Updated 08 July 2015

What it takes to be a risk taker

Risk taking is based around our thinking preferences and how comfortably we view the world. Hence, risk taking does not necessarily mean the same thing for two people. An expert reveals which of your behaviours are within your comfort zone.


Risk taking occurs when a person moves out of their comfort zone. It is is based around thinking preferences and how we comfortably view the world. For example, an extrovert cannot be regarded as taking a risk when mixing with a group of people. But an introvert doing this will be regarded as taking a risk.

In general, people can be grouped into four thinking preference groups, according to the Neethling Brain Instrument (NBI), and if they act within their own comfort zone they are not taking any risks:

1. Factual, logical, goal-orientated thinkers.

2. Organised, routine-based, methodical thinkers.

3. Spontaneous, big picture, strategic thinkers.

3. People-orientated, emotional thinkers.

Read: To 'Think Outside the Box'

Although we do not solely belong to one group, we have preferences in each group, yet we usually fall within one or two dominant groups. These dominant groups usually influence our behaviour and thinking styles in most situations we encounter, meaning we all have certain preferences and thinking styles which help us approach situations in a familiar and comfortable way. This explains why certain behaviours are comfortable for some and not for others.

Group 1: Goal-orientated thinkers

- This group is comfortable with confrontations because they are able to look at the facts and remove emotion from it.
- They see no grey areas, there is either a right or wrong.
- Are able to be direct and honest in their communication.

Group 2: Routine-based thinkers

- This group can work within strict deadlines and meet deadlines without fail.
- They like to gather all the details before starting a task so that they can plan accordingly.
- They usually work out a step-by-step procedure to be followed that they can refer to when needed.

Group 3: Big picture thinkers

- This group is able to adapt to changing environments without much warning, therefore impromptu presentations or meetings do not upset them.
- Prefer to work with few details and little direction.
- They are future orientated and like to strategise and think about the future.

Group 4: People-orientated thinkers

- This group is able to be considerate of each other’s feelings.
- They enjoy working with people and in teams.
- Are good with connecting with others and networking.

Can we learn to take risks?

Risk taking requires a willingness to explore and learn. Through psychotherapy and coaching, developing skills in all groups is possible. The idea would be to learn how to strategically and effectively use skills from all four groups, when it is needed, to achieve a personal or professional goal. Look at the important areas of your life, both personally and professionally, and ask yourself if there is room to do it differently? Or more effectively?

Looking at the groups above, you may notice that one or two of the groups’ behaviours relate to how you already prefer to do things, while the other group’s behaviours may not feel as comfortable to you and you would prefer to not do things that way. We are all different and we all prefer to do things a certain way that is comfortable for us. This highlights that there will be situations, actions or circumstances that we feel more at ease compared to others and vice versa. What we decide to do in those uncomfortable moments has the potential to encourage risk taking behaviour.

How we take risks

People who make decisions in their own dominant group are not risk takers, there is no risk in doing what is comfortable or preferred. Risk takers are those who make decisions outside of their dominant group’s preferences. For example, a man who is comfortable in group 1 where he can remove emotions from decision making may need to challenge himself to apologise to his wife to salvage his marriage. His ability to do what is uncomfortable and not preferred shows risk taking behaviour.

Risk taking involves learning to be more flexible in borrowing skills from all four groups, when needed, even though it is uncomfortable. But, why would we want to take risks and make decisions that make us uncomfortable? For us to step out of our comfort zone of preference there must be an incentive, there must be a reason. Whether that is because we want a job promotion or because we want to save our failing marriage, it requires us to step out of our comfortable thinking patterns and behave differently – if our comfortable way of doing it is not producing the results we desire.

This requires risk taking because to achieve a goal whether personal or professional, discomfort may occur.  The more one learns to be flexible and develop new skills in uncomfortable areas, the easier the risk taking becomes. The more flexible and receptive one is to developing and executing new skills, despite discomfort, the more attainable and realistic goal achievement becomes.

We all take risks

It is important to highlight that we all take risks. Our risk taking behaviour may not seem like it to others with different preferences but that does not discount that we all take risks at times, for a purpose. Others take risks more often because they have seen the importance of learning how to be flexible to address situations differently.

If we understand that each situation cannot be addressed the same way, we start realising the importance of flexibility and continual development. When we learn to step out of our comfortable thinking preferences and develop new skills, we can approach the same situation in different ways.

Taking risks by learning how to be flexible and borrowing skills from all four groups is beneficial in almost every area of our lives, especially where we have personal or professional goals. If we function only using our preferences, we limit our skills and possibilities of approaching the same situation more effectively. However, learning and developing new skills from the other groups often comes with the price of discomfort – feeling uncomfortable, being vulnerable by leaving familiarity, increased awareness and the realisation that you can continually do it more effectively.

Highlighted below are some of the areas where people can be assisted when it comes to risk. This is to enable us to approach the same situations differently, more effectively and more strategically:

table showing personal and professional risk takin

Read more:

Financial risk taking in the genes

Risky behaviour linked to hormone

Depressed moms may cause risky behaviour in teens

Sources: Psychologists Centurion



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