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The Rise of Superman Review: Leveraging Your Challenge Skill Ratio to Achieve “the Impossible”

I just read a book called “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance” that I’d like to quickly review or, at the very least, introduce the #1 thing I learned from that book.

Steve Kotler studied extreme sports athletes for a decade to understand how to reach flow, an optimal state of consciousness that allows humans to perform at their best and often break through limitations.

The challenge? It’s unpredictable and difficult to attain.

As a creative entrepreneur, I’ve designed my life to support my creative flow. I’m blessed to spend about half a day each day in a flow state and that’s allowed me to produce at a quality and quantity that often amazes my students, clients and customers.

They often ask me, “Marisa, what’s your secret.”

While I’ve always believed that human potential is infinite, I’ve never been able to explain exactly how… up until now.

Steven Kotler’s book gave me the missing key.

In the Rise of Superman, he mentions something called the Challenge-Skill Ratio. I believe this is the real secret to unlocking your potential.

We’re at our best as humans, we’re in the flow, we’re feeling drawn forward when our challenge level is 4% higher than our skill level. Now 4% doesn’t sound like a lot, but can you imagine if — every single day — you were bringing your level of challenge 4% higher than your level of skill. Then you rose to the challenge every single day.

Then the next day you rose the bar 4% more.

And the next day you rose the bar 4% more.

And onwards and upwards.

That’s how you start to do things that other people see as impossible. It doesn’t start out with the impossible. It starts out with just a 4% gap between where you are — your current level of skill and what you feel comfortable and confident doing — and where you want to go.

What happens when people start to be over their head is when their level of skill is here and then they try a challenge that’s way up here.

But all you can do is incrementally 4% by 4% by 4% by 4%, day after day after day increase the level of challenge on yourself beyond what you feel capable of doing, accomplishing and achieving.

When you do that day after day, what you’re capable of is truly truly extraordinary.

But here’s the thing that I learned: the body actually deconditions itself every five days. Meaning if you’re working out consecutively every other day, you can get into really really good shape. But if you wait five days between workouts, your body kind of loses all of that momentum and energy that it gained.

What I realized is that I’ve struggled to really maintain an exercise routine for the vast majority of my life, because I love books and I love learning, I love writing and I love creating, and that that really has all of my attention.

Exercise and things — I like to do it — but it usually isn’t at the top of my list. So I have to schedule it if I’m going to do it. I’ve got to have a personal trainer come and work me out. And when she told me that the body deconditioned itself after just five days, I was amazed because it made so much sense.

The reason why I always struggled to develop an exercise routine wasn’t because I’m not capable of exercising. It wasn’t because I didn’t have the desire — because I did. It was simply because I was letting my body decondition between workouts, so every workout felt so hard and it never felt like I was getting anywhere.

I think it’s the same thing when it comes to increasing your level of skill around something — anything. Whether it be writing, whether it be marketing, whatever it happens to be — speaking.

If you allow yourself to decondition — to go too long between the time that you do it and the time that you do it next — you never have that skill gain that you can see when day-after-day you meet that challenge 4% higher than your level of skill. Then you do it again the next day and the next day and the next day, and you don’t allow yourself to decondition. You don’t allow yourself to backpedal.

So what I’ve found is that the times when I am the most creative, are the times when I’m creating every single day. When I’m writing every single day for three or four hours a day, I’m producing the best work of my life.

Now if you look at just about every artist or every musician — whether it be The Beatles — their best albums came out of the time when they were producing like three albums every single year.

You think well maybe if they’re pouring their heart and soul into every album and doing one album every two years or three years it’s going to be the best work of their life. But that’s not the way that creativity and human potential words.

Human Potential works when every single day, you’re rising up and creating something new — that’s when you start to increase the level of skill that you have almost exponentially. By day after day showing up. Don’t allow yourself to decondition, but keep showing up to the challenge and allow yourself to step one step forward and then another step forward and then another step forward.

And that, my friend, is how you do the impossible.

So today I’m embarrassed to admit that my 4% challenge above my level of skill was simply getting up on the bar and these guys 4% challenge above their level of skill is a lot higher than mine.

But that’s how it works. That’s how you just get up on the bar — that’s not enough. Getting up and getting down was enough for me today. And then maybe a few months from now, maybe that’ll be me. Maybe it’s year from now — I don’t know. But that’s how you become extraordinary.

Try to do something just 4% impossible today. Then 4% impossible tomorrow. And then you, my friend, will become superhuman.

Go out there and Live Your Message.

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Samia Avatar

    Nice video & wonderful concept >we can accumulate our efforts & skills step by step of 4%.

    Thank you Marisa.

    You are my HERO


    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      You’re welcome! And thank you… <3

  2. Christie Avatar

    Thanks Marisa for your inspirational message to take steps to get to the next level.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Of course!

  3. Batsheva Avatar

    Great concept, great lesson, it also integrates well with the idea you taught about how games levels are set up to challenge you just enough but not too much so you stay engaged and don’t give up. It’s all about taking small, actionable steps and not getting lost in overwhelm and giving up.

    A timely message, thanks!

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Great connection Batsheva! That’s absolutely true…

  4. Angela Barrens-Alexander Avatar
    Angela Barrens-Alexander

    This is very timely for me. A great message.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Thanks Angela! I’m glad it’s finding you at the right time.

  5. Missi Avatar

    Marisa it is a joy and pleasure to listen to your insightful thoughts and motivation messages. What you just shared is valuable lesson that I will begin to use and apply to all my endeavors in this journey call life…. Thank You!

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      So glad to hear this Missi! I love it when the message can get through on a deeper lesson and actually impact your actions! When you take this one on in particular, it will change your life…

  6. Jackie Avatar

    That was inspiring. 4% a day feels doable, and that 5-day stretch until the downhill slide begins is definitely worth knowing, especially for the people I support. Thanks for pushing your own limits, and for pushing ours.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Totally Jackie. You can do 4% a day 3-5 days a week and make huge progress. I personally prefer 5-6 days a week. How are you?

  7. Mike Devaney Avatar
    Mike Devaney

    Love the reference to the Beatles.

    I watched The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and was blown away by their productivity.

    Basically, they punched the clock… at the studio working 10am every day until 6 or so (regardless of how crazy the party was the night before). You’re right — the best work they did was in those years (1964-68).

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Totally Mike. Who says you can’t create on demand? As Edison says, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

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