Risky Behavior and Brain Health

I used to think risky behaviors were . . . well, risky, and dangerous, and unsafe. And they can be.

For teenagers or adolescents, risky behaviors are among the three vices: drugs, sex, and alcohol. In his book Brain Storm, Dr. Dan Siegel helps us understand the natural chemical cocktails and hormonal releases in the brain for those twelve to twenty-four years old. These chemicals are necessary for launching one into adulthood. It can be a dangerous time of life if poor choices and a trail of permanent consequences follow. Perpetual guilt and shame potentially lingers into adulthood stunting the development of one’s natural rhythm of growth.

Risk is not always a dangerous activity to be avoided. The opposite may be true.

For those of us beyond twenty-four with less dopamine (pleasure hormones) releases in the brain, I encourage intentional and healthy risk-taking. It’s good brain hygiene.

Healthy risk-taking is necessary for growth and well-being. Growth sometimes requires doing the opposite of what one would normally do. It may be entering into the unknown, yet not in a sinful way.

Healthy Risk-taking Story

Here’s a story from my pre-adolescent past to illustrate healthy risk-taking.

When I was young my family lived in a subdivision with a community pool. I remember the excitement at the beginning of summer and the smell of chlorine. My bare feet eagerly ran and I heard the whistle of the stern-faced lifeguard pointing and commanding a firm, “walk.” Sugar Daddys were my favorite snack I waited in line for at concessions.

As a fairly good swimmer for my age, the lower diving board was safe . . . and boring after a while. My cousins dared me to go off the high diving board.

I saw how much fun the others were having!

I noticed a boy much smaller than me climbing confidently up the ladder to the high dive and jumping off as if he were born that way.

“I can do that,” I told myself. I intended to make this bold move. My nervous excitement turned into an adrenaline rush that gave me determination.

I started up the first rung . . . then the second. . . the third . . .and by the fourth rung, my whole body shivered with cold, excitement and fear! My heart raced faster with each step I took. I suddenly changed my mind and started to go down backwards. Four or five other divers right behind me shouted an impatient, “hurry up. . . . come on . . . scaredy cat . . . you shouldn’t have gotten in line if you’re not gonna go off.”

My only choice was to keep going.

My heart was beating out of my chest. Goose bumps emerged all over my cold wet body. The rail became more slippery and my legs shook with every step.

Having reached the top rung with my white-knuckled hands grasped tightly to the wet handrail, I felt the grainy board under my feet. A nauseous feeling in my stomach motivated me to keep looking straight ahead. My peripheral vision confirmed how far down the water really was. I walked to the end of the bouncing board and pinched my nose.

My leap of faith was like a slow-motion movie clip.

In an instant, I felt my feet pierce the water surface. Gravity pulled me further under. Emerged by the cool blue water, I quickly swam to the top with a big smile on my face.

I felt proud of myself. I wanted that high dive experience again! I had knowledge I didn’t have moments before. I knew how much fun it would be! I waited in line confidently with the other divers.

  • I learned how to jump backwards off the high dive.
  • I learned how to dive head-first off the high dive.
  • I learned how to flip forward and backward off the high dive.
  • I learned to point my toes and craft my form off the high dive.

The lower diving board became too boring for me.

I experienced feelings of being fully alive and excited! The high dive was fun. I grew in my confidence and skill. My fear turned into courage!

Questions for you

  • What memories of healthy risk-taking behaviors do you have? How has that increased your confidence and skill?
  • What is your low dive experiences now in your life? What is comfortable and boring?
  • What high dive experiences do you imagine in your life now? What confidence and skill might you gain?

Face Insecurity for Freedom to Create


To look at one’s personal history from a perspective of openness and growth brings freedom for developing creativity in the present.

Progressive awareness has been liberating for me at different phases throughout my life! At this stage, I’m realizing my energy toward writing. I’m drawn to have a clearer picture of God’s blessings and giftedness He’s given me. Paying attention to my upbringing has helped me face insecurity for freedom to create. 

I admire people who have been writers all their lives! Although I have about thirty or more journals I’ve kept over the years, I’ve not entrusted my written thoughts to the public until recently. My adult insecurities left over from an unprocessed childhood held me back.

As an elementary student, I remember challenging times of creative tasks such as writing a story and drawing a picture. My six year-old self tried making sense of my dad’s death due to cancer. My family’s move to a new school and new neighborhood left me with obstacles bigger than what first graders were meant to cope with. Grief counselors were unheard of in those days.

I choose to acknowledge my past and own it as part of my story. With continual awareness comes grief over what was missed out on. To process through those losses frees me to live in the moment. In the meantime, I’ve learned to honor the energy I have over my writing.

This story touched me deeply. It’s written by Anonymous, who seems to know me well.  If you know this particular Anonymous, please comment so I can thank my good friend.

The Little Boy

Once a little boy went to school. He was quite a little boy and it was quite a big school. But when the little boy found that he could go to his room by walking right in from the door outside, he was happy and the school did not seem quite so big any more.

One morning, when the little boy had been in school awhile, the teacher said: “Today we are going to make a picture.” He liked to make pictures. He could make all kinds: lions and tigers, chickens and cows, trains and boats. He took out his box of crayons and began to draw.

But the teacher said: “Wait! It is not time to begin!” She waited until everyone looked ready. “Now,” said the teacher, “we are going to make flowers.”

“Good!” thought the little boy. He liked to make flowers, and he began to make beautiful ones with his pink and orange and blue crayons.

But the teacher said, “Wait! And I will show you how.” And it was red, with a green stem. “There,” said the teacher. “Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s flower. Then he looked at his own flower. He liked his flower better than the teacher’s but he did not say this. He just turned his paper over and made a flower like the teacher’s. It was red, with a green stem.

On another day, when the little boy had opened the door from the outside all by himself, the teacher said, “Today we are going to make something with clay.”

“Good!” thought the little boy. He liked clay. He could make all kinds of things with clay: snakes and snowmen, elephants and mice, cars and trucks. He began to pull and pinch his ball of clay.

But the teacher said: “Wait! It is not time to begin!” She waited until everyone looked ready. “Now,” said the teacher, “we are going to make a dish.” He liked to make dishes, and he began to make some that were all shapes and sizes.

Then the teacher said: “Wait! I will show you how.” She showed everyone how to make one deep dish. “There,” said the teacher. “Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish. Then he looked at his own. He liked his dishes better than the teacher’s but he did not say this. He just rolled his clay into a big ball again and made a dish like the teacher’s.

And pretty soon the little boy learned to wait and to watch, and to make things just like the teacher. And pretty soon he didn’t make things of his own anymore.

Then it happened that the little boy and his family moved to another house, in another city, and the little boy had to go to another school. This school was even bigger than the other one. And there was no door from the outside into his room. He had to go up some big steps and walk down a long hall to get to his room.

And the very first day he was there the teacher said, “Today we are going to make a picture.” “Good!” thought the little boy and he waited for the teacher to tell him what to do. But the teacher didn’t say anything; she just walked around the room.

When she came to the little boy, she said, “Don’t you want to make a picture?”

“Yes,” said the little boy. “What are we going to make?”

“I don’t know until you make it,” said the teacher.

“How shall I make it?” asked the little boy.

“Why, any way you like,” said the teacher.

“Any color?” asked the little boy.

“Any color,” said the teacher, “If everyone made the same picture, and used the same colors, how would I know who made what, and which was which?”

“I don’t know,” said the little boy.

And he began to make a red flower with a green stem.

How does the story touch you?

May you have courage to examine your own personal history. Have openness to face the past. Move beyond the losses and discover your giftedness in the present.

Honor God’s design for you. Be willing to face insecurity for freedom to create.