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Why do Olympic athletes risk life and life for their sport?

Why do Olympic athletes risk life and life for their sport?
February 12, 2010 Ignacio Fiallos

Why do Winter Olympic athletes risk injury and possible death for their sport?

At the upcoming games in Vancouver, Steven Holcomb and John Napier will be flying down the bobsled track, Bode Miller and Ophelie David will be skiing at enormous speeds, and Shaun White will be flying well above his half pike in the snowboarding competition.

What do these athletes and many others participating in the Winter Olympics have in common?  In my experience, they get a charge out of risky, daredevil behaviors.

These athletes actually share a common trait with risk-taking CEOs and entrepreneurs – low serotonin in the brain.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps the brain function.

Having low serotonin is analogous to a car idling in low gear.  High-risk behavior stimulates the serotonin production in the brain of high-risk takers and shifts their brain into high gear. The stimulation of high-risk situations, therefore, is rewarding and these individuals gravitate toward this type of behavior.

In my new book, Full Throttle:  122 Strategies To Supercharge Your Performance At Work, I discuss the importance of being aware of your risk-taking style so that you can use it to your advantage.  As with Shaun White and other athletes competing in Vancouver, some business professionals also get a charge from risk. This has guided their everyday behaviors, what careers were pursued and which ones avoided, and how they might communicate.

If you answer “yes” to four of the five following questions you probably have a risk-taking personality:

  1. 1.    Do you like driving fast in the rain?
  2. 2.    Do you enjoy a good roller coaster?
  3. 3.    Do you like downhill skiing when there is a chance of injury?
  4. 4.    Do you enjoy living life on the edge?
  5. 5.    Are your decisions considered risky and edgy?

Engaging in high-risk behavior doesn’t necessarily mean that you act impulsively.  In Full Throttle, I relate stories of golfer Phil Mickelson, businessman Mark Cuban and Teddy Roosevelt – all risk takers who had a plan and gained much more than they lost.

If you are like Roosevelt, Mickelson or Cuban, be risky but make sure you have a plan.  Just because you may not want a net when you leap does not mean you should not have a plan when you land.

Dr. Gregg Steinberg is a Washington Post best selling author, professor of sport psychology, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including Dancing with the Stars, Fox News as their 2008 Olympic Games sport psychology expert, and CNN. He is a business speaker you can see more about him at


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