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Big Ideas

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

If you're not risking failure, you're not risking enough. Why pushing outside of your comfort zone is a crucial part of the creative process.

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 Posts by Michael Schwalbe

Comments (20)
  • Kellie Muse

    @ times it feels I am SO far outside of my comfort zone….I’ve got to stay the course and “master my last 30%”. Great read….especially for a Monday. Thank you.

  • Jason

    Thank you. An interesting read and a point of view I happen to think is correct. The last 30% is something I need to push myself to focus on more. There were times I have in the past and felt nothing but glad after ward.

  • Tom

    This has been an important concept for teaching my daughter to trade. I told her she must not wait until she is “sure” of the trade because it is too late an entry. You need to have a setup and a trigger that enables an early entry and assume the risk as long as those parameters fit your trading plan and fit the expectancy of your methodology.

  • Alex

    A good philosophy to live by indeed

  • Roland Beauregard

    As a martial artist I find this tip is very relevant. It is important to realize that any success comes with a measure of risk. We work so hard on improving our skills and mental attitude and forget the risk factor. Only when you take that risk and do something so out of your comfort zone is real progress made. Thanks for so coherently stating that fact.

  • sozzy

    i agree with your point of view totally. I graduated from Leeds Uni last year ‘Electronics’ only to find that I couldn’t find a job. My salvation came from the fact that prior to completing my degree I had been teaching myself photoshop and web design to use on an online retail shop idea i was working on. Because I had covered so much ground in photoshop I started teaching myself other adobe software like illustrator and fireworks. I found learning the new software easy because the initial learning curve had peaked due to my trials with photoshop. Now the biggest risk I took when i was faced with my job dilemna was whether to forfeit looking for an electronics job I had trained so hard for and start a new career as a designer and business man. That meant I would most likely get paid way less for a while than I would an electronics job. So in my quest to improve my life, I found myself totally stepping out of my comfort zones and taking on tasks and projects i would never have embarked on. I found that my ability to take risks made me struggle but I found out that a lot of inspiration and great ideas came from my struggles. In a way the secret to my success is risk and struggle. By that I don’t just mean financial struggle but I also mean emotionally and mentally. Of course I do not suggest anybody put themselves through hell but the sort of struggle I am talking about is the one where you have a project to start and finish and to that project you have a million ideas running through your head. Of which for those ideas you are going through so many websites, artistic mediums of every kind looking for that particular 1% bolt of inspiration that you know will be the big money maker. Fact of the matter is, you need big balls to win good prizes. That applies to women too. The secret to success is big balls and a smart brain.

  • Demarcus

    I definately need to push myself a lot more! Thanks for the article.

  • Jerret

    I see this all the time in business. People hit their perceived ceiling and get stuck. But what are they doing different? They do the same things expecting different outcomes (myself included by the way).

    Risk paralyzes people. I think we’re trained to be risk averse from preschool through college. And I think that’s a shame.

  • Hannah

    I’m one of those people that tends to take risks few others would, for better or worse. I’ve looked back in amazement at some of the choices I’ve made…and so have my friends. Over time it becomes scarier, because there is more to lose, and more meaningful when it all comes together. I aspire to “always be a white belt” – because predictability promotes sleepwalking through life.

  • Lynn

    Good advice for anyone feeling stuck in one way or another, particularly the part about how much failure actually hurts. Makes me think of one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes:

    â??Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.â??

  • Alen Todorov

    Would your risk and write an article as if the rule was 0% 0% 100% ?

  • Bridget Pilloud

    A psychologist friend of mine calls this the “proximal” zone. The space where you are experiencing risk, but you’re not so freaked out that you can’t focus. The more we exist at the edge of the zone, the more that zone expands. I think about the proximal zone a lot, especially when I am doing something that feels scary to me (but really isn’t) like pitching to a magazine.

  • deadbeat millionaire bonus

    I have heard that term as well the “proximal” zone. Its a great place to be to make money!

  • gabyflo

    This is what I´ve been doing for the past 3 years, packing my stuff and traveling abroad… though is becoming my comfort zone, since I´m traveling to the same city… It´s always painful and delightful.

    Taking risks will always make you lose something in order to gain new stuff, sometimes you lose more than you gain. You could get tired and depress … with time those feelings fade away and is like swimming: once you try zero gravity having your feet on the ground is not enough.

    It is true, you never regret failing.

    Never compare your journey with someone else´s.

  • roy |

    Excellent piece, totally agree. It was a huge risk packing up my entire life to go work on cruise ships, but it’s been totally worth it!

  • interior design decoration

    I didn’t know much about the 40-30-30 Rule. When I first read the title, I thought you are referring to investing. After reading the post, I agree that it is necessary to work productively even if people have to push themselves out of their comfort zone. Playing safe seems interesting thing to do but 30% focus could also add sense to work productivity.

  • Sarah @mycolleges

    While I’m not as likely to take the type of risks that involve breaking bones or potential physical harm, I am more of a risk-taker in business. It’s easy to get comfortable and settled, but being inspired and willing to try new and different things will help us in our careers. It has in mind. -Sarah

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  • ipod touch 5g

    The very first thing I have analyzed after seeing considerable improvement in my work and even in myself is that I did manage to break the barriers of comfort zone – it seem almost impossible for me if I had not done this. I know one can’t make an accurate prediction but can assume to some extent in which direction he is going.  Thanks for sharing words of wisdom.

  • Michael Burnett

    So true, pushing through that comfort zone and taking some risks will ultimately bring you to a different level and ultimately closer to success.

  • Michael Mullins

    Does this apply when driving ?
    Accept risk of being booked for speeding ?
    Accept risk of an accident by driving at more than the maximum speed advisable ?

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