Advertising
Advertising

Understanding Luck: What It Is and How to Control It

Understanding Luck: What It Is and How to Control It

Luck is quite an interesting concept. When we look at ancient man, and the cultural traditions that developed within ancient societies, we can easily understand why the concept of luck played such an important role in early societies. Early rains and an abundant harvest might be easily explained by today’s current meteorological understanding, but to ancient civilizations it was seen as good luck or fortune sent from the gods and goddesses on high. Likewise, a drought or other natural disaster often was attributed to bad luck.

Nowadays we have a better understanding of the science of luck beyond superstition, and can correctly equate what is and what isn’t affected by the hand of chance–but this hasn’t kept people from losing millions on roulette wheels in Las Vegas, or on video slot machines and other lotteries around the rest of the world. It also hasn’t stopped young dreamers from pursuing unlikely ambitions, even though, statistically, they don’t stand a chance of ever “breaking through” to a mainstream market or “making it” as a professional in their field.

The beauty of luck is that whether or not we believe in it, everybody generally understands it as a concept, and many can recount their own experiences with it, either positive or negative. So what exactly is luck, in scientific terms? And how (if at all) can somebody control it?

What is Luck?

    Roman Goddess Fortuna, also known as “Lady Luck”

    According to Wikipedia, the definition of luck “varies by the philosophical, religious, mystical, and emotional context of the one interpreting it.” What this means, basically, is that some people think luck refers to completely random circumstances, as seen in the Oxford Dictionary definition of the term: “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.”

    Advertising

    This view of luck is more descriptive, used to explain events after they’ve happened, especially if they produce outcomes that are combination of favorable, unfavorable, or improbable. On the other hand, some people decide to view luck in more of a prescriptive way, where fortune is more of a supernatural force that can determine the outcome of events before they happen. Somebody who blows on a pair of dice before he or she rolls them might believe this heightens their odds of rolling a favorable number, especially if reinforced by a favorable outcome. This prescriptive belief, while amusing, holds no scientific weight–the laws of physics do not change simply because somebody blows on a pair of dice, and the outcome of a purely identical roll would not differ sans “blow.”

      A good example of this in action can be traced back to an episode at the Le Grande Casino in Monte Carlo, August 18, 1913. On this night, the roulette wheel produced the color black 29 times in a row, a feat that David J. Darling has calculated to be a 1 in 136,823,184 probability in his book, The Universal Book of Mathematics. This night lives in infamy because of the millions of francs casino go-ers lost betting on the false logic that because black had come up so many times before, it could simply not come up black again. Nevertheless, every time the wheel spun there was an 18 out of 37 chance that it would come up black, same as the time before it and same as the time after. While there was definitely no prescriptive reason that the casino-goers suffered bad luck that night, even people who “don’t believe in luck” can, in retrospect, descriptively ascribe the term “unlucky” gamblers in such an improbable scenario.

      Psychology and “Making Your Own Luck”

      The roll of the dice, the turn of the card, and the spin of the roulette wheel–this is just one way to portray luck. It works because it’s the most concrete example of how blind chance affects an outcome. But what about the idea of somebody or something being lucky or unlucky?

      Advertising

      The interesting thing about luck is that it deals heavily with both perception and chance. Lou Holtz has a great quote stating that “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” As it turns out, people who consider themselves unlucky don’t tend to believe the above, and would rather blame external factors for their misfortunes in life. People who consider themselves lucky, on the other hand, generally look inward for the reasons things in life happen to them, and try to adapt positively to situations that might otherwise seem negative.

        Psychologists call this the locus of control. An external locus of control means that you believe the world around you controls you more than you control yourself. Alcoholics suffer this quite often, and it’s one of the reasons that A.A.’s first step is “admitting you have a problem.” By internalizing your locus of control, you grant yourself the agency to quit. It’s kind of like the old tale of the tortoise and the hare–the rabbit didn’t lose the race because he was unlucky and napped for too long, he lost the race because he decided to nap in the first place.

        So while those who may consider themselves “unlucky” generally have an external locus of control, those who consider themselves “lucky” have an internal locus of control. The perception of chance between these two generally reflects their view of luck, and even affect health. If you look at cancer survivor Paul Kraus, for example, who had to dramatically change his lifestyle, diet, and therapies to survive three types of cancers including meningioma (a type of brain cancer), mesothelioma, and metastatic prostate cancer, (on top of being born in a Nazi forced labor camp during WWII!) you might think the man unlucky. Kraus would disagree, insisting that his survival is related to his belief that “a diagnosis is not destiny” and that people can conquer cancer because “there is far more to this illness than just a doctor’s bad news.” Kraus is the type of man who made his own luck.

        Advertising

        How to Be Lucky Yourself

        Even though we understand that luck is simply chance, it still plays heavily into our culture, even if not in a prescriptive way, but in a descriptive way. A great display of this can be found in the culture surrounding America’s favorite pastime: baseball. The 2016 World Series, for example, saw the Indians and the Cubs go head to head, where the highlight of the series was the nullification of either Cleveland’s or Chicago’s decades long curse. Now, while these types of “curses” might show up in other sports, they’re more pertinent in baseball because of both players’ and fans’ susceptibility to superstitions in almost every aspect of the game. Indeed, because the ball is so small and moving so fast, there’s no way to predict every curve it will take, or whether or not it will make an unlucky bounce, etc. Eric Garcia McKinley writing for BeyondTheBoxScore.com actually argues that luck plays an undeniable role in baseball. The minor variables make the game so complex that you have to take into account that some players are simply in the right place at the right time.

        This analysis is not only correct in baseball, but is useful when applied outside of the game as well. Jennifer Aniston, for example, was about ready to call it quits with her acting career in 1994–but a chance meeting with the then-president of NBC’s entertainment division at a gas pump landed her on the cast of Friends, solidifying her career as we all know it. If we’re to take this as an example, we have to realize ourselves that Jennifer Aniston wasn’t just at the right place at the right time–because if you or me were to run into the president of NBC at the gas pump, there’s almost no way we’d get a shot at a hit TV series.

          What Anniston had that most of us don’t, in that specific situation, was preparation. Another Lifehack article on luck quotes the Roman philosopher Seneca, who said: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Anniston had prepared by doing at least four other failed TV sitcoms before she was put on friends, and these sitcoms had made her well-known to the NBC executive she met.

          Advertising

          You Already ARE Lucky! Now Maximize It!

          Half of luck is the right mindset, while the other half is being in the right place at the right time. If you’re always in the right place, you’re only depending on the right time.

          The first part of this is realizing that you already are lucky. Every day that you don’t get in a freak accident while driving or walking down the road, you’re lucky. To have made it this many years into your life, you’re lucky. To be born in a time when you can look up almost anything on the internet (like this article!), you’re lucky! If you start focusing on all of the reasons that you’re lucky, and stop believing that you’re unlucky (you’re not), you’ll already start recognizing how much good luck you have.

          The second half, about always being in the right place, means simply to be proactive and persistent. If Anniston would have given up after the first failed Sitcom, she would never have been known to the NBC executive. Even Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times before it was published.

          The point is that luck often happens to people who are dedicated to a field, which is why luck happens in that field. Adopting a positive mindset and believing in yourself enough to persist are all the ingredients it takes to be lucky.

          So get out there, and do whatever it is you feel you were meant to do–by simply doing with a positive mindset, you’ll find fortune is already smiling on you!

          Featured photo credit: AdinaVoicu via pixabay.com

          More by this author

          Andrew Heikkila

          Owner-Operator of Earthlings Entertainmnet

          5 Crazy Future Tech Trends to Start Preparing for Now Understanding Luck: What It Is and How to Control It 12 Strange Remedies for Whatever Ails You 7 Ways the Internet of Things Will Change Driving Forever 7 Ways We’re Slowly Becoming Our Phones

          Trending in Brain

          1 What Is Analysis Paralysis (And How to Overcome It) 2 How to Unleash the 4 Types of Creativity In You 3 What Are Creative Problem Solving Skills (And How To Improve Yours) 4 How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways 5 9 Types of Intelligence (And How to Know Your Type)

          Read Next

          Advertising
          Advertising
          Advertising

          Published on October 22, 2020

          What Is Analysis Paralysis (And How to Overcome It)

          What Is Analysis Paralysis (And How to Overcome It)

          Have you ever taken so long trying to solve a problem that you just ended up going around in circles? How about trying to make a major decision and just freezing up when the time to decide came?

          You might have found yourself gathering too much information, hoping it will help you make the best decision—even if it takes you too long to do so. This probably led to many missed opportunities, especially in situations where you needed to act on time.

          Nobody wants to make the wrong decision. However, delayed decision making can have a hugely negative impact on all aspects of your life—from your personal relationships to your career. Delaying important decisions can be the worst decision of all.

          At one point or another, people get stuck at a decision impasse they can’t seem to overcome. This is due to a mental blindspot called information bias, informally known as analysis paralysis.

          Analysis Paralysis and Stalled Decisions

          Information bias, or analysis paralysis, is our tendency to seek more information than is needed to make decisions and take action.[1] It is one of many cognitive biases that cause us to make mistakes during the decision-making process.

          A related cognitive bias is the status quo bias, which is our tendency to prefer that things stay the same and fear any changes.[2] Together with analysis paralysis, these two dangerous judgment errors pose a threat to our successful navigation through our rapidly-shifting world.

          Consider what happened to Lily, a consulting client of mine who’s a mid-level manager in the UX department of a large tech company. Lily had been there for 5 years and was thinking about switching to a startup after a couple tried to recruit her.

          Advertising

          However, she had been taking a lot of time making a decision. In fact, before she contacted me, she had already gathered information and talked to a lot of people for 7 months. Realistically, more information won’t sway her decision, but she kept trying to gather more information.

          And then, there was the technology company that came to me after their growth started to decline. The company had initially experienced rapid growth with a couple of innovative products. However, its growth started to decrease—unfortunate, but not unexpected.

          Essentially, the company’s growth followed the typical S-curve growth model, which starts as a slow and effortful start-up stage. This is followed by a rapid growth stage, then a slowdown in growth, often following market saturation or competitive pressure or other factors. This is the point where the company’s existing products reach maturity.

          However, even before a slowdown hits, forward-thinking companies would innovate and change things up proactively. This is so they could have new products ready to go that would maintain rapid growth.

          Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case with this particular tech company. Not only did they not address the potential decline but once the company’s growth stalled, the leaders dug their heels in and stayed the course. They kept on analyzing the market to find the cause of the problem.

          Worse, a couple of executives in the company proposed launching new products, but most of the leadership was cautious. They kept on asking for guarantees that the products would be a success, demanding more information even when additional information wasn’t relevant.

          Both Lily and the tech company remained paralyzed by too much information when they should already have taken action. While this situation isn’t unexpected, it is totally avoidable.

          Advertising

          As I told both parties when they consulted me, all they needed to do was to face analysis paralysis head-on and make a decision. But they had to follow the best decision-making process available first, didn’t they?

          8-Step Decision-Making Process to Avoid Analysis Paralysis

          I told Lily and the leaders at the tech company that we should never go with our gut if we want to avoid disasters in our personal and professional lives.[3] Instead, I advised them, as I advise you now, to follow data-driven, research-based approaches, such as the one I’ll outline below.

          From hiring a new employee, launching a new product, selecting a Zoom guest speaker for your annual video conference to deciding whether to apply for a higher-level position within your company, the following steps will help you fight analysis paralysis and make the best decisions possible.

          1. Identify the Need to Launch a Decision-Making Process

          This is particularly important when there’s no explicit crisis that cries out for a change or decision to be made. Such recognition is also applicable when your natural intuitions are keeping you from acknowledging the need for a tough decision.

          Remember that the best decision-makers take the initiative to recognize the need for decisions before they become an emergency. They also don’t let gut reactions cloud their decision-making capacity.

          2. Gather Relevant Information From a Wide Variety of Informed Perspectives

          Listen especially to opinions you disagree with. Contradicting perspectives empower you to distance yourself from the comfortable reliance on your gut instincts, which can sometimes be harmful to decision-making. Opposing ideas also help you recognize any potential bias blind spots, and this allows you to come up with solutions that you may not have otherwise.

          3. Paint a Clear Vision of Your Desired Outcome

          Using the data gleaned from step 2, decide which goals you want to reach. Paint a clear vision of the desired outcome of your decision-making process. You should also recognize that what seems to be a one-time decision may turn out to be a symptom of an underlying issue with current processes and practices. Make addressing these root problems part of the outcome you want to achieve.

          Advertising

          4. Make a Decision-Making Process Criteria

          Make a decision-making process criteria to weigh the various options of how you’d like to get to your desired outcome. As much as possible, develop these criteria before you start to consider choices. Our intuitions bias our decision-making criteria to encourage certain outcomes that fit our instincts. As a result, you get overall worse decisions if you don’t develop criteria before starting to look at options.

          5. Generate Several Viable Options

          We tend to fall into the trap of generating insufficient options to make the best decisions, and this can lead to analysis paralysis. To prevent this, you should generate many more options than you usually would. Generate several viable options that can help you achieve your decision-making process goals. Go for 5 attractive options as the minimum.

          Keep in mind that this is a brainstorming step, so don’t judge options no matter how far fetched they might seem. In my consulting and coaching experience, the optimal choice often involves elements drawn from out-of-the-box options.

          6. Weigh These Options and Pick the Best One

          When weighing your options, beware of going with your initial preferences. Try to see your preferred choice in a harsh light. Also, do your best to separate each option from the person who proposed it. This minimizes the impact of personalities, relationships, and internal politics on the decision itself.

          7. Implement the Option You Chose

          For implementing the decision, you need to minimize risks and maximize rewards, since your goal is to get a decision outcome that’s as good as possible.

          First, imagine that the decision completely failed. Then, brainstorm about all the problems that led to this failure. Next, consider how you might solve these problems, and integrate the solutions into your implementation plan.

          Next, imagine that the decision absolutely succeeded. Brainstorm all the reasons for success and consider how you can bring these reasons into life. Then, integrate what you learned into implementing the decisions.

          Advertising

          Finally, develop clear metrics of success that you can measure throughout the implementation process. This will enable you to check if you’re meeting the goals you identified in step 3. It will also help guide your goal-setting process—something to keep in mind when you use this decision-making technique again in the future.

          8. Set a Reminder to Use the Process for Future Decisions

          Regularly check if it’s time to employ the decision-making process once again. As discussed in the first step, there may be times when there’s no explicit crisis that cries out for a change, even though underlying issues might already be signaling that it’s time for a tough decision.

          Setting a reminder—perhaps a visual one such as a note on your desk, or even just a scheduled alert on your phone—will ensure that you can catch decision-making cues before they’re due.

          While Lily and the tech company initially had to fight off a lot of discomforts when using the process, they were ultimately rewarded with sound decisions they were immensely satisfied with.

          This battle-tested method will do the same for you. It will certainly propel your decision-making and, at the same time, help you thwart analysis paralysis and avoid decision disasters.

          Conclusion

          Nobody wants to make the wrong decision, but you also don’t want to take too long and miss opportunities. By using a data-driven and research-based approach to decision making, you can nip analysis paralysis in the bud and make the best decisions.

          More Tips to Overcome Analysis Paralysis

          Featured photo credit: Muhmed El-Bank via unsplash.com

          Reference

          Read Next