Is there any such thing as a calculated risk? In other words, ok, you’ve done the calculation in as much as risk submits itself to math (are all of the factors ever factored?), and you’ve decided to engage in a behavior anyway. The risk remains, but you are somehow acknowledging its existence rather than hurling yourself blindly into statistical destiny. So what? The risk is the risk, no matter how good your math is, right?
Does knowing the risk change your behavior in some small ways and does it diminish the rewards in some small ways?
I was talking with my friend Dan about wearing a helmet. Dan has recently crashed on his head and had his life saved because he chooses to ride, always, with a helmet. I do NOT want to bestir the entire helmet debate, which we’ve worked through a few times in these digital pages recently, but helmet wearing does serve up a fairly good example of risk/reward behavior on the bike.
Unlike Dan, I sometimes don’t wear a helmet. Mostly I do, but occasionally I decide that the statistically small risk of catastrophic injury is worth an hour or so of wind in my hair. This is, I recognize, a rationally indefensible position. There is, in most people’s minds, no downside to wearing a helmet, which I fully concede may be true.
Again, not trying to start the helmet debate over.
For me, I accept that I should wear a helmet, and I accept that when I don’t I am taking a risk, possibly a “calculated” one, that I feel is reward enough when balanced against the odds. What I’m really interested in is that balance point, because we all take risks of one size or another in our lives. Few of these arguments are as black and white as we want them to be. Few of us are purely rational actors, and our balance point undoubtedly moves based on how far we skew toward rationality as a way to make decisions.
Now forget about helmets, because there’s too much baggage there. We were just sketching the outline of the thing.
Imagine you’re in a race, a crit or a mountain bike race. It doesn’t really matter. You want to finish well, and so you take some risks. You “hang it out there,” not recklessly, but right on the edge of what you think you’re capable of, both in terms of speed and bike handling. In this scenario, the risk/reward balance is more clearly analog, i.e. not digital, not black-and-white.
Enter brain chemistry (warning: I have a liberal arts degree).
There are people for whom risk stimulates the production of more positive chemicals than others. How risk responsive your brain is probably governs exactly how much risk you choose to engage. It is also possible that consciously incorporating some risk into your daily life (Here we return to the idea of calculated risk.), can train your brain to produce more and more of those good chemicals. It is also possible (probable actually) that engaging that regular risk will improve whatever skill you apply it to more quickly than a fully rational, risk-averse approach.
There are a lot of variables.
This week’s Group Ride asks: Do you think this is a reasonable, if simplistic, description of the risk/reward paradigm? And if so, where do you live on the continuum? Do you take a lot of risks on the bike? Or as few as possible? In my mind there are all sorts of ramifications for buying into this basic idea, one of which is that I need to tolerate people who make different choices on the bike than I do. Brain chemistry is a powerful motivator (or discourager), even wearing a clever disguise, like statistical analysis or rationality.