Explore the hidden psychology that regulates risk tolerance...and how you can overcome your self-limiting beliefs.
All the best decisions in my life have come as a surprise to those around me.
Met with a bewildered “why?” I used to feel the need to give lengthy justifications. Doing things out of the ordinary better have a good list of reasons, right? At some point I got tired of justifying myself and turned the question around. My response to “why?” became “Why not?” I felt a freedom I’d never experienced. It was a revolution.
My wife and I moved away from our hometown to a new city with few friends or family connections. Then we did it again -- to a city with even fewer. We had a few compelling reasons and mostly a burning question. Why not? More than once I’ve quit an excellent job I loved in order to do something quite a bit different. It seemed weird to my colleagues, but the opportunity to take a dramatic turn on my life path had no compelling arguments against it. Then I started a business, even though I hate a lot of the businessy stuff it requires. I had an idea that was interesting, so why not?
I have not (yet) climbed a mountain or auditioned for American Idol, and I doubt you’d count our three kids as “a bunch,” but we are embarking on some extended world travels and generally attempting to implement the ideas that animate the book you are now reading. This doesn’t make me special or give you reason to take my word, but I hope it illustrates that this book is about a way of life I’ve found great personal fulfillment in.
What this book is about
This book is about the simple practice of flipping the burden of proof from “why” to “why not.” What would happen to your life if you stopped assuming you know all the reasons why not to do things differently? Have you ever really, seriously demanded of yourself good reasons to not start a business, move to a new city, dropout of school, quit your job, write a book, travel the world, climb a mountain, fly first class, audition for American Idol, or have a bunch of kids?
You probably assume you have good reasons for not doing these things. We all do. It’s called status quo bias.
The dominant path isn’t scrutinized much, while deviations are. That’s the line anyway. We think the deviations are scrutinized, but maybe they’re scrutinized even less. Over time we assume other people have already asked questions and demanded answers of alternative choices. There must be a reason people largely make the same big decisions, right? Society is onto something, right?
The default is to believe you don’t need to give a reason for not taking a big risk and being different. We just kind of know it’s a bad idea.
But do we really know?
What this book is (not) about
The point of this book is not to argue in favor of any of the big ideas put forth. It’s not to argue against the status quo either. It’s to challenge you to be a better questioner when it comes to your own life choices. You don’t have to do any of the things discussed in these pages. But before you say no to them, demand good, honest reasons why you shouldn’t.
Consider all the life-altering choices that don’t get much scrutiny. Buying a home, going to college, getting a typical 9-5, and so on. Is that what you want? Are you sure? Would your life look different if you asked “why?” of all the things that don’t get questioned, and “why not?” of all those that do?
If not, good for you. Now when you settle into your path you’ll at least know you consciously chose it and you’ll know why. This is a big help when times get tough. On the other hand, if in flipping the burden of proof you find better reasons to do something previously thought out of reach or radical, good for you too. You’ve done the hard work of knowing thyself. The harder work of acting on it comes next!
It is my belief that the best decisions are fun, challenging, and not tainted with guilt, obligation, shame, or fear.
Don’t read this book and feel like you have to do something different to be cool. If it’s not you and you have plenty of sound “why nots,” don’t do it. Just have reasons.
Your reasons, not anyone else’s.
Status quo bias exists for a reason. It’s a good thing we don’t have to rediscover all pitfalls and dangers firsthand. “Why not touch the hot stove?” is probably a bad example of flipping the burden of proof. The reason this contrarian approach is valuable is precisely because it’s only valuable sometimes for some people in some situations. We can’t tell you all the best times to apply it, but a little common sense should go a long way. Test it out in your head before you take action. I bet you can answer “Why not touch the hot stove” without touching it first.
You don’t need to eschew all traditions and norms and common advice. They’re helpful more often than not. But at least find out why they’re helpful and whether they apply to you in every situation.
The big breakthroughs happen when you find exceptions to rules, but you’ll never find them if you only ask the same questions everyone else is asking.