Some recent posts by bloggers Seth Godin and Ben Casnocha have made me think a lot about one four letter word that most self-help authors abhor. Many of them consider it more inappropriate to use in a speech then the profanity of which it rhymes and others go so far as to discredit the factor entirely. The factor of which I am talking about is, of course, luck.
Luck is an important factor in everything in life. Probability and chance dictate that sometimes you can do everything right, but something outside your control or even awareness can prevent your success. Other times individuals can do many things wrong and still manage to achieve success, later placing it on their ability to work hard, perseverance or creative genius. The truth is that luck and chance will play a role in your life. To do what most personal development authors do and discredit the factor, would be, in my opinion, completely foolish and naive. Yet at the same time, abusing the existence of this factor to excuse yourself or to discredit those who are successful is a recipe for disaster.
What is Luck?
Unfortunately, humans are very bad at perceiving probability. We are creatures designed to reason by parable, metaphor and story not through randomness or abstraction. To say that someone is lucky, a person usually begins to create incorrect associations to the word. Luck begins to conjure up notions of being unfairly predisposed for success. This is not the sort of luck I am talking about. In order to better utilize the factor luck and randomness has on your success, growth and happiness, you need to fully understand what I am referring to.
One of my favorite board games is a little game about world domination called Risk. Simplifying the immensely complicated task of orchestrating Napoleonic armies conquering the entire globe down to some simple rolls of the dice, Risk is a perfect metaphor for how I am going to describe the factor of luck to you. The mechanics of the game are unimportant if you are unfamiliar with it, but it basically involves making decisions and rolling a lot of dice.
Now, in a short term and precise scale, luck dominates in Risk. Based on two players rolling dice, individual rolls are guided mostly by probability. Given the sheer volume of rolls, it is not uncommon to see one player win several, even a dozen rounds of dice rolls in a row without fault. Ruled by probability, the short term can be influenced little by our conscious control. Winning or losing a few rounds or even an entire turn can often by a complete manner of probability.
In the long term, however, probability tends to smooth out. All the irregularity caused by probability tends to get evened off. In the course of an entire game, most of the war will be won with skill and politics. Rolling hundreds of dice tends to average out any probability that one side will clearly be favored. The chances of one player consistently being lucky grow incredibly slim and player skill and the politics between players become the most important factors for winning.
Luck in our personal lives works fairly similarly. In the short term, many of our successes will rely on just one or two dice rolls. Getting that date, making a successful product and landing on a hit idea for a company can often rely on just a few key dice rolls to make them work. If you roll well, then you are successful. Roll poorly and you fail. Even if you did everything correct, luck plays a roll with some of the events in our lives.
However, at a larger scale luck tends to level off and the factors such as skill and hard work tend to pay off. This is why so many personal development authors discount luck. Because, by definition, you have no control over luck directly, you must be willing to accept that the dice rolls will eventually level off and building your skills, work ethic or creativity is a better route to success then simply hoping to hit the jackpot. I feel my readers are very intelligent people who don’t want a warped view of reality, however. To say luck doesn’t play any role is foolish.
Where are the Dice?
I’ve said many small events in life, even those which later trigger monumental consequences, are guided by a few key dice rolls. But since there isn’t any real dice controlling these actions, what exactly causes luck. My answer to that is anything outside your conscious force. Anything that exists outside of your ability to consciously influence must be deemed as luck. So there are really two areas in life. Things you have the ability to consciously influence and those that you currently cannot. The circle of influence and the outer zone of luck.
Within the zone of luck there are two more distinct zones. The first is the zone of conscious awareness. Just outside of your zone of conscious force, these are the things that you can’t control but you are aware of. For example, you may be a Hispanic actor, but the lead in the big movie auditioning today is only accepting Asian actors. This would be an area of bad luck, but within your conscious awareness. You can recognize that you have no control over your heritage, but still recognize its short term affect on your circumstances. Of course, in the long run there will be plenty of movies in which your background may be an asset and not a liability.
Outside of this zone is the far more subtle zone of no awareness. In this zone, elements of luck are completely hidden from your knowledge. You don’t know the factors influencing your results in this zone. This is the most damaging form of luck because it completely blinds you to reality. Even if you can’t control the areas that you have conscious awareness without conscious force, you can utilize your force to bring those things under your control in the future. Without any awareness, luck can be very damaging. Say our Hispanic actor is auditioning for a lead in a film looking for Hispanic actors. He decides to wear a red spotted tie to the audition and he doesn’t realize that the director really hates red ties and it distracts from his entire performance. Dismissed without a word, the actor will never know why he wasn’t accepted.
Worse then when bad luck strikes is when one massively influential piece of good luck strikes from the zone of no awareness. If a business person stumbles upon a good idea for a new product and succeeds in making it a smash hit, he may be unaware of the real reasons the product was successful and may instead use it as evidence of his greatness. Although this arrogance may be obnoxious, it is more damaging to the person who encounters it. If he struggles vainly to replicate his original and unlikely success his whole life using the past strategy, he is unaware of the influence luck had.
As we can see, our world is made up of three zones. Conscious force, conscious awareness and no awareness. The larger we can expand the first two zones the better control we can have over luck. By simply being aware that luck can play a role, we also will be able to better understand the reality we operate in.
Like always, I wouldn’t present you with an idea, without giving you some sense of control or meaning. With understanding can come action and I will now provide you with ways you can help control how luck influences your life. Although the very phrase of controlling luck may seem like an oxymoron, we are going to approach things from a different angle. By leveraging our zone of conscious force we can then utilize that zone to maximize our opportunity and lower the damage caused by bad luck. I have three suggestions for making use of this awareness that luck influences our life:
Take Intelligent Risks
A point brought up by both Steve Pavlina and Ben Casnocha is simply the necessity of taking lots of intelligent risks to help average out the influences of luck and to maximize your opportunity. Intelligent risk-taking simply means involving yourself in opportunities where the potential upside is greater than a minimal downside. By taking these intelligent risks you may get burned and suffer that downside every once in awhile. However, taking these risks often means you will end up winning far more benefits.
A great example of an intelligent risk mentioned by Ben, is giving that cold call to someone you have always wanted to meet. Although you can improve your cold calling abilities to some degree, calling or e-mailing someone you’ve never met before always carries a risk of rejection or embarrassment. But the upside of making a new friend, having great opportunities and building a relationship is far greater to compensate. Logically understanding this can allow you to utilize it.
Another great example was given by Ramit Sethi. Speaking at a middle school about entrepreneurship, Ramit did an exercise where he asked kids if they were willing to take a risk to raise their hands. A few of them did. He then picked one of them and told him to come to the front of the class and handed him five dollars. The lesson: “Sometimes you can get great things just by raising your hand.” And second, “The world isn’t really fair. A few students raised their hand, but I picked him for no good reason. It’s easy to get discouraged, but the people who want to succeed will shrug it off and keep trying next time something like this happens.”
The other key about intelligent risk taking is that you have to take enough risks to smooth out the probability. Asking for a date twice or starting a business once won’t be enough dice rolls to make conscious force a primary factor in many instances. Taking lots of intelligent risks minimizes the impact a few negative events have on the whole and reduces the effect of probability.
Exert Conscious Force
The best way to expand force and awareness is to use them more. Awareness can eventually lead to force if you are persistent and patient. Awareness comes from educating yourself about reality. Reading tons of books on a large variety of subjects, experimenting and pursuing direct experiences can greatly improve your awareness. From this awareness you can begin to develop skills and abilities that translate into conscious force.
This website is really about expanding the conscious awareness in the hopes that you can transform it into conscious force. More force equals more control. More control means a greater chance that you can get the most out of your life. Even if you can’t yet use ideas I present to you, by putting them into your conscious awareness I have already given you a little more power. Reading about energy management may not be the same as having infinite energy capacity yourself, but it is a step in the right direction.
Pursue your own education, both academic and experiential. Read books and articles on every subject that you think impacts your quality of life. Health, finance, creativity, goals, religion, spirituality, logic and culture all impact your life. Don’t settle for a mediocre awareness of them. Become an expert by devoting your time to studying and experiencing them. Go out and experiment with that exercise plan or finance system. You may get burned a little, but your conscious force will increase.
Exert your conscious force wherever you can. Take a look at your behaviors and determine whether they are worth having. Look at your motivations and goals and rebuild them. Build mastery and skill into areas where you see deficiency. By exerting conscious force you can create more of it. Force expands your influence and increases your power. Think about a baby. It has little conscious force in its world and is completely helpless. Now think about where you are right now. Are you still relatively an infant to the amount of conscious force you may be able to exert in the future? We are all have an infinite potential to become masters of our world.
Focus on Your Conscious Force
Anthony Robbins once said, “The foremost power is awareness.” Simply being aware that luck, or anything outside your zone of conscious force influences your life, can give you control of it. Don’t discount luck in your successes. Virtually all successes did rely on a few key successful dice rolls. But at the same time, use this principle to accept your failures. Many of your failures rested on a bad roll or two.
Once you understand this principle of luck, however, move your focus away from its influence. Focus on anything and it looms larger in our lives. Instead of focusing on the inevitable impact luck has on our lives, focus your attentions on the area you can control. After succeeding from a lucky break, recognize this gift and begin to focus on how you can increase your force and awareness to cover that missing area. Whenever I have a successful blog entry, rarely is it an entry I expected success from. By trying to understand the factors that led to its success I can cut away the fog that pervades the zone of no awareness and try to bring it under my conscious force. Many things exist too deep in the zone of no awareness for me to be able to try to perceive, but by trying my force can expand, even if only a little.
Luck plays an incredibly important role in our lives. It influences many of our key events and short term outcomes. By understanding its impact and taking control of its influence we can increase our force and change our destinies. Understand and utilize luck and we gain power. Ignore or discount luck and it just becomes another four letter word.