How to Take Smart Risks That Lead to Growth

If getting out of your comfort zone feels scary, it’s important to identify where your resistance is coming from.


I am one of those rare people who happens to enjoy change – so much so that I’m sometimes prone to creating change for myself when I feel like things aren’t moving fast enough (much to the disdain of my mother). While the inbetween stages of which-way-is-this-going limbo can be more challenging for my anxiety, once I know where I stand (even when that significantly differs from what I expected), I roll with it. A perfect example of this is when I dropped out of my original college and transferred to a different school in another city because I “just knew it would work out.” In the end, taking that risk was the right move for me. 

Of course, each of us has our own idea of what constitutes a risk – for me it was transferring, for Alex Honnold of “Free Solo” fame, it was free soloing his way up Yosemite’s 900 meter vertical rock face El Capitan, and for you it could be leaving a long-held job that’s holding your career back. Knowing this, how can we determine what is a healthy risk to take for our personal growth and what is self-sabotage? If getting out of our comfort zone is hard for us, how can we identify where that resistance to change is coming from? 

The answers lie in understanding ourselves, our risk tolerance, our comfort zones, and our patterns of behavior. Once we do that, we can take smart risks that lead to growth, instead of playing it safe (but not moving the needle) in our comfort zones. To help you get started, we’ve outlined three tips, paired with journal prompts, for exploring and learning to overcome your resistance to risk and change, below. 


Make decisions based on your core values 

One easy way to decide whether a big change is worth moving out of your safe space for is to evaluate whether it aligns with your core values and goals. Taking the time to intentionally define these values (and put them down on paper!) gives you something to circle back to in times of indecision. Remember when doing these exercises not to answer based on what you think you “should” say, or what is “cool,” “interesting,” or “good.” This is about getting brutally honest with yourself to weed out anything inauthentic. It’s about understanding yourself, not in comparison to anyone else but as your own unique person. 

Try the following journal exercise to define these values, listing 4 for each question, and refer back to it whenever you’re considering making a big change:

  • What do you spend most of your time and energy on?
  • What do you spend most of your time thinking about? 
  • What do you see when daydreaming about the future?
  • What inspires you the most? What fills your cup?
  • When you think of long-term goals, what do you want in your life in order for you to be happiest? 
  • What people, places, or things do you gravitate toward? 

After answering, find the most common four items listed. These represent your current core values. When faced with an upcoming risk or decision, circle back to this list to see if the move aligns with you. Do this exercise once a quarter to stay up to date with where you’re at – like everything else, our values are subject to change. 

Act on intuition, not on impulse

It’s important not to make major decisions impulsively. All of us have intuition or a gut feeling; however, when we don’t take the time to listen to it, we can seek answers for big decisions outside of ourselves or jump to rash conclusions. If you find yourself feeling anxious, upset, or burdened by indecision you might not be in the right headspace to make a sound decision. But by fostering your intuition, you’ll be able to take smart risks for growth as opposed to impulsive dives that won’t necessarily benefit you. 

Intuition requires getting quiet enough so you can hear it. Whether that means some scheduled “me time,” a meditation practice, or going on nature walks, creating space for silence is one of the best ways to tap into your intuition. Pay attention to your visceral reactions while doing so: What are the physical sensations? What are you sensing or feeling right now when faced with a decision? Do you feel tired, reluctant, or anxious, or do you feel open, excited? Remember, this isn’t what your mind or thoughts are telling you. We are looking for physical or emotional sensations in your body.

Another way to connect with your intuition is to take a look at your track record. Try the following journal exercise to help you gain clarity: 

  • Take inventory of your intuition. Reflect on moments in the past where you ignored your intuition, only to discover in hindsight that it was right all along. List all the times you had a “funny feeling” about something that turned out to be true. Seeing on paper that you had a gut instinct in the past will help you trust it more in the future. 

Understand where resistance is coming from

Life changes and risk-taking come with vulnerability, which can be scary. But that resistance to tough feelings and the unknown should not be immediately seen as a sign that the risk is not worth taking. If we don’t take the time to find out where that resistance stems from, it may be challenging to figure out whether or not to take a risk that involves change. 

Use the following journal prompt to get to the root of your resistance: 

  • Are you resisting things that you know are good for you because you’re scared to get out of your comfort zone? Does hiding keep you safe or is it just keeping you small? Are you acting out of your need to please people? Are you resisting something because it doesn’t feel right to you? Does the object of your resistance align with your core values? Describe the resistance and the underlying emotions attached to it. Ask yourself “why” until you get there. 

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414