Why optimism and flexibility are vital to success in anything.
By: Neil Farber M.D, Ph.D
Were you born under a lucky star? Does luck follow you around? Do others consider you a lucky person all the time?
In the movie, A Knight’s Tale, a young boy asks his impoverished father, “Can a man really change his stars?” The father answers affirmatively and many years later, that boy (now played by Heath Ledger) has become a successful jouster and knight.
So which is it: Are lucky people born that way, are they pre-ordained somehow, or do they make their own luck? Different cultures have put faith in a variety of lucky charms and symbols.
Sailors: The Albatross
Thai: White Elephant
Japanese: Maneki-Neko (Beckoning Cat Figurative)
Irish: Four-Leaf Clover
Native Americans: Dream Catcher
Germans, Italians, Russians, Turks: Ladybug
Americans: Rabbit’s Foot
Do these symbols make a person lucky, or is there more to the story? Over the years, many people have considered me to be a lucky person. I don’t see it that way. While I have been successful in many ways, I believe it’s been more a matter of motivation, planning, inspired action, and a good amount of sweat. Rather than rubbing that rabbit’s foot (it wasn’t very lucky for the rabbit), here are eight practical ways to change your luck:
Mindfulness is being non-judgmentally alert and aware of what’s going on around you as well as inside you—how you’re thinking and feeling. Mindfulness occurs on a moment-by-moment basis. When you are operating mindlessly, on auto-pilot, you are unlikely to observe opportunities or take advantage of a situation.
One important key to happiness, and a key factor in becoming lucky, is developing a mindfulness mindset. How will you find that $10 bill caught in the sewer grate, or know whether to throw down rock when your opponent has a clear predilection for scissors, if you don’t have a keen sense of situational awareness?
“Lucky” people make things happen. They are proactive rather than reactive. They make their future. And when you can take responsibility for your words, actions, and behavior, you have more control of your destiny. There are three kinds of people: Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who wonder what just happened.
Yes, you might get lucky and a $100 bill might fly in through your window while you’re sitting on the couch, but your luck of finding some money on the street would improve if you were outside walking in the first place.
A colleague may appear to be lucky when he tells you that he got eight new clients today; until you find out that he started working two hours before you and skipped his lunch break. He also took that online course on “Completing The Sale” that you thought wouldn’t be worth it.
Successful people are opportunists. They have the ability to take advantage of novel and often concealed opportunities when they arise. Many people are blind to opportunities because they don’t notice them or because they are inflexible and stuck in their ways.
People who practice opportunism see opportunities all around them and are able to use them to their advantage. Being an opportunist involves being mindfully aware; being flexible enough to change your original plans; and being open-minded enough to take advantage of these new opportunities. We often think of people who have traveled extensively throughout the world as being “lucky.”
The truth is that most people have had many opportunities to travel at different times in their lives, yet have not taken advantage of them. They may have felt like they didn’t have the money, needed to work, wanted to start their career, or didn’t want to leave family or friends behind. While there were many possible reasons at the time for not going, years later these reveal themselves as mere excuses for not taking advantage of opportunities.
There are two types of knowledge—explicit and implicit (or tacit).
Explicit knowledge is the kind people gain from reading books and going to school—factual stuff.
Implicit knowledge is what we achieve through observing and experiencing—things you really can’t teach.
Both types of knowledge are important to help guide decisions or choose particular pathways.
A hunch may be an uninformed guess—worth as much as flipping a coin—or it may be based on in-depth explicit and implicit knowledge—and insight!
We all have insight to varying degrees, yet some are better than others at being open to hearing those inner voices. Making use of this knowledge depends on your ability to access this information and trust in yourself.
Having insight involves integrating explicit and implicit knowledge with an understanding of social situations and emotions, both yours and others’.
Insightful people have higher emotional and social intelligence—being able to “read” people and understand unspoken issues in a social situation. Lucky people seek knowledge and experiences and make the best use of their insight.
Life is dynamic—always changing. Heraclitus said, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” The truth is that you can’t even step in the same river once, because even as you’re step in the river, it is changing.
Appreciating the dynamics of life and being able to go with the flow provides enormous advantages to finding new ways of doing things or getting places or creating opportunities.
Lucky people are flexible and take advantage of new situations. I’m flying Milwaukee to Hawaii via Chicago. There are huge storms in Milwaukee that temporarily close the airport. Even though our bags have been checked in, the airline offers to bus us into Chicago instead of flying. We decide to go on the bus. Some of our friends would rather take their chances with the airline since they are already comfortably located in the airport. We arrive in Chicago and then catch our flight to Hawaii. Our friends end up stuck in Milwaukee and don’t make it into Hawaii until the next day—when they arrive and exclaim, “Boy, were you lucky to get here yesterday!”
The optimist believes that this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist is afraid that this might be true! I stop at a restaurant with my friend. He complains, “Look at this cup of coffee, it’s half-empty!” I respond, “Oh, that’s too bad, they gave me one that is half-full.” We both received the same amount of coffee!
But I certainly sound like the lucky one. Luck isn’t limited to objective findings; one person’s poison is another’s cure. In other words, if an optimist and a pessimist both win the same prize in a lottery, only the optimist will appear to be lucky!
Optimism helps you see the advantages in any given situation. Lucky people with an optimistic outlook are better able to identify the silver lining in any given situation.
Think Out Of The Box
It’s not enough to be flexible and to accept changes as they occur. To truly enhance your ability to be lucky, take advantage of alterations in your schedule and changes in your plans.
Lucky people think out-of-the-box. A hiker is isolated in the wilderness for days with his arm stuck between two rocks. Another day and he’ll die without food and water. He makes it out alive by cutting off his own arm to free himself. Was he lucky? A pessimist might say that he wasn’t—he lost his arm. An optimist would say that he was—most people would have died in that situation. How did he become lucky? Out-of-the-box thinking.
It isn’t always painful; often it involves looking for loopholes and looking at situations from multiple perspectives. Two companies are competing with similar products. The one that thinks out-of-the-box with an innovative redesign or a novel marketing strategy is the one who will appear to be lucky.
Transform limiting problems into motivating challenges. Take advantage of new situations. Several of history’s most famous inventors found out thousands of ways to not do something before they finally figured out something that worked. Were they lucky?
Most people would think so. Obviously, these individuals were very bright—but there are a lot of bright people in the world. What made these people different was their resilience—the fortitude to continue to pursue their dreams, goals, and aspirations in the face of adversity. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
There are splatters and bouncers. Splatters crush when they fall, while bouncers are resilient. Be a bouncer!