My uncle, a backcountry guide, once told me that he enjoyed avalanche safety and backcountry skiing because it was like a murder mystery in reverse. You gather clues and make a rough assessment of what could lead to a ghastly murder.
I've loved this sentiment. Perhaps because I like reverse engineering things to begin with, or perhaps because the same human dramas, egos, and element of danger that makes for a good page-turning detective novel are just as present in the backcountry. But there is a better phrase that has kept me safe. It's a touch of peer pressure, mixed in with my propensity for self-doubt.
"How stupid is this going to look in the accident report?"
Every time I do something risky, I try and think about what the situation might look like if it all goes wrong. What risks might I have failed to calculate? What could I have done better? Because I spend a lot of time combing through accident reports and journals like the Accidents in North American Climbing, I find this helpful to remind me of things I've forgotten. More importantly, it makes me consider the situation externally. Are the risks really worth it? Can I justify my faith in the snow stability, rock fall risk, et cetera?
So far it's worked really well.