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5 ways to be better at risk-taking

By Julia Edelstein, Real Simple
updated 7:45 AM EST, Mon February 27, 2012
You can't take advantage of big financial opportunities if you put everything on the line.
You can't take advantage of big financial opportunities if you put everything on the line.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Before taking a risk, picture the entire scenario in fine detail from start to finish
  • The odds of ruin are high if you put all your time or cash into one venture
  • A good rule of thumb for fashion and life: go big but not overboard

(Real Simple) -- You may never tame lions or swim with the sharks, but you still have plenty of opportunities to act courageously every day.

1. Be a quitter

Before any kind of endeavor, whether it's a new job or a financial investment, come up with some golden rules. Tell yourself what you are unwilling to tolerate or what will cause you to stop the activity. Adhering to strict safety standards has kept me alive in some very dangerous situations.

Whatever the issue -- maybe I've gotten an iffy feeling or just felt that a member of the crew was rubbing me the wrong way -- I don't hesitate to stop. Knowing that I can back out is what gets me in the water in the first place.

Only an expert risk taker can swim toward a particular goal and arrive within a hairsbreadth of the treasure, then turn around and go home.

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Jill Heinerth is a cave diver and an underwater photographer and filmmaker. She is the author of "The Essentials of Cave Diving" ($50, amazon.com) and co-wrote, produced, and appeared in the PBS documentary series "Water's Journey." She lives in High Springs, Florida.

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2. Have a mental rehearsal

Before I take a risk -- which in my line of work often involves jumping off a building or setting a car on fire -- I picture the entire scenario in fine detail, from start to finish, at least 20 times. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to hours on end, depending on the stunt's complexity.

Each time, I imagine it going perfectly. If negative thoughts creep in, I push them out of my head and start over again. By the time the actual situation rolls around, I've imagined it so many times that it feels old hat.

Darrin Prescott has coordinated and performed stunts for dozens of commercials and movies, including 2011's "Moneyball" and "Drive" and the upcoming "Gone," scheduled to be in theaters on February 24. He lives in Los Angeles.

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3. Don't put everything on the line

I set aside money for playing poker, and I risk only a small amount of it on each game. You can't take advantage of big financial opportunities (a passion, a new job, a potential investment) if you're too stretched.

That means you need to maintain a lifestyle that's more modest than what you can actually afford. Even then, you should never put all your time or cash into one venture. The odds of ruin are just too high.

Annie Duke is a Los Angeles-based professional poker player. She won the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions in 2004 and the National Heads-Up Poker Championship in 2010.

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4. Think for yourself

Everywhere, people use alarmist language, encouraging us to be risk-averse: A salesman will advise you to buy an insurance policy for whichever product he's selling -- from a toaster to a new mattress. Speak to a contractor and he'll tell you how you need better waterproofing in your basement -- just in case.

Try to tune all this out. Use your common sense to reach a conclusion, then move forward. For example, if your basement has never flooded in 30 years, trust that it won't start flooding now.

Benjamin Carson, M.D., is the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, in Baltimore, and the author of "Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose and Live With Acceptable Risk" ($20, amazon.com).

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5. Take one risk at a time

A good rule of thumb for fashion and life: You should go big but not overboard. In other words, never wear all the trends at the same time. Don't wear a dress covered in sequins with sky-high heels, numerous pieces of jewelry, and bold makeup. Instead, choose one statement: a short hem, a bright color, a standout accessory, and keep the rest simple. By doing so, you'll increase your likelihood of success.

Jennifer Rade is a celebrity stylist and a costume designer based in Los Angeles and a frequent panelist on TV Guide's "Fashion Wrap."

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