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Laura L. C. Johnson, MBA, MALaura Johnson, MBA, MA
A Blog About Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Positive Psychology, Managing Anxiety and Improving Your Life

How Lucky Are You?

Laura L. C. Johnson, MBA, MA Updated: Sep 27th 2010

Growing up, I did not consider myself to be a lucky person. I often heard my father saying things like "Everything I buy breaks. I have the worst luck." When I was nine, I won a holiday raffle at school for a plastic candy cane filled with M&Ms. I was sick that day, the only day I missed that year, and the teacher re-drew names. For years, I saw this as proof I wasn't lucky. I started to believe, just like my dad, that I had the worst luck and became anxious about trying new things. I expected the worst to happen and my anxious behavior and negative thinking often ensured it did. When things went well, I'd find a reason why it was an exception and when things went poorly, I told myself, "That's okay. I didn't expect it to work out anyway."

dart hitting a bullseyeOne day when I was in my early 20s, I read a story by a manager explaining his career success. Here's what I recall him writing:

"I used to work late every night. One evening, I was in the elevator and the CEO got on. We chatted and he asked me, 'Haven't I seen you here before?' I responded, 'You might have, sir. I've been here every day and evening since I started this job two years ago.' He said, 'Son, why don't you come by my office in the morning.' The next day,he assigned a tough job to me, one he said needed someone who could work hard and be available to clients at all hours. I gladly accepted and my career progressed over the next 20 years."

This prompted an "aha" moment. I became inspired to start turning my luck around through hard work and, over time, letting go of my negative inner voice.

Working Hard to Get Lucky

It's easy to think some people are luckier than others and just "have all the luck" or "are in the right place at the right time." However, most successful people work hard and, slowly but surely, they encounter and capitalize on lucky opportunities.

Some people do have natural talent and you might think that's why they are lucky. Have you ever told yourself, "Oh, that person is so lucky but I'll never amount to anything because I don't have his or her talent"? It's easy to fall into this thinking trap when we watch seemingly overnight sensations on reality TV. On the other hand, is that the exception rather than the rule? For example, Michael Grimm, recent winner on "America's Got Talent," started working in local bars at age 12. Eighteen years later, it appears he "just got lucky."

Research has found it takes hard work and deliberate practice, not just natural talent, to achieve great success. Deliberate practice takes your abilities to the next level with disciplined and frequent practice focused on achieving clearly defined objectives, developing specific skills and getting feedback on your performance. Research indicates it takes 10,000 hours, or 10 years on average, of deliberate practice to become an expert in any field.

Your Thinking Can Improve Your Luck

There's another way to improve your luck. That's to harness the power of your thinking, attitudes and beliefs about yourself and the world to start noticing opportunities, listening to your intuition, expecting good things to happen and turning bad luck into good luck.

Richard Wiseman's research, described in The Luck Factor and a Reader's Digest article, identified four factors common among lucky people. They tend to:

  • Be skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities: Lucky people are relaxed and open to new experiences, allowing them to notice what is present. In contrast, when you are anxious, you may get tunnel vision and miss opportunities.
  • Make good decisions by listening to their intuition: Lucky people listen to their inner voice and avoid second guessing themselves too much or looking back on their decisions with regret.
  • Create self-fulfilling prophecies with positive expectations: Lucky people expect good things and have an optimistic explanatory style. When bad things happen, lucky people tend to see the cause as external, believe the bad event will end and don't let it affect too many parts of their life.
  • Adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good: Lucky people see the positive side of bad events. Instead of telling themselves, "This is awful," and falling into despair, lucky people focus on how things could have been worse and are thankful for their good luck.

Laura L. C. Johnson, MBA, MA

Laura L.C. Johnson, MBA, MA, LMFT, LPCC, is the Director and Founder of the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Silicon Valley in Saratoga, CA. The CBT Center specializes in evidence-based therapy for anxiety, OCD and anxiety-related disorders. Laura works with adults, children, teenagers and families to help them learn new skills to reduce anxiety and increase feelings of peace and joy. Her counseling approach is compassionate and scientifically-based, using principles and techniques from cognitive behavior therapy and positive psychology.

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