It’s not unusual for luck to crop up in conversations when people seek to explain why they have prospered in an apparently unexpected way or they been the subject to some unpredicted misfortune.  

Some will see themselves as lucky and others will see the opposite.  

The questions are “Are they right or is this simply a reflection of their mindset?” 

Professor Peter Clough (Huddersfield University) and Dr Neil Dagnall (MMU) have been carrying out research on perceptions of luck (and superstition) and its relationship with mental toughness.  

What they found is that the ideas of luck and superstition are often adopted by people to provide some sense of control in a largely unpredictable world. A sense that is captured in an acronym that has become popular in recent times – VUCA. VUCA stands for Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex and Ambiguous These are characteristics of the world we inhabit in the 21st Century.  

We use luck as a way of explaining what is apparently inexplicable or unexpected by assigning it to luck or respond to these by adopting superstitions  

However, in a sense, this is “faulty thinking”. The likelihood is that most people, statistically, have about the same amount of good and bad luck. For all of us, some things go well and other things go less well. 

It will also often be the case that some do have a run of good experiences and some will have a run of “not so good” experiences. Nevertheless, in the long run, most will have a reasonable balance between the two 

The difference lies in our mental approach to these events. Some will dwell on the “bad experiences” and may downplay the positives in their life and, as a consequence, believe they are unlucky or the runes don’t fall their way. Assigning their experiences to luck or a result of a superstition becomes their way of explaining or “controlling” what has happened to them.  

Others will tend to focus on the good things and will manage their less positive experiences. They have much less need to explain what happens through the idea of luck or superstition. 

Neil Dagnall’s research showed that there was a correlation between Mental Toughness and perceptions of Luck.  

The more mentally tough the individual, the more the individual believed they made their own luck. The strongest relationship lay between the Control element of Mental Toughness which is perhaps unsurprising.  

The Control scale describes and assesses the extent to which individuals feel they are insufficient control of their lives and their circumstances and are able to manage their emotional response to events.  

This also sits nicely with research on “Directed Forgetting” carried out by Professor Stephen Dewhurst at Hull University who showed that mentally tough individuals were better able to “forget” past experiences and to concentrate on what is happening now. They could also “forget” a negative experience, setting it one side, enabling them to continue with what they are doing with the minimum of disruption. 

Indicating perhaps that many of us have the capacity to deal with adversity and “bad” events within us. Those who are more Mentally Sensitive, particularly in terms of the Control element of Mental Toughness, are much less able to do this. 

All of this points to the value of having a positive mindset if we are to deal with everything that life, work and study throws at us. There will be challenges on our journey through life, and if contentment is a goal, believing in oneself may the key.  

Believe in luck if you wish but the bottom line is that, when it matters, you make your own luck. 

The last word perhaps belongs to Professor Wiseman (Herefordshire University) who identified 4 principles associated with lucky people. They appear to be: 

  • Skilled at noticing and acting on change opportunities (The Challenge element of Mental Toughness) 
  • Make good decisions based on their Intuition. (an earlier post showed how this correlates with Mental Toughness) 
  • Expect good fortune (a Mental Toughness trait) 
  • Turn bad luck into good luck – they learn from all their experiences. (again an element of Challenge)  

Doug Strycharczyk. 

Interested in learning more about Mental Toughness and the MTQPlus measure contact headoffice@aqr.co.uk  

PS I am indebted to Dr John Perry for drawing my attention to this interesting feature on luck https://vimeo.com/34133694 

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