[MIND OVER MATTER] Ep. 2: The benefits of risk-taking

[Opening Music]

Pierach [Introduction]: When’s the last time you took a risk and attempted something new, even though you were unsure of the outcome? Whether the thought of bringing something new into your everyday life seems exciting or fills you with fear, research has shown that it has its benefits. Welcome to Mind Over Matter, a three-part series that focuses on topics relating to mental health and well-being with guest speakers from the SPA faculty and students. I’m Johanna Pierach, and today we’ll be discussing the benefits of risk-taking and new experiences with Upper School Counselor Emily Barbee and ninth-graders Alba Markowitz and Bora Mandic. When the brain encounters a new and exciting situation, it releases dopamine, which forms neural connections. This results in not just temporary highs and lows, but it also helps with learning and motivation. The adolescent brain is especially primed for risk-taking, as it is constantly developing and soaking in new information. Here to say more about this is Upper School Counselor Emily Barbee.

Barbee: So I’m Ms. Barbee. My title is Upper School Counselor and my pronouns are she/her.

Pierach: Could you explain the science behind, like, risk-taking or what happens in the brain when somebody is doing something that they haven’t before?

Barbee: The adolescent brain really lights up more with rewards than any other time in life. And so your brain’s like this information sponge and part of that, we see, is risk-taking becomes really important.

Pierach: So what might be like the benefits of risk-taking and getting out of your comfort zone, both like long term and short term?

Barbee: You learn quicker, so taking a risk with like learning a new skill, or learning a new language, or asking somebody out, or, like, trying out for a sport that you’ve never played before. I think SPA is really especially great for those types of risks because you can have access to new things pretty easily. I would say in the short term, just being mindful and intentional about how to, like, what risks you want to take. And then with the long term, what’s the benefit of that is it wires your brain because you’re, basically, your brain is being wired right now for all these things that you try. So if you try out like swimming, or you try out a new language, it’s so much easier for you to learn it at this time in your life and to retain it if you keep practicing it. And then that sets you up for adulthood. So that’s what your brain wants you to do is like take risks, try new things. And just be intentional so that you stretch yourself, because that’s another thing that’s happening in tandem is your identity development. And so part of that is you don’t want to just decide like pigeonhole yourself.

Pierach: So, the drawbacks could be like, you could like wind up in potentially dangerous situations?

Barbee: Yep. So there can be that impulse to take risks in the moment or not think things through. And that’s a myth as well about adolescents is that, oh, adolescents take risks because they don’t understand the consequences. That’s not true. Like you’re obviously all very intelligent and you could list probably more consequences than an adult. But it’s just really important to be intentional and have a little forethought about what type of risk you want to take.

Pierach: What advice do you have for students, in terms of risk-taking?

Barbee: In terms of risk-taking? I mean, I would say in general, like, yeah, do it. Like, safely, with intention, thoughtfully. If you can, talk to somebody about like, what you want to do. And then very importantly, be, be generous with your friends who want to take safe risks.

Pierach: So, it can be good for your mental health, right?

Barbee: Absolutely. Yeah. I think we need it, I mean we need to try new things. Like if you’re feeling anxious, and you keep doing the same thing over and over, which is procrastinating because it helps you, like, delay thinking about a problem. And then you’re like, procrastination’s not working for me. You’re going to need to take a risk and say, what else could I try to deal with procrastination?

Pierach: Anyone can look for new experiences and enjoy the benefits. Just within SPA, there are so many opportunities to try something you haven’t before and to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Ninth-graders Alba Markowitz and Bora Mandic are prime examples of how taking that leap of faith can sometimes work out for the best.

Markowitz: I’m Alba Markowitz, I’m in ninth grade, and my pronouns are she/her.

Mandic: Bora Mandic, ninth grade, and I use he/him.

Pierach: So, when and why did you initially have the idea to join?

Markowitz: My friend gave me the idea. I wanted to join because I’d always skied since I was very little, and I had a lot of fun doing it.

Mandic: So when I first heard about USC kind of, like when they announced it that we would have student elections, I kind of got interested.

Pierach: Did the task seem intimidating or daunting or did it pose any risk?

Markowitz: I was kind of nervous because I only knew one or two people that would be doing it.

Mandic: I was also pretty scared to do it, so I wasn’t completely sure I would do it until maybe a few weeks before.

Pierach: What did you say to yourself to get you to do it?

Markowitz: I really, I really considered different things, and in the end it was really the worst that could happen is I’m not great at it, and I thought that was fine and that was obviously a risk worth taking. And it’s definitely worth it because I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Mandic: I knew that the worst-case scenario would be I wouldn’t get in. So I kind of just told myself that and tried to build up my confidence so I could run.

Pierach: How has this had a positive impact on your life and what has changed for the better?

Markowitz: It definitely like makes me get out there, and to take new risks but also just not being at home because I need to go to the hill, and we carry our stuff around and we’re skiing and so it’s really fun

Mandic: It was really cool that just experience a new thing because I’ve never done something like USC before. And, I mean, I kind of found something new that I like and something that I enjoy doing.

Pierach: Are you happy with your decision?

Mandic: Yeah.

Markowitz: I am happy I’m really glad I did it. And I think that getting out of my comfort zone like that was a really good decision for me.

Pierach: Are you someone who always likes to try new things and take risks?

Markowitz: Yeah I don’t usually do new things that much unless I have a good reason to. So I will do them but I don’t go seeking new things to do.

Mandic: I mean, before this year, I haven’t done much of that. And so I think kind of going into high school, it was just one more new thing. And I feel like it kind of changed my perspective on like whether I should try this or whether I shouldn’t. And I kind of started trying new things after ninth grade and after this. Cause it was kind of like, a turning point I guess.

Pierach: So what advice would you give to somebody who wants to try something new but they’re afraid?

Markowitz: I would say to do it and obviously to assess like the risks and, try to think of like the worst and best case scenario because a lot of times you’ll find that the best-case scenario is like a lot better than the worst-case scenario. And so, yeah, and just to, to let yourself get out there and if you’re still not sure on something, depending on like what type of person you are, maybe finding someone else to do it with you would help or, becoming friends with people that will be doing it before the activity also starts would definitely help.

Mandic: I would probably tell them to just think about what the worst thing that could happen is and then determine if they still want to do it, like based on that.

Pierach: What are competitions like?

Markowitz: Um, it’s just, it takes like two hours and you only get two runs. But you get to like bring other people’s coats down and you go into the chalet and warm up, and sometimes people will bring snacks and they’ll hang out before and after.

Pierach: What is a typical USC meeting like?

Mandic: We have subcommittee groups where you kind of discuss a central topic, there’s, I think, usually four of them, and it’s pretty fun.

[Closing Music]

Pierach [Closing Segment]: So, how does one exactly go about trying something new? First, make sure you’re authentically curious about whatever interests you. Make sure that your desire to embark on this new adventure comes from yourself and not just from the pressure of others. Second, accept that you won’t be perfect at this new thing right away, and don’t go into it with the mindset that you’ll have it immediately mastered. If you’re able to tell the difference between really learning about whatever it is that interests you, versus only trying to learn how to be good at it, you’ll have a lot more success and a lot less frustration. And finally, although it’s important to consider all possible outcomes of the scenario and weigh the positives and negatives, don’t focus only on what could go wrong. Look back on past successes and think about what might have happened if you had held yourself back. You never know. Thank you for listening to Mind Over Matter. Once again, I’m Johanna Pierach, and this has been a discussion on the benefits of risk-taking and new experiences with Upper School Counselor Emily Barbee and ninth-graders Alba Markowitz and Bora Mandic. Tune in next episode for a discussion on out-of-school habits with Marius Morse.


  • Royalty-Free Music from Bensound – “Once Again” by Benjamin Tissot
  • Royalty-Free Music from Bensound – “Perception” by Benjamin Tissot
  • Original Sounds from Alba Markowitz and Bora Mandic