Updated: Jun 13, 2019
I was traveling in California with a few hours to spend in San Fransisco before my flight the next morning. I wanted to do a lot that evening but by the time I got there sunset was three hours away. I chose to wander around the Mission District. The Pride Parade had ended a few hours earlier and the city was still reveling. Lots of people, everywhere. As I circled around the neighbourhood over and over again with the setting sun directly in my eye, I was cursing my parking luck. "Why is it I cannot find a spot? Why is it every turn I make there’s someone pulling into the last slot? Ach! I have the worst parking luck."
I was stressed and felt the little time I had to enjoy the city slipping away .
I thought of my mom who we always say has the best parking luck. She will cruise into her destination with five minutes to spare and pull smoothly into the perfect spot. Every time. When she shifts into park she puts her hands together and says "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’m so lucky!!!"
As I sat on the flight the next day I was reading a book and the author was talking about the influence of luck in his career. It made me wonder- What is luck? What do we know about luck ? Is there something about believing you're lucky that makes you luckier? And how do I get more of it?
Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, has talked about the importance of an individual's perception of their own luck in their corporate culture and hiring activities. At Zappos they ask candidates to rank themselves along the scale of 0 (why do bad things always happen to me?) and 10 (why do good things always happen to me?). They're not doing this to be cute. Research suggests that those who believe they are lucky perform better on cognitive tasks than those who believe they are unlucky.
Turns out luckiness may be more of a mindset that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy than some mysterious force bestowed (or not) upon us.
Dr. Robert Wiseman, a psychologist, led a 10 year study revealing that, to a large extent, people make their own good and bad fortune. The results also show that it is possible to enhance the amount of luck that people encounter in their lives.
According to his research, lucky people generate their own good fortune through four basic principles:
1) They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities,
2) make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition,
3) create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and
4) adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.
Research and interventions from positive psychology (and mindfulness) could be offered to support the development of all of the above.
For now, I'm going to offer some insights on #3-- creating self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations.
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Creating self-fulfilling prophecies by having positive expectations
We can create self-fulfilling prophecies by having positive expectations. There are two approaches I'm going to share with you. The first approach is to notice how you explain what happens to you and try to adopt a more optimistic style of explaining things for most events. The second approach I'll cover next week in Part 2-- cultivating positivity through gratitude.
According to Martin Seligman, the author of Learned Optimism (2006), optimism and pessimism are explanatory styles. An explanatory style is a way of explaining why something happens to you, both good and bad. They are not personality traits. Therefore they are not fixed. They are ways of explaining that can be learned and practiced.
There are three crucial elements to explanatory style: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization.
‘Permanence’ is about time. This dimension refers to whether the causes of an event are perceived as temporary (not always) or permanent (always).
‘Pervasiveness’ involves the generalizability of an event; is the event believed to have a specific cause or a universal cause.
‘Personalisation’ is about who we believe is responsible for the event; ourselves (internal) or someone or something externally (external).
One's explanatory style is defined by how they combine the factors above to explain positive and negative life events. It's best to illustrate these through an example.
Let's look at how the two styles explain a positive event, like being hired for a job:
An optimistic style tends to attribute such an event to personal characteristics such as being intelligent and highly skilled (internal factors), of which are steady over time (permanent), and applicable to a range of other situations, such as in the event of applying for another job, or with regards to accomplishing other things in other areas of life (universal).
An optimistic style would explain the positive event like this, "my intelligence and warmth continue to pay off. I'm so glad I got this job and I know I will continue to succeed in all I do."
A pessimistic style attributes such a positive event to things outside herself, such as there being few other applicants (external), and to the particularities of this job only (specific), and believe the reason for being hired will not last, or will change over time or across situations (temporary).
For example, "It's great that I got this job. I mean, I doubt they had too many applicants. They needed someone right away and I happened to be there. It probably won't last."
For a negative event the factors are reversed. Let's look at the example of not being hired for a job:
An optimistic style attributes not being hired to not having the relevant skills for the job (external), and will believe that she will get hired elsewhere in the future (temporary) and that not getting hired only happened because of the skills required for this particular job (specific).
"I guess I was a bit junior for that job. It makes sense that I'm not a fit for that one. I'm looking forward to the next few interviews though and I did pretty good considering the competition."
Whereas a pessimistic explanatory style will tend to believe the cause of the event has something to do with himself, such as not being intelligent enough (internal), of which will not change over time (permanent), and is seen in many other situations and circumstances (universal).
"I knew I wasn't going to get that job. I'm such an idiot and I suck at interviewing. I feel like I'm never going to get a job."
Remember, these are styles, not permanent personality traits. Depending on the day or our mood or the situation, we are all able to use both styles. And, optimism isn't always the better one to take on. It helps to have a pessimistic style sometimes. For example, if you are a lawyer and trying to ensure someone doesn't take advantage of your client, it may help to have a pessimistic explanatory style for that situation.
But in general you will benefit more from having an optimistic style to explain what happens to you. Our positive or negative explanations for events lead to expectations for the future. These expectations create self-fulfilling prophecies.
How do you explain the things that happen to you? What expectations are you setting for the future?
Start to notice how you explain things. Practice taking on a more optimistic style where you can.
And who knows, if you practice enough, maybe you'll find your luck will improve.