrified, says she could have been killed and immediately dumps you). In this chapter, we will examine why you might see risk-taking as something to be avoided or minimized and decision-making as difficult (even though you take risks and make decisions [e.g. motorway driving] every day of your life and these do not present obvious problems for you).