Becoming a better risk manager (high risk/low frequency)

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Statistically speaking, there are few accidents that occur during high-frequency activities. While saying “practice makes perfect” is a bit of a stretch. In reality, practice makes better. 

Which is why we can jump on the freeway going 80 and not have this fear of death stalking us from around the corner. We do it every day (high frequency) and we’ve gained the knowledge and experience to manage the risks involved. That is not to say, if we were to get in an accident, the consequences wouldn’t be catastrophic (high risk).

High-frequency activities trigger what is called RPDM (recognition prime decision making). Which basically means, that our brain is a massive hard drive that pulls data from the past to match with the incident at hand and adopts the behavior to problem solve.

Adolescents traditionally are not great risk managers for this very reason. If they were, none of them would ever smoke or drink. They wouldn’t text and drive (although too many adults still do this) or engage in unsafe sex.

One of the main reasons why is because they don’t have the experience yet. They don’t have the data to pull from the hard drive. They haven’t done the reps. Another part of this is, they haven’t taken the time to think through the consequences of their actions. They don’t know how to look that far ahead.

Tasks done that are very risky, that are done very rarely, with no time to think it through, are the types of incidences where bad things happen.

The good news is that high risk/low-frequency incidences can be mitigated by simply slowing down. Taking time to think through actions and consequences (discretionary time versus non-discretionary time).

At Pivot Adventure Co., we get this question all the time if the activities we do are safe. The answer is that we engage in adventure activities that carry a lot of perception of high risk.

Hanging at the top of the rock wall can seem very dangerous. The amygdala (fight, flight, freeze response) doesn’t understand anchors, belay devices or the strength of ropes. All it is saying is, “Stop this! Save our life! Get down from here!”

All of our guides have lots of experience (high frequency) and follow industry standards to mitigate risk. The goal is to intentionally put our students in a situation out of their comfort zone. As we say on the trail, “there is no growth in comfort zone and no comfort in growing zones.” Learning how to move from reacting to responding to this fear is at the heart at what we teach.

The students may perceive the situation as high risk/low frequency jumping on a rock wall for the first time. This is why our guides with deep domain knowledge (high frequency again) set up the anchors, double-check their harnesses and knots, belay the climbers so that the risk is properly managed while using all the time in the world that is necessary to complete a task safely.

This is why we remind parents that sometimes we might be late dropping off your child and to not panic. Because we are being good risk managers. We are not compounding the problem by acting as if there is no discretionary time available.

Getting everyone back home safely is our number one priority.

The bottom line: Part of the experience at Pivot Adventure is learning how to become a better risk manager. Parents benefit from learning how to identify the real risks in their teen’s lives. Students learn how to slow down and think about the consequences before taking unnecessary risks.

HT Gordon Graham