The 40-30-30 Rule: Why Risk Is Worth It

Many of the strategies employed in competitive and recreational sports are applicable in business and our personal lives. One lesson I learned from alpine ski racing was the “40-30-30 Rule.” During training, early on, I tried to go fast, and I also focused on not falling. On a ride up the ski lift, my coach told me I was missing the point. He explained that success in ski racing, or most sports for that matter, was only 40% physical training. The other 60% was mental. And of that, the first 30% was technical skill and experience. The second 30% was the willingness to take risks.

With ski racing, specifically, that meant taking the risk of leaning harder into turns, balancing at a steeper angle to the slope, and placing greater pressure on the outside ski edge – all of which increased the chance of falling. My coach explained, though, that if I wasn’t falling at least once a day in training, I wasn’t trying hard enough. Indeed, to improve at anything, we must at some point push ourselves outside our comfort zone. Body builders call it the “pain period.” Only by trying something new, struggling, learning, and then trying again do we improve our performance. It’s a simple matter of acclimating to unchartered territory.

To improve at anything, we must at some point push ourselves outside our comfort zone.
And when we come out the other side, we often can’t help but wonder why we were so timid in the first place. Questioning this fear is not unfounded. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert has shown that we deal with failure better than we’d expect. In studies, “when people are asked to predict how they’ll feel if they lose a job… or fail a contest, they consistently overestimate how awful they’ll feel and how long they’ll feel awful.” In other words, “we overestimate the intensity and duration of our distress in the face of future adversity.”

While we tend to focus solely on building our skill sets or expanding our knowledge, the greatest advancement and learning most often comes from action, experience, and taking risk. And our regrets in life reflect this. According to Gilbert, studies show that “in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did.”

Although playing it safe makes sense in some professions such as financial services and healthcare, for our own creative development, we need to focus on the last 30%. Our inhibitions have evolved to protect us, but, in many cases, they limit us. The challenge is to rebalance our nature. Ultimately, it’s the ones who barrel through the discomfort, are resilient in the face of failure, and master the last 30% of taking risk who reach the highest levels of performance.

More insights on: Risk-Taking
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