Do you believe we are puppets controlled by the hands of fate?

LUCK: You Are a Fool if You Forget It And a Greater Fool if You Count upon It. (Phyllis Bottome)

Do you believe in luck? Do you believe we are puppets controlled by the hands of fate? Is what happens to us preordained? Are we helpless victims hurled about by arbitrary and chaotic circumstances?

Do I believe in preordination? Sure, I do! If I thrust my arm into a boiling kettle of oil, it is ‘preordained’ that I will get badly burned. On the other hand, if I don’t stick my hand in fire, it’s ‘preordained’ I won’t get burned. So, it’s clear that my actions help shape my fate. Those who choose to ignore the laws of nature, such as the dangers of fire, will suffer the consequences.

But what about disasters such as flash floods, invading armies, job loss because of downsizing, or outbreaks of disease? Aren’t these proof that we have no control over our lives, that we are merely pawns in the hands of fate? Not at all. Fate is not an isolated event, such as a flash flood, but a direction of movement. Life is a path that leads to our destination. The nature of our destination (success or failure, happiness or misery) depends on which forks in the road we choose to follow. In other words, it depends on how we choose to interpret what happens to us and what we do about it.

Fate or luck, then, is a river, and our free will is a paddle. We can choose the direction in which we move by paddling, even if it means paddling upstream. Because of free will, we can also refuse to paddle. But if we do so, we will be swept away by the tide of events. For this reason, Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote, “I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.” You see, our actions are seeds that germinate into our destiny.

Our fate, luck, or destiny, is not determined by the hardships we meet, but by our reactions or responses to them. I may react to a flooded basement caused by a flash flood by growing despondent because of my losses, or I may respond to the flooded basement by starting a basement cleaning business in which I clean up in more ways than one!

There’s no point in bemoaning our fate when disaster strikes. If it’s unavoidable, we have to accept it, for we won’t be ready to move on until we do. But, as Deng Ming-Dao points out, “Acceptance does not mean fatalism. It does not mean capitulation to some slaughtering predestination. [It means] acting within the framework of circumstance.”

Getting back to my original question, do you believe you are in charge of your own life or are you a victim of circumstances? The question is purely rhetorical because I already know the answer. Of course, you believe you are in charge of your own fate. How do I know? Because we all take pride in and accept credit for our accomplishments. Whenever we are recognized, we do not reject the certificate, award, plaque, or trophy and say, “Oh, no, I cannot accept this because I’m unworthy.” On the contrary, we graciously accept it and thank those who have recognized us. This is proof that we recognize we have control over our lives.

Yet, when we screw up and make a serious mistake, what do we do? Do we say, “Sorry, I wasn’t as careful as I should have been?” No, we are struck by amnesia and conveniently forget our power. Instead of accepting responsibility, we search for scapegoats to blame. “Sorry, boss, I’m late because ______ (my alarm clock didn’t ring, the bus was late, the snowstorm or traffic accident delayed me — you can fill in the blanks). If we choose to cast blame, we are taking a detour from the path that can lead to a glorious destination. Far better to accept responsibility, learn from our mistakes, and move on. Like William Jennings Bryan, we need to recognize that, “Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice: It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” 

By now, you probably agree that we create our own luck. But how specifically do we do so? Here’s the premise: We create and attract whatever we focus on. Let’s look at a couple of examples. Both Karen and Sue were laid off and recently found separate jobs, but with identical working conditions.

Karen is unhappy. True, she’s paid more per hour than the average worker, but she’s paid on an hourly basis. That means she’s not paid for her lunch hour and she has no sick days. Simply put: no work, no pay. So while others enjoy national holidays, she has to put up with a smaller pay cheque because of the holidays. Karen has no company benefits and no security. As she focuses on the benefits she lacks, she grows resentful and anxious. Because she’s unhappy, she’s not very productive. She exudes a dark cloud of negativity and finds herself constantly complaining. Would you say her conduct, attitude, and actions will lead to a promotion? Isn’t it more likely that she will be laid off again? Can you see how what she focuses on, lack and negativity, leads to more of the same?

What about Sue? She wishes she had benefits, but she has an attitude of gratitude. She’s thankful for having a job. Better to make some money than none. She also counts her blessings: she’s gaining more experience, contributing to society, making new friends, pleased about the convenient company location, and likes her supervisor. Things may not be perfect, but Sue is cheerful, productive, and contributes to the overall morale of the company. What do you think? Are her actions and attitude attracting opportunity? Is she likely to be promoted? If not, her additional experience will be her ticket to a better job in the future.

Sue was aware of the benefits she lacked, but chose to focus on the blessings she had. That’s how she remained positive. Awareness of the undesirable conditions of one’s job is not negative. But focusing on them is. It is important to know what we don’t like, for that is the only way to understand what we want. Once we know what we want (in this case, a job with full benefits), while remaining cheerful, we focus on it. When focused, we can set goals, look for, and find opportunities. In fact, our positive attitude will attract and create the reality we want. In other words, our luck, or lack of it, is no more than the consequences of our actions.

How to Increase Our Luck

When things are going our way, we consider ourselves ‘lucky’, and when our goals and plans flop, we think of ourselves as ‘unlucky.’ In this context, most of us want to increase our luck. Is it possible to do so? Absolutely! For as philosopher Baltasar Gracian wrote, “ Luck can be assisted. It is not all chance with the wise.” But how do the wise increase their luck? There are many things they do, which include the following. Although the list is incomplete, there are enough suggestions to help you figure out how to become luckier. So, let’s begin.

1. Understand what doesn’t work. Lucky charms, talismans, amulets, rabbit’s feet, four-leaf clovers, magic spells, horoscopes, lucky numbers, consulting fortune tellers or psychics and other forms of superstition don’t help. These forms of activities are idols of the idle. That is, they are the choices of lazy people, people who want to succeed without doing any work.

2. Understand what works. The circumstances we find ourselves in today are the consequences of the actions we have taken, which were based on our interpretation of the events we encountered. So, if we change the way we look at things, we will change our behavior, which will result in different consequences. For example, if I see the world as a hostile place and am an angry person, I will alienate others and lead an unhappy (unlucky) life, but if I see the world as a friendly place and am a loving person, I will win many friends and grow successful (lucky).

3. Understand there is no such thing as failure. How can you get lucky if you give up on your dreams every time you run into an obstacle? “All of us have bad luck and good luck. The man who persists through the bad luck who keeps right on going is the man who is there when the good luck comes and is ready to receive it.” (Robert Collier)Besides, sometimes it’s necessary to fail because we were going in the wrong direction.

4. Be willing to pay the price for good luck by working hard. People who have attained things worth having in this world have worked while others have idled, have persevered while others gave up in despair, and have practiced early in life the valuable habits of self-denial, industry, and singleness of purpose. As a result, they enjoy in later life the success often erroneously attributed to good luck.(Grenville Kleiser) Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds, echoes these sentiments, “Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.

5. Have the courage to step out of your comfort zone. I’ve found that luck is quite predictable. If you want more luck, take more chances. Be more active. Show up more often.” (Brian Tracy) Luck is a great word, but an even better word is pluck. For without pluck or mettle you won’t experience luck; you’ve got to have the courage to keep going on despite the odds. For more help in this area, read, FEARLESS LIVING: Live Without Excuses and Love Without Regret by Rhonda Britten.

6. Be curious. Curiosity breathes life into everything it touches and opens many opportunities. The more curious you are, the more open you will be to the opportunities hiding around every corner. To learn more about or master the power of curiosity, read CURIOUS?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life by Todd B. Kashdan.

7. Follow your intuition. All too often we flee from our gut instinct and embrace our logical mind when making important decisions, only to regret it later. This will happen less frequently if we stop thinking of our intuition as ‘just a feeling’ and realize it is the voice of our inner wisdom. For practical guidance on benefiting from your intuition, read, POWERED BY INSTINCT: 5 Rules for Trusting Your Guts by Kathy Kolbe

8. Build on your strengths. The premise is a simple one: spend less time on trying to overcome your weaknesses and more time on building on your strengths. For an outstanding book on this subject, read, The Strengths Way by Mike Pegg.

9. Turn off the voice of your inner critic. A surefire way to prevent or end luck is to succumb to the endless chatter of our inner critic. For powerful tools to end negative thinking read, BELIEF RE-PATTERNING: The Amazing Technique for “Flipping the Switch” to Positive Thoughts by Suze Casey and EMBRACING OUR SELVES: The Voice Dialogue Manual by Hal Stone Ph.D. and Sidra Winkelman

10. Stop complaining. Complaints are stop signs on the highway to luck, for as long as you complain the windows of opportunity will remain shut. Complaints in themselves are not bad if they are used properly. They are actually a warning sign that you are doing something wrong. So, as soon as you find yourself complaining, ask the following questions and act on the answers. “What do I want? What am I doing wrong? What should I be doing in its place? What small steps can I now take that will help me turn things around?”

11. Look for opportunities. Since it is a law of life that we find what we look for, look for opportunities! And be prepared, for luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparation. Samuel Goldwyn adds, “I think luck is the sense to recognize an opportunity and the ability to take advantage of it. The man who can smile at his breaks and grab his chances gets on.

12. Have a
positive expectation. Your expectations boost the likelihood of your beliefs becoming true. In other words, positive expectationsbecome self-fulfilling prophecies. That’s why Tennessee Williams said, “Luck is believing you’re lucky.Positive expectations keep you ready to respond to all opportunities as they appear.

13. Think before you act. Good and bad luck is a synonym, in the great majority of instances, for good and bad judgment.(John Chatfield) To avoid poor decisions, don’t be impulsive, but take the time to think of the consequences before taking the plunge.

14. Be prudent. Chance (luck) usually favors the prudent man.(Joseph Joubert) For example, if you are wise enough to save some money, you will be ready to invest in an opportunity when it comes. The prudent person also realizes that the only certain thing about luck is that it will change. So if you are embroiled in a streak of bad luck, don’t give up because your luck will change in the future, and if you are fortunate enough to be enjoying good luck, don’t rest on your laurels, but prepare for the worse that can happen at any moment.

15. Maintain a positive attitude. When you find yourself stuck ask empowering questions such as, “When faced with problems, what am I in the habit of looking for? Do I look for solutions or excuses?” “What kind of person am I? Am I someone who finds a problem with every solution or someone who finds a solution for every problem?”

16. Always do your best in everything you do, for “Luck marches with those who give their very best.”(H. Jackson Brown Jr.)

17. Be grateful for what you have, for the more you are grateful for what you have, the more you will have to be grateful for.

18. Increase your options. Study, learn, read, take courses, improve your skills, develop your talents; do everything you can think of to increase your options, opportunities, and luck.

19. Learn to be flexible. When you start a new plan, label it “Plan A” to signal to yourself that when warranted you will change, alter, or revise your plan. Remain flexible to adjust to unexpected events and changes in the environment.

20. Get along with others. Be a peace maker not a trouble maker. The best way to assure your success is to help others become successful. Make all transactions win / win. That is, all transactions should benefit the other party as much as they benefit you.

21. Strike while the iron is hot. When an opportunity appears, act immediately, for the window of opportunity may quickly close.

22. Don’t use bad luck as an excuse to avoid taking responsibility. Rather, use it to test, practice, and cultivate your pluck and mettle.

23. You may run out of resources, help, and answers, but don’t run out of steam. When you fall short of what you need, ask for what you want. Sometimes a critical resource is just one ask away.

24. Keep a Good Luck Journal. Practice all these principles and keep brief notes of the steps you take and the results you receive. This practice will keep you focused and guarantee you get more of what you want. If you are a chess player, you realize you can enjoy a good game of chess with a cheap chess set. Yet, there’s no doubt that an exquisite set will enhance your pleasure. Similarly, any cheap notebook will do for your Good Luck Journal, but an ‘expensive’ one may be much better suited for the task, as well as signal how serious you are about the project. My personal favorite is a Moleskin Folio Professional Extra Large Notebook. Here is what a page looks like (the notes are in Japanese).  

The title of this article reminds us not to ignore the factor of luck while maintaining a balanced approach, for we cannot count on it without the willingness and commitment to work hard. The doors we open and close each day, the paths we choose to follow, and the daily decisions we make create the luck we experience. Perhaps, the only good luck we need is the readiness  and devotion to overcome bad luck.

I will use the teachings of Buddha for my final comments on luck:

Being deeply learned and skilled. Being well-trained and using well-spoken words; this is the best good luck. To support mother and father, to cherish wife and child and to have a simple livelihood; this is the best good luck. Being generous, just, helping one’s relatives and being blameless in one’s actions; this is the best good luck. To refrain from evil and from strong drink, and to be always steadfast in virtue; this is the best good luck. Reverence, humility, contentment, gratitude and hearing the good Dharma; this is the best good luck.



The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman

THE LUCK FACTOR: Why Some People Are Luckier Than Others and How You Can Become One of Them by Max Gunther

THE LUCK FACTOR: How to Take the Chance Out of Becoming a Success (Audiobook) by Brian Tracy

LUCK IS NO ACCIDENT: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career by John D Krumholtz and Al S Levin

THE SUCCESS EQUATION: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing by Michael J. Mauboussin

LUCK: The Brilliant Randomness of Everyday Life by Nicholas Rescher