Whether you're perusing the listings in an online dating service or investing in the stock market, you probably already realize that in order to get the reward that you want, you're going to have to take a risk. And unless you're part of the minority that psychologists call "high sensation seekers" -- that is, unusually adventurous people whose nervous systems are wired biochemically to crave the stimulation of danger -- you probably have a powerful innate urge to play it safe and avoid uncertainty [source: Munsey]. A 2012 study by a Case Western Reserve University psychologist found that subjects who played a computerized slot-machine game experienced powerful emotions from surprise outcomes, which deterred them from risk-taking behavior -- even if the surprise resulted in their winning money [source: ScienceDaily].
But learning to take risks doesn't mean being foolhardy or reckless, either. Instead, you can learn to pick and choose which risks are worth accepting to achieve your goals in life. Renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who frequently makes life-and-death evaluations of risk in his work, suggests applying a simple process to any risk: Instead of evaluating the likelihood of success, evaluate your willingness to accept the various possible outcomes. What's the best thing that could happen if you take a particular risk? What's the worst outcome? Once you've weighed those two scenarios, it's time to look at the converse. What's the best thing that could happen if you don't take the risk, and what's the worst possible result? If you see that the positives exceed the negatives and the benefits of action outweigh inaction, then it's time to take the plunge [source: Carson].