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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 see themselves as lucky and other 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 luck and superstition is often adopted by people to provide some sense of control in a largely unpredictable world for which we now have anew acronym – VUCA. VUCA stands for volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous – characterising the nature of the world in the 21st Century.

We can explain what is apparently inexplicable by assigning it to luck or 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. Sometimes things go well and things go less well.

It will be the case that some do have a run of good experiences and some will have a run of “not so good” experiences but most will have a reasonable balance between the two

The difference lies in Mindset. Some will dwell on “bad experiences” downplaying the positives in their life and believe they are unlucky or the runes don’t fall their way. Others will focus on the good things and manage their less positive experiences.

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 they 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 assess the extent to which individuals feel they are in 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 Dr Steve 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. Indicating perhaps that many of us have the capacity to deal with adversity and “bad” events within us. The Mentally Sensitive 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, believing in oneself is the key. Believe in luck if you wish but the message is that 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. CEO, AQR International

PS I am indebted to Dr John Perry for drawing my attention to this interesting feature on luck