Acquired Risk Aversion Syndrome seems to be everywhere these days. That’s what I’m calling the tendency of people to get less adventuresome as they go through life. I don’t mean to create panic but ARAS is alarmingly prevalent and I keep running into more people who are suffering from it.
A woman who was, in her youth, the one in her group who always did the daring stuff but now finds herself behaving like a stick-in-the-mud and wants that adventuresome young version of herself to come back. Another woman who somehow fell into a decade of safe living and is wondering how that happened, and how to achieve escape velocity now that she’s killed her momentum. A man who used to travel to exotic places but now feels that Western Europe, to which he’s been countless times, is the only place he’s comfortable exploring. These are just a few examples.
Why does this happen, when our maturity, experience and resources should give us the wherewithal to do all kinds of daring things? We’ve learned how to roll with the punches, we have oodles of life skills, and probably also some buffer cash, should the doo hit the fan.
I’m sure there are scientifically valid theories for this out there somewhere, but when I googled ‘why do we avoid risk when we age’ I found scads of terrifying articles about the risks of falling, age-related illness, dementia, injuries, etc. Which was kind of a case in point all by itself.
So here’s my home-grown version of the reasons why ARAS happens:
- We feel we have more to lose.
When we’re young and unencumbered, it doesn’t feel like we have a whole lot to lose if we go off and do something daring. But once we’ve spent years amassing careers, homes, goodies, status, power, community, and yes, even loved ones and friends, we’re terrified of losing all that stuff we worked so hard to gain. So we get super careful about trying to make sure it all stays intact. Even to our detriment.
We don’t want anything to undermine the precious status quo after working so hard to create it in the first place. Whether we’re talking selling some goodies to sail around the world, or learning to pole dance at 60, or moving to a new city, we don’t want anything to upend how we live and how we’re seen.
I’m feeling inklings of the Buddhist teachings about attachment and impermanence on this one. Or the sunk cost fallacy.
- We feel we have less time to recover if things go south.
When the whole of life is before us and mortality feels about as tangible as string theory, starting over isn’t so daunting because, well, we still have a lifetime to work on it. But the closer we get to our best-before date, the more a fresh start feels monumental.
The miracle of compound interest is a little less miraculous over a 20-year span than a 50-year one. Our new business has to be profitable sooner because if it’s a bust, we don’t have decades to start another one. And so on.
- We’ve created rigid definitions of ourselves.
In my talk, ‘Honey I Shrunk My Life’, I demonstrated how the definitions of ourselves that we create through the trial and error (and successes) of our lives can become incredibly limiting. We believe we’re not artistic enough, or smart enough, or hot enough, or spiritual enough, or whatever enough to do particular things. Our charmingly dubbed ‘comfort zone’ starts to become less like a Lazy-Boy and more like a cell in Alcatraz.
So what’s the cure for this dreadful state?
This is exactly the kind of thing Gumption: The Practical Woman’s Guide to Living an Adventuresome Life was designed to overcome. There’s a whole section devoted to the idea of reframing risk so that we can mitigate it instead of just trying to avoid it altogether, since avoiding it basically means avoiding most excitement in life.
Some of the tools:
Mentors – They don’t have to be teachers in the ‘I need skills’ way, they can just be people who are doing the things you want to do, and showing you it’s possible.
Cheerleaders – The ones who egg you on when you falter.
Remembering your history – chances are you’ve done something, at some point in your life, that has given you skills you can apply to the new, scary thing. Women in particular tend to gloss over their own achievements. But taking stock of them allows us to understand that we have the goods to achieve what we want to achieve.
Asking What’s the worst that can happen? – This tool is beloved of adventurers the world over, because once you have the answer, you can plan how you’re going to deal with it should it actually happen. And magically, the worst almost never does – because you also plan how to make that outcome unlikely.
There are more, but those are some of my favourites.
Have you ever suffered from ARAS? I’d love to know your worries and any tricks you’ve found for overcoming them, so hop on down to the comments section below and let ‘er rip.