What is calculated risk?


A calculated risk is a risk that is well thought out and judged to be sound. It is a chance for you to totally screw up or to totally do well. It is not a fifty-fifty chance. That would be gambling. It is an 87.347% chance or a 92.125% chance. It is not a 100% certainty. Sometimes it is a gut feeling. Should you ask that person out? Should you apply for that new job? Should you do something that scares you?

Fear holds most people back from being amazing. Because there is a chance that they will not reach their goals, many people never attempt to reach them. And, of course, this means they never do.

Let’s say you want to get to the top of a mountain to see what you can see. You can stay in your safe valley and talk about it, “I’m going to…” or you can start walking up the mountain. Let’s say you only take one step. You fall and scrape your knee. Is it a loss? Definitely not. You are one step closer than you were before. You can only lose by not attempting the trek.

Let’s say you work diligently. Despite attempt after attempt you only get most of the way up the mountain. Did you lose? Definitely not. You see a lot from your new skill level. The only loss would have been if you never attempted.

Life is full of examples of people that never started their lives. They never took any calculated risks. They were the same person at thirty-six as they were at thirty-five. No growth in a whole year. Now that is a loss!

I find that most people learn more from their losses than their victories. For years I have been asking amazing people how they got to where they are in their lives. Inevitably, they talk about learning from their mistakes, picking themselves up and making a better calculated risk the next time–and the next time, and the next time, and the next time.

The loss could be love, money, work–whatever. The reality is that we learn as we go. If you stop learning I feel sorry for you. We learn through activity. We understand ourselves through activity. Without action we are not emotionally alive.

I often meet adults who are sure that they don’t have a chance. They are sure that they are doomed. They say things like:


  • You need money to make money.
  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
  • I have no luck at all.
  • My parents never talked about money when I was a kid.
  • No one cared if I got good grades when I was a kid.
  • I never was good at math.
  • My memory isn’t all that good.


Do you have some of your own?

Feelings of doom are inevitable with this type of self-talk. We know that self-talk needs to be questioned and controlled.

How can I do it differently?

When life sets up a roadblock, and you fall flat on you face, you have to pick yourself up and clean off your wounds (especially the wounds to your pride). Once you’re standing again, you have to ask yourself this question, “How can I do it differently?” Your job is to figure out how to calculate the way it can be done. Lots of people try to tell you why they are sure that it can’t be done, but only the Smart Stubborn focus on how to do it differently. Your power comes from looking at the problem from lots of different ways until you see a new way to get your needs met. Being a Smart Stubborn is a way to learn as you go. Gaining and reevaluating what you know, and learning how to use your accumulated knowledge, gives you power. Knowledge is maybe 10% of life. The vast majority of life is action.

The first 10%: Knowledge

You are or you will become what you think about the most.

The second 90%: Action

Without action you have nothing but inaction. Inaction is nothing.


For example, many people talk about wanting to lose weight. “Come the first of the year, I’m going on a diet.” “The day after my birthday, I’m going to eat better.” This self-talk is usually all talk with no action. If you listen carefully to this type of self-talk you really hear, “Not today, it isn’t really important to me today. I hope it will be important to me some other day.” With positive self-talk you hear yourself saying, “I walk every day. I care about myself, and walking is important to me. I am worth taking care of.” When self-talk is positive, it builds upon itself.

Life rewards action

I have heard it put lots of different ways, but the most succinct statement on the subject is: life rewards action. You have to choose the best action to get to your goals. If you want a good grade in History, choose to put down the Game Jerk controller and throw yourself into studying history. If you want to stop smoking, do it. Stop smoking–not at the end of this pack or on New Year’s–right now! Stop. Make the words an action. If you want to stop smoking and tell yourself, “On New Year’s day I will quit,” you are really saying, “I will smoke until New Year’s day.” Action is more powerful. You need to judge yourself through your actions. You are a smoker. If you want to stop smoking, take the pack of cigarettes and crush them under your foot. Jump up and down on them, and then vacuum up the wretched mess. Now you are a nonsmoker. Act like a nonsmoker. Don’t buy cigarettes. Don’t ask for a cigarette. You are your actions!

If you want to get a particular job, calculate what it will take and motivate yourself to get the job. If you want to get a particular honey or hunk to notice you for the wonderful individual that you are, figure out a way to get that information imparted to them. Talk is cheap. Responsible action counts!

You also need to measure others by their actions. Their actions are the scorecard of their life. If actions are long lived they become commitment. I have a dear friend who has taught JuJitsu for forty-five years. Forty-five years, wow, that’s impressive. That’s commitment. It tells you something about someone who has done something for forty-five years. Even if you don’t like JuJitsu, it is still impressive that anyone is committed to anything for such a long time. Commitment is the report card of your life. People believe action. I advise you to measure yourself and others by their actions. Are you willing to do what it takes to get the outcome you desire?

Your morals are your compass

I want to take a moment to talk about your morals. Morals are your sense of right and wrong. Earlier I asked, are you willing to do what it takes to get the outcome you desire? Some people read this as “anything” is OK as long as they win. I want to make this clear–I am not advocating anything goes. I am advocating pushing yourself.

John Hinkley wanted to tell Jodie Foster that he loved her, so he attempted to assassinate President Reagan. That is simply wrong. You can’t do anything you want. You have to make your choices within the confines of moral behaviors.

Your morals need to be black and white. Right or wrong. I advise that you live your life 100% of the time according to your morals. When you get to that point you will be happy and proud of yourself.

Morals are not gradations. You cannot be 97% moral or 63% moral. You either are or you are not. When evaluating your own behavior, think about whether your actions are responsible and caring.

When I talk about “do what it takes” I am definitely talking about moral calculated risk. Most often it looks like more effort, more self-motivation, greater belief in yourself, and actual task completion. It never looks evil.

Morality is an absolute, not a gradation of right and wrong. Make yourself proud!