Do we make our own luck?

 Letting go of the past, Staying positive  Comments Off on Do we make our own luck?
Apr 162013

Is it true that we make our own luck? Up to a point, I think it is – and it’s a skill well worth cultivating. Obviously, factors like being born in a safe area of an affluent country are purely a matter of chance; some people encounter less adversity on their journeys through life than others do – but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Neither is this about blame. Bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it and who have done everything that could be expected to invite good fortune, and this post is absolutely not about suggesting they must have done something wrong and brought it on themselves.

As outlined in this useful article about bad luck, a crucial element is whether we have an external or internal locus of control – in other words, whether we take a fatalist view of life or assume responsibility for shaping our own destiny. When I read this, I realised that bringing my locus of control inside myself has played a major part in my recovery from depression. Of course, I am not responsible for everything that happens to me – random stuff befalls all of us all the time – but I am responsible for how I respond to and deal with it. This is not responsibility in the sense of its being my fault; it’s responsibility in the sense that, contrary to what I believed until recently, I actually have control over my own life.

When my locus of control was external, I used to have all sorts of strange explanations for how and why things panned out as they did. I thought people were purposely doing me down and the world was against me. I came to think I must be cursed and every time I lost, broke, spilt or spoilt something, I imagined the Devil laughing.

Overlying this was the conflicting phenomenon of my magical thinking, through which I believed (and occasionally still do) everything that went wrong was somehow my fault. I’m sure this is the result of my mother having an external locus of control and me being the handiest person to blame.

As soon as it dawned on me that I could take control and steer my life in a different direction, I began to feel happier. For me, and I guess for a lot of people, depression was largely based on lack of control. It was a state of feeling stuck and passive, a deep dark pit in which I was abandoned and unable to climb out. I believed I couldn’t climb out, so I couldn’t. The realisation that I could, in fact, do it by myself was basically all it took for me to do it.

All this goes some way to explaining how we can make our own luck. If we allocate out control for everything that happens by blaming other people, the government, the Devil, we come to see ourselves as victims and consider ourselves unlucky. On the other hand, if we take life’s blows on the chin and remember that all experience is useful, we can learn and grow and start to take advantage of – and appreciate – the good things that come our way. This is how we become ‘lucky’.

Professor Richard Wiseman has written a book about what constitutes luck and concludes that it’s all about attitude. (You can read more here.) While it all sounds slightly simplistic, it also makes intuitive sense that people who are more confident and relaxed have better luck than those who are tense and anxious. In a way, this is all very encouraging: we can all be lucky, if we just loosen up and seize the day. The problem is, if we’re feeling anxious it can be extremely difficult to behave in the laid-back, open way Prof Wiseman prescribes.

Entrenched patterns of thought and behaviour are not going to be changed overnight. It’s taken me several years of hard work to lift myself out of depression and prepare the ground for metamorphosis into someone lucky. I’m making progress in the area of taking opportunities but I’m not pushing myself too hard. For me, there’s a fine line between not allowing myself to hide too long in my comfort zone and spurring myself on to the verge of collapse. While I’m still finding it an effort to interact with the world, I’m not going to be able to rise to every occasion and never miss an opportunity, and I’m convinced it’s better to accept this and build up slowly, rather than trying to run before I can walk. But I’m getting there and I’m enjoying the process.

To sum up, if you feel you’re blighted by misfortune, I encourage you to have a good hard look at what’s behind this and think about how you can take more control and shift your perspective. Change how you handle things and observe how your luck changes in response.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Tumblr
Mar 122013

Inner peace begins with forgiveness: forgiveness for ourselves and forgiveness for those who have wronged us. Without this, peace will always elude us.

Let’s take forgiving ourselves first. As I’ve said before, I find it very helpful to remember that in the past I did the best I knew how at the time. ‘Should(n’t) have’ is one of the most corrosive concepts there are and I strongly encourage you to keep it under firm control. Something a friend taught me that has changed my life dramatically is how utterly pointless it is to dwell on what I should have done, either twenty years ago or this morning. He didn’t mean I shouldn’t learn from my mistakes, because obviously that would be silly. What he meant was, forgive yourself and move on. Wishing the past different is a waste of energy that you could be using to shape your future.

Forgiving other people can be a delicate balance but it’s a vital part of the process of breaking free. As long as you go on harbouring resentment, anger or even hate, the object of those emotions continues to have influence over you.

We are all products of our upbringing and experience. Some of us learn, explore, change, and others don’t – usually because they’re afraid to. The people who have hurt me over the years are damaged individuals who, in their own misguided (in some cases, warped) way, were doing the best they knew how, just like me. They were trying to survive, trying to make sense of the world, trying to deal with their own pain and fears. A bad character is made, not born, and once I was able to see those who have hurt me in that light, I was already halfway to forgiving them. Once I’d forgiven them, I was free; their power to hurt me vanished.

Let’s be clear about this: forgiveness is for your sake, not theirs. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t tell them you’ve forgiven them, lest they think it means what they did is OK. I’m recommending you forgive, not forget. Almost all the people I’m talking about I have swept out of my life and I have no contact with them any more. With the few I have to go on seeing, I have withdrawn emotionally, so I can go through the motions of maintaining a relationship while keeping the inner me, the vulnerable part, safe.

If you feel the need to get back at someone, forgiving them is the best way to do it. As Isaac Friedmann said, “Forgiveness is the sweetest revenge”. It removes their hold over you and leaves you free to get on with your life in a positive way.

For me, forgiving the people who caused me to suffer went hand in hand with throwing off the mantle of victimhood – and I can’t tell you how empowering it feels to have done it.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Tumblr