The Leader's Code

Excellence in leadership—grounded in science

Why You Should Believe in Luck

A new study shows that you really do make your own breaks. Here's how.

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Our mindset is a powerful thing. I often speak and write about research that shows how our views of the world influence our reality. One of the most widely discussed studies in this field comes from the compelling work of widely respected psychologist Ellen Langer, who documented how focusing on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of elderly men profoundly impacted their psychological and physical well-being.

I recently came across another provocative study, which looked at how our beliefs about luck also influence our drive to succeed.

A team of researchers from UCLA and Columbia University found that our beliefs about luck can be divided into two camps: stable or fleeting. As the name suggests, the first group would be those who feel that luck is stable—a fairly constant phenomenon. Essentially, this group believes, people are generally either lucky or unlucky. These individuals would say that they consistently have good luck or they consider themselves to be "lucky." People who see luck as fleeting, on the other hand, would be more likely to believe that luck follows an unpredictable pattern of ups and downs.

What was most interesting to me about this research was how the participants’ beliefs about luck impacted their drive for success. People who saw their luck as stable tended to have a significantly higher drive to succeed than those who viewed it as transitory. The research also found that part of the relationship between luck and achievement motivation was attributable to the fact that people who possessed stable luck beliefs also felt they had more control. This makes sense: If you feel luck is stable, and within your sphere of influence, your are much more likely to persevere towards our goals. However, if you see luck as an essentially random phenomenon, you may wonder, "What’s the point?” This skepticism can effectively undermine your desire to push on.

Given the research, you may wish to revisit how you see luck, because doing so may actually be the key to improving yours. Viewing luck, or "breaks," as beyond your control could significantly dent the likelihood of your future success. Instead, you may want to adopt the outlook of Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote, “I am a big believer in luck; the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Although fairly simple in design, this study has an important element for us to contemplate. Deep down, how do we view luck? If we can internalize a view of it as stable rather than fleeting, we may maximize not only our luck in general, but our success as well.

What do you think? Do you feel lucky?

Craig Dowden, Ph.D., is the Managing Director of the Toronto office of SPB Organizational Psychology. 

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