You Make Your Own Luck

17 February 2014 · 6 comments

Luck is no accidentWhat we think of as “luck” has almost nothing to with randomness and almost everything to do with attitude. According to psychologist Richard Wiseman, only about ten percent of life is truly random; the remaining ninety percent is defined by the way we think. Wiseman says we have more control over our lives — and our luck — than we realize.

John Krumboltz and Al Levin, the authors of Luck is No Accident, agree. In that book, they write:

You have control over your own actions and how you think about the events that impact your life. None of us can control the outcomes, but your actions can increase the probability that desired outcomes will occur. There are no guarantees in life. The only guarantee is that doing nothing will get you nowhere.

This has certainly been true in my own life. When I sat at home, afraid to do things and meet people, I was “unlucky”. Once I took action, my fortunes changed.

Wiseman says that “lucky” people share four attributes:

  • Lucky people make the most of opportunity. This is more than just being in the right place at the right time. Lucky people must be aware when an opportunity presents itself, and they must have the courage to seize it.
  • Lucky people listen to their hunches. They heed their gut instincts.
  • Lucky people expect good fortune. They’re optimistic. They think win-win. They make positive choices that benefit themselves and others.
  • Lucky people turn bad luck into good. They fail forward, learning from their mistakes and finding the silver lining in every cloud. There’s a Spanish saying, “No hay mal que por bien no venga,” which can be roughly translated as, “There is no bad from which good could not come.” Lucky people believe this.

Our attitudes produce our luck.

In Impro, Keith Johnstone’s book about improvisational theater, he writes:

People with dull lives often think their lives are dull by chance. In reality, everyone chooses more or less what kind of events happen to them by their conscious patterns of blocking or yielding.

This, my friends, is truth — perhaps the fundamental truth.

Choice is the backbone of our year-long exploration into life and meaning. The theme will appear repeatedly in the weeks and months ahead, and not just when discussing luck and fear.

At the heart of happiness is choice. We make meaning in our lives through our choices. At its core, freedom is about the ability to choose. And our financial states — for good or ill — are largely defined by choice.

“Everyone chooses more or less what kind of events happen to them.” Learn this quote, and learn to love it. Because you already live it, whether you know it or not.

1 Constance Burris February 17, 2014 at 06:59

“Fail forward” I really like that term. I’ve never heard of it before, but it so fits my life right now.

2 Scooze February 17, 2014 at 10:45

I agree that we make our own luck. This post is a little “out there” for me, but at its core I think you’re saying that we make our luck. I think we do this through preparation which allows us to take advantage of opportunities that come our way, by having a can-do attitude, and by being willing to take calculated risks.

3 Crystal February 18, 2014 at 13:39

This seems right to me. People who follow through on things succeed faster. It’s pretty easy to understand that motivated optimists can probably achieve anything as opposed to dreamers or pessimists that choose not to follow through…

4 Will Murphey February 18, 2014 at 22:51

I totally agree, trust that gut feeling. It has saved me many times! Nice article

5 Tyler Karaszewski February 19, 2014 at 12:42

I still don’t really like this view probably because you and I have very different meanings in mind when we say “luck”. You seem to think that people use luck in such a way as, “That guy is so lucky he makes such a good salary.” to which you’ll counter, “He’s not *lucky*, he knows the right people and went to the right school and has the right experience and the sum of his life choices led him to that job and that salary”.

Whereas I use luck in situations like this: a few weeks back, I was out racing sailboats. From the starting line, some boats sailed of on port tack, and some on starboard tack, both heading to a mark upwind from the starting line. Then the wind died, and the boats that had gone left were maybe 1/4 to 1/2 mile away from the boats that had gone right. And with no wind, everyone bobbed around going nowhere, until eventually the wind filled back in, but *only on the left side of the course*. The boats that had gone left all finished the race ahead of the boats that went right. If you had gone left, that was a lucky choice, as there was no way of knowing the wind would die and then fill in just on that side of the course. That’s what I think of as luck.

6 Matt February 19, 2014 at 15:40

I think what JD is arguing in this post is that many people use that kind of luck attribution when in fact there are controllable factors in play producing outcomes.

So while the situation where a random wind suddenly creates good fortune for one half of the field and not the other is totally outside of the sailors’ control, there are many situations where people believe “luck” contributed where in fact attitude, preparation, and effort played heavy roles thereby creating the outcomes that many believer are “lucky.”

In the argument presented by JD above, I receive a message that luck isn’t as prevalent as many people think it is. While random changes in the wind may still be the stuff of luck, we need to seize many of the domains of our lives where things occur that we might be tempted to label as “lucky.” We have more power than we realize, much of that power derives from the center of our awareness where we choose how to direct our attention, and it’s time we wielded that power more consciously and intentionally rather than walking around believing superstitiously in luck where the wind isn’t in charge.

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