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Do You Feel Lucky?

Are you a Dirty Harry fan?  The iconic Inspector Harry Callahan used a signature phrase in each installment of the San Francisco-based police thriller movies.  “A man’s got to know his limitations” was one.  Good advice, actually.  Another standout phrase was “Do you feel lucky?”  Harry added a derogatory epithet at the end that I won’t repeat.  So, do you feel lucky?

Luck and chance are related concepts.  In a recent article in Psychology Today, entitled “Make Your Own Luck”, author Rebecca Webber makes an important connection between luck, chance, and opportunities.  She lists five suggestions for making the most of the unpredictable, based in part on The Luck Factor, by University of Hertfordshire psychologist Richard Wiseman.

Her first point: See serendipity everywhere.  People who “take advantage of happenstance have competence, self-confidence, and the ability to take risks,” she observes.  Spontaneous, extroverted people are more likely to encounter what I’d call “random acts of fortune”.  Living in a rut, either in our daily habits, our thought patterns, or our relationships, rather than confidently embracing the unfamiliar, reduces the chances for “chance” to enter our lives, with the potential for a happy outcome.

Webber’s second point, “Prime yourself for chance”, makes the related observation that while successful people set goals, they often stay flexible about how to achieve them.  Think of this in terms of a GPS device.  You know where you are.  You know where you’d like to be.  How many different routes can you take?  The number is probably infinite.

So you give your GPS some guidelines.  Maybe you want the shortest route by mileage, or by time.  Maybe you want to stay off the freeway, or out of certain neighborhoods.  Programming your GPS can be a big help in finding the best path.  But what happens when the road specified just happens to be closed for construction (and your GPS doesn’t know it)?  What if an accident has traffic backed up for miles?  Good GPS units can redirect you to alternate routes.

Does your “internal GPS” do that?  How do you feel when your master plan hits a road block on the way to your goal?  Can you change your route, be willing to try what looks like a less promising “side street”, or do you tend to stay stuck behind someone wearing a hard hat and holding a stop sign?  Staying flexible about how you reach your goal gives you a much better chance of arriving more quickly at your destination than when you pick one route and rigidly stick to it regardless of whether it’s working for you or not.

Also, having to take a personal detour may lead to an encounter with people and places you’ve never seen before.  New people and places can mean new ideas and opportunities.  Chance turns into opportunity which can mean you get “lucky”.  Always living in the “usual” leaves no room for the “unusual” break that you just might be looking for.

Try to maintain a large network of all kinds of friends and acquaintances.  Try new methods in your line of work.  Read books or magazines you wouldn’t normally pick up.  Take a different road into town, vary your exercise time, talk to someone from another generation or culture, go to Peet’s instead of Starbuck’s.  “Breaking behavioral habits can lever changes in mental habits that have kept you from success so far,” Webber maintains.

And stay positive.  A new route or a new suit won’t help if you’re fearful or skeptical or just plain feeling hopeless.  Don’t turn left instead of right tomorrow only feeling sure you’ll come home with nothing changed, and justified in saying, “I told you so.”

Serendipity, chance, opportunity – a shake-up in routine can transform your life, if you let it.  I’m telling you so.  What do you have to lose?

Do you feel lucky?  You can be.