Is success ‘good luck’ or determination, motivation and consistency?

Image of woman crossing her fingers

So many times, we hear the phrase ‘good luck’. Or fingers crossed. Does it work? To some extent it does. motivation can be tough sometimes, but so can luck. Some people who always seem to have luck on their side, and some who seem to just be terribly unlucky. Or is that an illusion?
Luck is an interesting concept. It sounds much like I got lucky winning that race or luck was not on my side today, so I did not do so well. I think there is an element of luck in everything we do but should we rely on it as a source of motivation?

Luck vs. control

Luck is the result of chance. Win or lose, good or bad, it’s not something you have control of. It just happens. But here’s the real story. As human beings, we either have an internal locus of control meaning we are motivated internally and feel like we have control over our actions… Or we rely on a very unreliable source of control and motivation which comes from external sources. Luck is the latter. It is an unknown, undetermined, external source of motivation and control, but one ironically that is not motivating, and we cannot control luck at all.

Attributes ‘lucky’ people have that leads to success

1. Be Mindful.

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 autopilot, 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.

2. Be proactive.

“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 behaviour, 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 £100 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 she tells you that she got eight new clients today; until you find out that she started working two hours before you and skipped her lunch break. She also took that online course on “completing the sale” that you thought wouldn’t be worth it.

3. Be opportunistic.

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 travelled 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.

4. Be insightful.

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.

5. Be flexible.

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 step in, 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.

6. Be optimistic.

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.

7. Think outside 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 outside the box with an innovative redesign or a novel marketing strategy is the one who will appear to be lucky.

8. Be resilient.

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.

There are some positives of being a person who feels like you have luck on your side. People who feel this way also seem to have a more optimistic, positive outlook on life which as a performer can be helpful. Lucky people tend to be more confident and have an overall better sense of wellbeing. These lucky people also tend to handle adversity pretty well. They are able to see it as the setback it is and move on. They tend to take risks because they think that good things will happen.

How using luck as motivation impacts performance

The most important thing to recognize is that if you’re using luck as a determining factor of success, there’s no way to define it or control it. When you compete, you’re either lucky or unlucky and it doesn’t have anything to do with you. When you use ‘luck’ as your barometer, then winning and losing doesn’t have anything to do with how much training you’ve done or how you’ve prepared. This can leave you feeling anxious, lacking confidence, and feeling out of control because you have no compass. No direction.

Take control of how you perform

You can develop an internal locus of control or internal motivation. It is not as difficult as you might think, and it has huge implications on performance. You get to perform for the love of performing. When you realize that you are in control of your performance, you get to decide what you want to have happen and how. You define the process versus letting others do it. You realize that you can’t do anything about the sun, the wind, or what someone else does.
Outside factors, and people are out of your control. What you can control is you.

Luck is usually a product of fear of failure, or sometimes fear of success. However, if you don’t take the control you have, you are setting yourself up to fail anyway. It is in your control to train hard, work hard, develop an internal sense of motivation, and perform the way you know you can. After all, that is why you spend so much time doing what you do.

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