Many of our fears are learned but we can unlearn them. We can also learn how to take more risks and become more courageous and resilient.

Margie Warrell, author of "Stop Playing Safe: Rethink Risk. Unlock the Power of Courage. Achieve Outstanding Success," talks about how to turn fears and setbacks into opportunity in 2014.

“Change is always scary, even change for the better,” Warrell said in an interview. “Even someone that’s leaving a job that they’ve hated or a relationship that they’ve been in for a long time where they were very abused physically or emotionally, change always has an element that is a bit scary.

“It is out of our comfort zone because it is unfamiliar. We don’t know the lay of the land, it's not as predictable, it's the unfamiliar about it.”

We focus on what we have to lose rather than what we have to gain, she says. More of the interview:

Q. Many people are taught risk aversion as kids -- better safe than sorry, you can't be too careful. How can you unlearn risk aversion if it is starting to affect your personal or professional life as an adult?

Warrell: Focus more on what you will do versus on what you are going to stop doing. So instead of saying I am going to stop being risk- averse -- start by asking yourself, what is it that I would do if I were being more courageous?

Why would I bother to speak up in a meeting, why would I bother to go and ask my boss for a pay raise, why would I bother making a change or doing something that’s outside my comfort zone -- because the default course of action of course, is we stay in our comfort zone. There has to be something that compels us out of it. And so, before you say, ‘take a risk, take a risk’, people have to be really clear, why would I do that? There has to be something more important at stake.

But when it comes to people who are very much, habitually, they’re just risk averse, they just don’t stick their neck out, they never have. Maybe they tried it once when they were in second grade and it was a bad result and they haven’t since. And I really believe courage is a skill and like all skills, it can be learned.

Q. You say that what you fear is rarely what you think you fear; it's what you link to. Can you explain?

Warrell: A lot of our fears are learned. So we may have had an experience in the past where we … got really hurt, we felt really rejected and so those experiences from the past can leave us scarred in some way.

And so often, when we're making decisions in our lives today it's actually we're associating what we're afraid of with something that may have happened a long time ago.

It may be completely not related but we're linking to that emotion and so it’s not the situation itself that’s so scary for us. All the emotions that it's bringing up based on things that happened in the past or fears that we’ve been conditioned to believe.

Q. You've said that where we put our focus is the major difference between those who change well, and those who don’t. What do you mean?

Warrell: When we are confronted with change, our natural tendency is to focus on what we have to lose rather than on what we have to gain.

One of the things we have to lose is familiarity, the safety, the knowing how things work.

So then it comes to whether it’s initiating changes because we want to change a career or we want to change a relationship or we want to move somewhere else, or change is forced upon us -- an organization restructure, we’ve just lost our job -- where we place our focus matters enormously.

When we're focused on everything we’ve had to give up and what we might have to lose or what we will have to lose, there’s very little we can do constructively in that space.

Q. How can we build resilience and embrace risk to find new opportunities in 2014?

Warrell: I have my "soar" approach which is stop, look back, observe, ask questions, reframe and respond. So there are five steps of that which I think are a great five steps to take us through in the midst of something that does challenge us and invites us to be more resilient.

In the long term, I absolutely believe that people who are constantly in courageous action end up far better off than those who aren’t -- but not everything will work out.

Not every risk you take is going to produce the results you want and that’s where resilience is so essential because if we let our setbacks define us, if we just get knocked out.

And we say ‘that’s it, never again,' the first time something doesn’t go well, when there are dips in the road, when plans fall apart. Then we’re ultimately not going to take courageous actions in the future.

Q. What steps could someone take to start being more courageous in 2014?

Warrell: Cast your mind ahead to 12 months from now and think about an area of your life that you’re not really happy with or something you’d really like to achieve that you haven’t in the past. Just connect with it and imagine how you will feel. Really, how will you feel?

Visualize yourself 12 months from now, having achieved it. Or make it something you can’t achieve in twelve months but you are on the way to achieving it. And really imagine how that will feel, that you have been in action…

And then flip the coin the other way and imagine how you will feel 12 months from now if you’ve done absolutely nothing. Because we too often discount or deny the cost of inaction. And we focus on what might happen if we try to do something and the effort and the risk and all of that, versus getting present to what is our life going to look like if we don’t take a risk?

That kind of playing pretend allows our imagination to get past the fear of 'but that’s not realistic, I can’t do that’. Sometimes just playing that make believe, if you could have your ideal --12 months from now, five years from now, what would you be doing?

What would your ideal job be, what would your ideal lifestyle be, what would your ideal relationship be? How would you be feeling physically? All of those things. I think it can sometimes help people go, ‘Well, I know it seems unrealistic but what I’d really love to be doing is…’ Fill in the blank.