About Emotional Mastery

7 things boxing taught me about risk taking

Boxing taught me how important it is to be willing to face your fears and take calculated risks. In this post, I teach you how to embody that mindset.

Ed Latimore, author, blogger, and retired pro boxer
Ed Latimore Author, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

I believe that my ability to take risks, more than anything else, has helped me build the life I have.

The more guaranteed the outcome, the less valuable it is. This is not just a subjective feeling, but an objective fact. Whether the obstacle be time needed, skill required, or competition from others, overcoming big challenges tends to come with bigger rewards.

Because of these conditions, there is an inherent risk that comes with going after what you want.

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it.”

-Thomas Sowell

No matter how unique or rare you think your goals are, there are other people who want them. The more desired something is, the harder it will be to acquire, as scarcity and value are directly correlated. Lastly, the bigger the payoff, the more time you’ll need to invest to be successful.

If you understand this, then you understand why it’s so important to take risks in an effort to get ahead in life. Of course, most people are relatively risk averse.

It’s hard enough for people to imagine the future under normal circumstances, but it’s impossible for them to step out of the comfort zone and risk humiliation. I’m convinced that more than intelligence, the an affinity for risk is a major predictor of someone’s success.

So what exactly is risk and why is it such a vital trait for success? There are two types of risk: pure and speculative. Pure risk is the type of risk where you can only lose. Speculative risk is where there is a chance for you to win or lose.

This is the difference in risk between driving drunk and gambling.

The best case scenario for driving drunk is that nothing happens. You don’t win anything. You can’t simply do not—despite taking a ridiculous risk—lose anything. This is pure risk and it’s very bad risk.

The risk you take in gambling gives you a chance to win and lose. You can go all in and win twice as much as you started or lose all of your money. This speculative risk and it has the potential for something positive to happen and it’s very good risk.

The goal is to minimize your pure risk while maximizing your speculative risk. Speculative risk is the type of risk the rest of this article will deal with. This is a great site for learning about what happens when you take voluntarily pursue pure risk.

Do more things where you can possibly win and less where you can only lose.

Professional and amateur boxing taught me how important it is to be willing to face your fears and take calculated risks. In this post, I teach you how to embody that mindset.

1) Failure feels worse than it actually is

Risk is nothing more than exposure to the possibility of harm. The harm you expose yourself to doesn’t need to be a particularly severe, but there has to be a possibility that you will feel or be worse than you did before taking on that particular risk.

Take note that I said “feel” worse as well as “be” worse. Many times, the risk is real, dangerous, and something to avoided; but most of the things that we perceive as risk are only given that valuation because of the discomfort it causes. That temporary loss of the familiar is more bark than bite.

In boxing, you have to train yourself to take a punch. The average person can’t imagine it, but you learn in fighting that everything hurts. You learn to deal with it and in dealing with, you realize that it’s not that bad.

When you realize that you won’t fall apart at first contact, then you can be far more effective and fight with courage.

To fight with courage takes a certain affinity for risk because it requires getting yourself into the proper striking position more often. Becoming more effective also puts you at risk for absorbing more damage as well, but strong defense skills keep you safe. But even the development of those defensive skills requires a risk of getting hit.

2) You learn faster from taking risks

To become a better fighter, you have to fight better people. Fighting better people means a high risk of losing, but greater reward when you’re victorious.

This means that you’re at greater risk of losing and experiencing pain. But with these higher stakes and with more to lose, your senses become sharper. You react more quickly, fight harder, and know that everything counts.

This is known as the Goldilocks Zone of stress. The Goldilocks Zone is the zone of risk taking and growth.

You take on a challenge that’s hard enough to push you but not so hard that it destroys you. One that’s simple enough, but not so simple that it bores you. There should be a little bit of a risk with the real possibility of losing if you don’t bring your A-game.

When you bring your A-game, regardless of the outcome, you’re able to see where you can improve and where you are weak. Taking the risk of facing a better and stronger opponent carries with the possibility that you become better and stronger as well.

Theory versus practice

One decent challenge in your goldilocks zone is worth 10 practice sessions with no risk if you lose and 100 drills with no risk at all.

Even if you don’t succeed, there tends to be an improvement that would have otherwise not happened. Jay-Z says this best: “I will not lose, for even in defeat there’s a valuable lessons learned, so that evens it up for me.”

3) Taking risks exposes you to opportunity

You can’t just hope things will get better. Risk taking is how you make things happen. You only get the best things in life if you risk the possibility of getting nothing at all.

Boxing set me up for so much in my life, but just getting in the ring is a huge risk. All of the time I invest into myself could not result in progress. Or worse, I could have seriously injured myself and legitimately come out of the sport in a worse position than had I entered.

I continued along with the sport, regardless of the risks. Even though the odds of me becoming a champion in boxing are extremely low, I knew the benefits of training and networking within the sport were enough to take those risks.

Because of boxing, I was able make enough money to partially fund my education going back to school as an adult. It allowed me to initially build a fanbase that I’ve been able to convert to a living. I’ve got to travel the country for free and be interviewed by some pretty interesting people.

I’ve gotten excellent opportunities for work and made some great friends because I took the risk of training and stepping into the ring.

4) Risk teaches you how to deal with loss

No one gets everything they want.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you work and how much you prepared, you still come up short. How you deal with it is what determines how successful you’ll be at anything else.

So with risk taking, you get first hand experience in facing loss.

Most people are so afraid of losing that they never try to win. They don’t know what it’s like to lose because they avoid any situation where losing is possible. This means that they also avoid situations where winning is possible. As a result, they spend their lives in their comfort zone in a sense of quiet desperation.

When you take a risk, you won’t always be successful.

That’s ok because it’s not usually the end of the world. You’ll have learned something or gained some skill that makes you more capable and resilient. And on the off chance that it actually is the end of the world, then you have nothing to worry about anyway.

Defeats teach even more so than victories

I remember when I lost my first internationally televised fight.

It was a terrible and embarrassing ordeal, but I distinctly remember telling myself that I would be ok. In fact, as I waited for my check at the end of the night, I remember telling myself that this would be the best thing in the world to ever happen to me.

This didn’t guarantee that it would, but it shifted me from a problem finding mindset to a problem solving mindset. Instead of focusing on the pay I’d lost or the swelling over my right eye, I was able to look into the future and start focusing on what I could control and do something about.

This was something I learned to do from dealing with other losses and setbacks in my career.

When taking risks, you win some and lose some

It’s just one strategy I developed for dealing coming up on the short end of risk, but it’s one that I could only have developed if I hadn’t taken any risks in the first place.

No one rational seeks situations where the only outcome is loss and hardship. However, dealing with it is inevitable in life, so one must get some experience dealing with it.

The only way to get practice at dealing with loss and hardship is to pursue situations where there is a chance to succeed but you don’t. This is just another way of saying that you must expose yourself to the possibility of losing while trying to win.

This is just another way to describe risk taking.

5) When you take risk, you never have to wonder “what if?”

When you take risks, you never have to wonder what could have been. Instead of getting older, looking back, and wondering what you could have accomplished, that question is put to rest because you already took the risk.

At 36 years old, I don’t ever have to wonder if I could have been a professional athlete. I don’t ever have to wonder what it would have been like to fight on television. I don’t have to wonder would it would be like to get paid to train and work on my body.

Let’s pretend that I didn’t start training at the age of 22, but instead I waited until now at the age of 36. While I’d still get points for taking a risk as an old man (by sports standards), I’d then wonder how good I could have been had I started earlier.

Of course, I had that thought when I started at 22. I used to think about how much better I could have been had I started boxing at the age of 14 or younger, but by starting when I did, I prevented myself from wondering that later in life.

“Don’t you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone.”

-Saito, “Inception”

6) Risk leads to peace of mind

In the long term, the most uncomfortable thing you can do is stay in your comfort zone and the safest thing you can do is take more risks. Most people focus on the short term so they behave in the exact opposite manner.

They want to feel good now so they stay in their comfort zone and they want nothing to change so they don’t take any risks.

For a moment, let’s ignore the long term benefit. That’s easy enough to argue. What I want to focus on is what you gain in the short term by taking risks. Specifically, what you gain in terms of peace of mind and contentment.

When you take risks, you have to be sharp because although you’re facing the possibility of failure, you don’t actually want to fail. You’re fighting for something against forces, natural or otherwise, conspiring to keep thwart your success.

Following your purpose involves taking risks

With your senses engaged, you have found a purpose.

Even if it’s difficult, having a purpose keeps you from worrying about anything other than what is vital to the success of your mission. Having a purpose alone would do more for mental health than all the therapy and drugs in the world.

I spent the majority of my amateur boxing career making less than $2k/month–before taxes, from various odd jobs. I was so broke that sometimes I didn’t know how I’d get to the gym that month, but I felt so alive and capable because this was a challenge. I wasn’t worried about anything crazy going on around me because I felt alive and motivated by my mission.

I was happy getting better, taking calculated risks, and staying focused on my purpose for the moment.

7) Taking risks teaches you how to face your fears

There is no way to face the possibility of harm without facing your fears. I don’t personally know what you’re afraid of, but taking calculated, speculative risks will force you to confront it

Too many people let their fears keep them from doing something that will have a significant and positive impact on the trajectory of their lives. While some people have a natural affinity for taking on risk , they are rarities in this comfortable world.

Most people try to avoid what they’re terrified of so they avoid taking risks.

I don’t think there’s anything more terrifying than getting physically hurt in an embarrassing fashion. Or being hurt and exhausted, but locked in a ring with a person who is trained to kill you and is actively trying to do so. But taking on this risk is the only possible way to victory. Experiences like this allowed me to realize that most things aren’t terrifying and even if they are, I can deal with them by taking action.

This is all that taking a risk is.

Taking action towards a goal where success is not guaranteed but it is worth it.

Recap of why you have to embrace risk

  1. Failure feels worse than it actually is
  2. You learn faster from taking risks
  3. Risk taking exposes you to opportunity
  4. Taking risks teaches you how to deal with loss
  5. You never have to wonder “what if?”
  6. Risk taking leads to peace of mind
  7. Taking risks teaches you how to face your fears

Just because you don’t get what you set out for doesn’t automatically make it a loss. On the flip side, getting what you want is not always a win.

The latter condition is especially true when it comes to staying in your comfort zone to avoid pain. You may avoid temporary discomfort, but in the process, you condemn yourself to long term suffering.

This is ultimately what taking risk is all about. Taking these risks is the only way I could have gotten anywhere close to where I am in my life.

Ed Latimore, author, blogger, and retired pro boxer
Ed Latimore Author, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

Further Reading

6 harsh truths your parents never told you
How to overcome fear: 7 lessons from boxing
How to make friends as an adult in 7 steps
How to stop complaining & take action instead