Taking Risks To Grow – What Can We Learn From A Hermit Crab?

I absolutely love hermit crabs; I have since childhood.  They are so intriguing and they have a lot to teach us about taking risks in order to grow.

A hermit crab not taking risks but staying put.
Herman Hermit in a compact and bijou “house.”

A Hermit Crab’s Life

Unlike other crustaceans, Hermit Crabs don’t grow their own shells when it is time to expand. Instead, they take up lodgings in a shell that has been cast off, such as a snail shell. It’s an efficient system, made more so by a procedure of co-operation and management of resources. This BBC video, narrated by the wonderful Sir David Attenborough, shows how a housing chain is set up when a large “des res” becomes available.


All the time that the Hermit Crab remains in its shell it is safe, but it will eventually need to take a risk and move to a new house, if it is to grow.  Whilst it is moving to another shell it is vulnerable to attack. However, if it doesn’t move it will die, as the shell becomes too small for it.

What Can We learn?

Our Hermit Crab taking a risk and moving house
Herman is taking the risk and making his move.

To grow, survive and thrive, we have to face up to taking risks:

  • to try something new
  • to say no to a request when we usually say yes
  • to say yes to an opportunity when we usually say no
  • to change jobs
  • to leave a relationship
  • to challenge bad behaviour
  • to move house

All these things take a certain amount of risk as we step outside of what is familiar and safe. Taking a risk stimulates our Limbic system and we feel fear – as if we were under threat of death.  I’ve written about some of this here.

But unless we face these things, we stagnate, shrink even. Our outlook shrinks, our options shrink and our opportunities shrink. To make the most of what we have, we need to take chances and risk what we have. Sometimes we lose, but even if we lose, we gain learning.


So What If We Do Lose?

Mark Twain said

“Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.”

When we get things wrong we learn. When we get things right we grow. But if we never try we gain nothing.

Our Hermit Crab settled into a new house
Hooray! Herman has moved in and loving his new life.

A Hermit Crab hides in its shell for safety, but sometimes it leaves that safety in order to gain something new and of value. We could learn a lot.




Cartoons by Janet Webb, who had a go at something new.

Your Anxiety is Not You – you are you.

All of us have certain things that trigger anxiety – these differ for each person because our life experience is different and therefore we have differing beliefs and perspectives. For some a trigger might be public speaking and for others it is dealing with someone who is a bit “difficult.” (We could have a long debate about what difficult means, but I’ll save that for another blog.)

Anxiety Is A Chemical – it’s not you.

We feel our anxiety because a specific part of our brain sees these things as threatening. Unfortunately this bit of our hard wiring reacts as if we are facing death. Therefore, our bodies get ready to run away (from a sabre-tooth tiger) or stand up and fight (with the axe wielding member of an enemy tribe.) It’s a primitive response that is not so helpful if what you are trying to do is speak to your boss! Phobias, like fear of heights, spiders, snakes, the dark etc, are extreme versions of this anxiety.

Understanding what’s going on is part of the battle. I took a friend sailing  a while back and was able to help him see a new perspective on his anxiety. I’ve written about it here. We have learned to be anxious about certain things. And we can unlearn it.

What If There’s No Such Thing As A Wrong Choice?

This is patently not so… but what if?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few months and a lot of a lot, in the last few days. (The EU Referendum was 5 days ago.)

At times we do things and then wish we had held off or had done things in a different way.  “If only I had waited until after the weekend” “If only I had waited until after the second interview”  “If only I had turned East rather than West, left earlier, left later, kept my mouth shut, spoke up sooner, had stayed home, had gone out, had voted differently.”

Thoughts like this can keep us awake at night, which is destructive both mentally and physically.  And wondering “what if…” is a waste of precious resources.  We have already spent time churning over different options and taken action based on our thoughts about those options.  It is pointless to re-do the thinking that we have already done, or that we perhaps should have done earlier.

How about looking at this from a different perspective? What if there was no such thing as a wrong choice? What benefit would there be if that were true?

No regrets

No angst

No waste of energy considering the what ifs

We will never know the result of taking a different path from the one we took.  We’ll never be able to compare the outcomes of all the choices.  It is possible that the way we chose was the better choice after all.  Since we’ll never know, to fret over it is to put energy into a pointless activity. That energy could be better spent moving forward on the path we did take.


This is not a manifesto to be careless about making choices; clearly we need to put our efforts into making good decisions.  It is also not a comment on what happened last week; there were intelligent people on both sides that voted with their consciences for good reasons.