Frighteningly Good Advice on Approaching Risk From Geoff Powter

I don’t think I’m alone in viewing the epic powder runs and knee-knocking rock climbing pitches of Banff Mountain Film Festival’s Radical Reels and the Snow Show programs through something of a metaphorical lens. I don’t think I will be throwing myself into the great beyond on some base-jumping adventure, or setting down tracks in Antarctica anytime soon. But one thing I have learned from Geoff Powter is that risk is quite a personal thing. I sat in on a seminar Powter offered on risk a few years ago, and learned that, in fact, I am far from risk averse. In fact I have had some success with risky challenges that have come my way.

I caught up with Powter, Banff Mountain Festivals Voices of Adventure host and Lougheed Leadership faculty member, to see if he might provide a few thoughts to help us deal with the scary, frightening, heart-pumping, goose-bumpy, hair-raising kinds of risks we encounter in life – whether they are of the K2-approach ilk, or the milder, “should I just take this freaking chance” variety.

Here are four tips from Powter:

  • We’ve all taken risks of one kind or another (physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual), so you might be underestimating your own capacity to handle the stresses you imagine risk will bring. Instead of thinking of how you’ll crash and burn, focus your thoughts on those many times when you faced challenges and came through fine.

  • We all perceive the risks that others take through our own eyes, and not through theirs. So when you see someone else leaping and think they’re so calm, and therefore completely different from you, think again. Most of the risk takers we admire have had the same doubts you do; they just have more practice coming to terms with their fears.

  • You can’t be physically calm and mentally anxious at the same time, so learn to control your body in order to control your mind. Stepping back and taking a breath isn’t just a nice thought - it actually works to help you chase your doubts out of the picture.

  • And really, Nike has it right: Just Do It. You don’t know whether you’re ready until you dive!

Powter is a highly accomplished mountaineer and psychologist. He is also the author of Strange and Dangerous Dreams: The Fine Line Between Adventure and Madness, which won the Jury Prize at the 2006 Banff Mountain Book Festival. There are definitely some spooky elements to this book, as Powter looks into the darker reasons underlying dangerous pursuits.