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Risk Taking and Your Brain

I was just about to start another ski run last week when I couldn’t quite remember the colour of the run. I am pretty much a so-so downhill skier, having just started a few years ago at the age of 50 or so, to take up the sport. I’m ok on the blue runs, but when it gets more difficult things can get scary. As I followed my friends down the hill and held on for what seemed hours, I finished the run still intact only to learn it was a double diamond run. What I noticed quite quickly was the difference in my focus, arousal levels, and brain energy, which were drastically improved immediately after taking this physical risk. I couldn’t stop smiling, and the pleasant impact on my brain was obvious to me. There seems to be science to explain this feeling that many of us with ADHD experience when taking risks.

The BBC reported on a recent study by Professor David Zald of Vanderbilt University. They noted:

“Scientists say they have found physical evidence of brain differences, which may drive “thrill-seekers” to act impulsively or dangerously.

A small study from Vanderbilt University in the US found the biggest “risk-takers” processed a brain “reward” chemical dopamine differently. Scans spotted fewer “receptors” for the chemical on the cells which make it.

The Journal of Neuroscience study could help explain why some are vulnerable to drug abuse and other addictions. . . . Just as in animals, a propensity towards thrill-seeking, spending money freely, and spontaneity, could be linked to lower levels of auto-receptors.”

A current poll found at our charting web site also supports this notion with 55% of respondents reporting problems with spending connected to impulse and ADHD. It’s not an excuse for irrational behaviour, but clearly, the evidence is mounting that risk taking, and perhaps some addictive behaviour are neurologically based with ADHD. Once we accept this fact we can start to create positive strategies to make sure that we allow ourselves to take part in activities that can enhance our brain health, focus, and productivity, but keep us safe. For children diagnosed with ADHD this also needs to be explained. Putting boundaries on risk taking so that all precautions are taken (helmets while skiing or skate boarding with training and lessons to reduce risks) is one important step. If you or your child have ADHD create a list of acceptable risk taking activities and engage in them regularly to maximize your brain health. Remember to manage this risk taking impulse when spending money, which appears to be one of the greatest issues associated with this brain based behaviour. By regularly scheduling such high risk activities you, will find improved energy, productivity at work, and pleasant mood without sacrificing your financial future. Could this be a characteristic of successful Entrepreneurs?

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