[Personal Experiment] Counterbalancing Risk-Aversion

post by lsusr · 2019-11-15T08:34:03.460Z · score: 28 (14 votes) · LW · GW · 6 comments

I am over-biased against risk. I usually take the safer option even when it's the wrong one. When I was 18 I stumbled across this paragraph.

You must do everything that frightens you…Everything. I’m not talking about risking your life, but everything else. Think about fear, decide right now how you’re doing to deal with fear, because fear is going to be the great issue of your life, I promise you. Fear will be the fuel for all your success, and the root cause of all your failures, and the underlying dilemma in every story you tell yourself about yourself. And the only chance you’ll have against fear? Follow it. Steer by it. Don’t think of fear as the villain. Think of fear as your guide, your pathfinder… ― The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer

I followed this paragraph to the letter. Whenever I was torn between two choices and didn't know what to do I'd just take the scarier option. I recorded my results until I had accumulated 30 decisions. 28 of them (93% of the time) the scarier choice was the correct one. This immediately improved my quality of life. The two decisions where I chose wrong by doing the scarier thing were inconsequential.

I continued using fear to tiebreak my decisions for another two years. It worked great until I negated my aversion to fear. My sense of fear has become subdued outside of immediate physical danger.

I make far better decisions then I did before I deconditioned myself, but I'm still over-biased against risk. I'm not literally afraid of taking risks. I'm just overly-conservative in expected value calculations. I'm too cautious.

Having identified this problem I'm going to try something similar to what I did last time. I'm going to increase my risk tolerance slightly and record my results.

December 13, 2019 update: Apparently my last trial at this years ago wiped out most of my fears. Increasing my risk tolerance helped me write more but otherwise had little effect on my life.

6 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by lynettebye · 2019-11-15T23:48:03.858Z · score: 9 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious if you're willing to share the 30 decisions, or at least ones that aren't too personal?

comment by lsusr · 2019-11-16T01:40:10.566Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I began this experiment 9 years ago. I only wrote down whether the decisions were right or wrong so I have no record of what the decisions are.

From what I remember, most of the decisions involved socializing. Perhaps half of the decisions involved starting conversations with people (I was afraid of bothering them). Many involved attending social events. I was in college at the time so some of them involved putting together study groups. At least one was whether to ask someone out on a date.

I consistently underestimated the rewards and overestimated the risks of reaching out to others. I wasn't too worried about personal embarrassment. Rather, I was worried that I would bother other people and worsen their days. This almost never happened. In the rare cases where I did bother someone a little the effect was small.

comment by Hazard · 2019-11-16T00:35:53.385Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconded. Any examples of decisions the OP would be okay with sharing I'd find useful. I'm especially curious about the factors that made it seem clear in retrospect which was the "right" option.

comment by lsusr · 2019-11-16T01:41:36.557Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In every case the "scary" option was the riskier one, so I always had high confidence in what would happen if I chickened out. I compared that to what actually happened when I took what seemed like a riskier option.

comment by Michael Kazarnowicz (michael-kazarnowicz) · 2019-11-15T23:01:24.835Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a similar experience. At the base, I'm very risk averse. When I was 19, I realized how much I let fear of what others would think of me influence my choices. I wowed to stop it, and it became a long period of doing things that scare me. Sometimes, I sought out the fear just to practice dealing with it. Other times, I chose the risky option, knowing that I'd handled the fear even when it was overwhelming. The scariest thing I've done so far is skydiving. I was so afraid that my heart-rate, which at that period was 40-50 in resting state, shot up to 172 from pure adrenaline at the time I jumped. I got a mild form of PTSD, where my brain didn't store memories of the event, so watching the video afterwards was an alien experience.

I haven't quantified it like you, but it taught me that fear is rarely rational, and that you can face it. Having the experience of skydiving, and going from sheer terror to actually enjoying it (it's still some of the most amazing experiences I've had) taught me that fear should only be a factor if rationale dictates that this is risky. To this day, I don't regret any of the everyday choices I've made that seemed risky at the time.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2019-11-18T19:44:50.252Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've done something similar [LW · GW] and it's similarly worked out well.