As the architects of our experience, we are here to design and live a ‘what is’ life, not a ‘what if’ life. 

Bravery is a choice, an active process of taking psychological agency—ownership of our path. We must identify what is within our locus of control. This allows us to consciously choose risks that help us innovate, influence, lead, liberate, actively contribute to the world, and create a life of incredible experiences and impact, rather than living in regret, ruminating over what could’ve been. We can focus on what is possible, and work toward it so that we can offer ourselves fully to the world.

Risks can nourish us when we engage in small, strategic, values-aligned ways, allowing us to grow and give more, leading to deeper purpose and impact. By expanding the ways we offer ourselves, we deepen our capacity as active contributors in the world. Offering ourselves to the world doesn’t mean we neglect our own needs, rather it allows us to nourish from an intentional place so that we can effectively and authentically contribute to the greater good.

Risk tolerance is different for all of us. Strategic microdosing can help us during times when we are grappling with loneliness, depression, anxiety, existential crisis, identity confusion, relationship distress, break-ups, adjustments, and opening our hearts to love and be loved—even after being hurt.

Risk doesn’t always have to be serious. It can pay off in fun ways. Take Jembi, who loved horseback riding as a kid but was extremely nervous to try again as an adult. He didn’t want to let fear stop him from enjoying moments, especially when his career and personal stress was so high, and there were rare chances to cut loose. At first, Jembi is afraid he might get hurt,

but once he mounts up, his fear quickly shifts to deep, childlike joy. Jembi goes on to make this a monthly ritual that turns out to be a powerful offset to the stress of his high-demand life.

Microdosing bravery can also help us while we’re trying to learn new things, like leading teams, teaching students, parenting children, and caring for family members. Small acts of courage over time can help us build the resilience we need to navigate interpersonal and systemic traumas including global pandemics, conflict, climate change, economic crises, hatred, polarization, violence, illness, death, and combating racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and xenophobia.

The idea of being a risk taker and liberator might seem intimidating when there’s so much at hand. Being brave doesn’t mean you need to be a Nelson Mandela incarnate or Ms. Pat copycat. The prerequisites to bravery are not fancy titles or formal positions. You don’t have to be a public figure with punchy one liners or thousands of followers.

“Risk-taking behavior” tends to have a bad rap, carrying with a strong negative connotation that conjures images of disastrous consequence. We can reclaim and allow it to take on a new meaning in our lives when we open ourselves to the healthy disruption it can bring. Many of us are sold limiting ideas about risk that perpetuate aversion to it, preventing us from seeing the many benefits of microdosing it. Risk is pictured as something of a self-destructive, impulsive, high stakes nature. When we go through trauma and pain, risk aversion can interfere withmour imagination’s ability to envision, and subsequently, our ability to then take chances that can lead to healing. When we microdose bravery strategically and intentionally, we can experience the therapeutic benefits: fun, growth, freedom, and connection that makes discomfort worthwhile, enjoying what is.

Architect a What Is Life

Know the difference between a what is vs. what if life

What is life:

• Refuses to base identity and sense of worth on socially constructed ideals about what is cool, acceptable, or desirable. Is led by values not comparison to false and harmful standards of so-called “success” and “worthiness.”

• Demonstrates investment in identifying what’s within and beyond our locus of control. Carefully evaluates and radically accepts what can’t change and focuses attention on what can. Adopts a strengths-based approach: appreciating what is and practicing gratitude for it.

• Acknowledges difficulties as inherent part of the human condition. Understands the realities of impermanence: that nothing stays the same; works to relish in positive moments and cope with

challenging ones.

• Asserts psychological agency to architect a life marked by intentionality, authentic identity, presence, creativity, joy, and awe.

• Willing to take strategic microdoses of bravery, tolerate discomfort, integrate the discoveries, and forge ahead. Acknowledges difficult emotions and sensations but refuses to let them interfere with actions that lead to growth. Remains curious and open to evolving learning processes.

• Leverages strengths, resources, and possibilities through incremental, strategic risk taking within supportive, conscious community.

• Seeks opportunities to add positively to the collective, given the realities of systemic injustice. Even when circumstances are complex,works imaginatively towards active contribution in the world.

The what if life:

• Fixates on past regrets, stays stuck in state of unsettledness and hindsight bias, embodying the fallacy that if only I’d done this or that, or if that awful thing didn’t happen to me things would’ve turned out better, or when this or that passes or happens, or some kind of Golden Ticket arrives, things will be fine.

• Fantasizes about a better future without tangible plans or actions to advance goals. Engages in magical thinking without putting in the work to bring about progress.

• Engages in social comparison, experiencing someone else’s success as threatening, while remaining blind to one’s own potential. Has contingent self-esteem and fixates on what people think rather than ways we can co-inspire, motivate, help, and learn from one another.

• Hesitates to take chances, and stews in a state of analysis paralysis. Has difficulty seeing the law of averages in taking chances. Does constant mental gymnastics over which approach is “right” or “wrong,” remaining in a state of rigidity.

• Holds back on trying new things and putting oneself out there while wondering what the experiences and outcomes would’ve been. Is mistake averse and often terrified of failure.

• Passively bystands; wishing things would be different, but struggles to operationalize plans, act, and contribute in impactful ways.

• Haphazardly engages with maladaptive risky behavior that contradicts personal values and ethos. Feasts off dopamine rushes that temporarily numb but fuels a deeper state of discontent and demoralization. Fails to recognize consequences of actions on individual and collective well-being.

Excerpted from Worth the Risk: How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World, by Kristen Lee, EdD LICSW. Sounds True (June 14, 2022)


  • Dr. Kris

    Behavioral Science Expert. Psychotherapist Comedian. Global Citizen.

    Northeastern University

    Dr. Kristen Lee, Ed.D., LICSW, known as “Dr. Kris”, is an internationally recognized, award-winning behavioral science clinician, researcher, educator, speaker, and comedian from Boston, Massachusetts. As the Lead Faculty for Behavioral Science and Faculty-in-Residence at Northeastern University, Dr. Kris’s research and teaching interests include individual and organizational well-being and resilience, particularly for marginalized and underserved populations.  Dr. Kris works with organizations and leaders around the world on how to use the science of behavioral change and human potential to build healthy mental health cultures that help prevent burnout and promote organizational and human sustainability.  She is the author of RESET: Make the Most of Your Stress, winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Motivational Book of 2015, best-selling Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking-Learn What it Takes to be More Agile, Mindful and Connected in Today’s World and Worth the Risk: Learn to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World, a 2022 The Next Big Idea Book Club nominee. She is the host of Crackin’ Up: Where Therapy Meets Comedy and is a regular contributor to Psychology Today and Thrive Global. Dr. Kris’s work has been featured at Harvard and on NPR, Fast Company, Forbes, and CBS radio. Her TedX talk, The Risk You Must Take is featured on Ted. In her spare time, she can be found out on the running trails, attempting tricky yoga poses, eating peanut butter cups and drinking kale juice—but not all at once. Connect with her at or @TheRealDrKris (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat).