Many people subscribe to the idea that we make our own luck; I’d entirely agree because the alternative is fate, and that suggests we’re little more than victims waiting for life to reveal the next page of the script to us.
However, life clearly does throw stuff at us that we didn’t ask for so how do we balance self-determination with the vagaries of chance events?
A formula for luck
Years ago, I encountered the following formula (I can’t remember where or who with so I can’t accurately credit it though!)
E represents Experiences -the stuff that happens to us
R represents Reactions – how we respond to the stuff that happens to us
O represents Outcomes – what happens as a result of the way we response to the stuff that happens to us.
This formula accommodates both random chance and deterministic action; meaning that with the right response even the worst events might be mitigated or even transformed into positives. Likewise, with the wrong responses even fantastically positive events can be rendered negative.
About 10 years ago my maternal grandfather died; it was expected but still a shock, he’d been a big part of my life and it was upsetting to lose him. I offered to deliver his eulogy; as the “family public speaker” I felt obliged that someone who actually knew him should speak for him. It was a tough brief to get right but I got a lot of heartfelt praise and thanks when I delivered it; and I also realised I could deliver that kind of very personal, very emotive, storytelling-based public speaking. I gained tremendous confidence from that eulogy that I would acknowledge as transformative in my career. What was a pretty awful event proved to be a positive catalyst for my own life story – I think that’s the essence of E+R=O for me; with a positive response, you can derive luck and opportunity from any situation.
OK sure, there are dreadful tragedies in the world that initially seem bereft of luck for anyone… but terrible events can and do spark positive chains of events too: resistance movements, determined research to find cures, catalytic changes to individuals and societies… tragedies are more tragic if no-one learns from them, if no-one finds a way to respond positively.
Making yourself luckier
What is luck and how might you cultivate it? In one sense luck is just chance; the odds that an uncertain situation pans out in a particular way. However, it’s also a personal perspective on both the odds and the value of the outcome to the observer. The more uncertain or unlikely a favourable outcome appears to be, the luckier it feels when it occurs.
Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist who has researched perspectives on luck suggests:
“Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.”
To summarise those principles into advice here are my top tips:
Firstly, introduce more variety into your daily choices and activities you are more likely to find new opportunities. Doing the same things in the same ways tends to exhaust the chance of new opportunities emerging; you need to consistently stretch your range of choices and activities to flush out new options.
Secondly, trust your instinct and try not to anxiously over-think situations; there is research evidence that over-focusing on one factor makes you blind to other opportunities. Rather than look for one right outcome assume that there are multiple right outcomes in any situation and that you’ll happen upon. This broader-minded approach to what the opportunities might be means that even if Plan A doesn’t work out you might still salvage something from Plan B, C, or D.
Thirdly, as you approach events you need to manage your expectations; if you expect the worst you’re effectively tuning your radar in to look for evidence you’re right and thus you’ll notice everything that goes wrong. If you take a more positive outlook you’ll similarly tune the radar to verify that you are in fact gaining benefits. Assuming you’re a lucky person is very much a first step to being one!
Finally, if when events occur you habitually contrast your experience with a ‘best possible’ or hoped-for outcome, you’re likely to view your outcome as unlucky. If however you contrast against the worst-possible outcome then you’re likely to take a more positive view. What are you able to make of the situation? What value can you extract however negative it may have been? How you snatch valuable learning or opportunity from the jaws of failure and defeat?
In an age where the rest of the world seems to be consistently broadcasting their own successes it’s easy to feel unlucky; but remember that you’re not comparing like-for-like: your warts-and-all perception of your own life is always going to struggle against the sanitised and airbrushed versions of the lives that everyone shares with you.
Luck is just a matter of perspective, and you can always change your perspective. The right responses can shift the outcomes whatever the experiences.