Are You Feeling Lucky?

Posted by on Jun 27, 2014 | No Comments


We all have them. Those insane days where nothing seems to go as planned.  Your alarm doesn’t go off when should.  You miss your flight.  Your connecting flight is over-booked.  You get lost.  An hour has been added to your already too-long trek to your destination.  You’re low blood-sugar, have a headache, and can’t quite remember why you chose to do whatever it is you’re doing.  You’ve had days like that too, right?  Or is it just me?

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time with Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, which does a terrific job of building the business case for creating a positive organizational culture.  Shawn has traveled worldwide asking business leaders to think about the following scenario (and now I pose it to you….):

“Imagine for a moment that you walk into a bank.  There are 50 other people in the bank.  A robber walks in and fires his weapon once.  You are shot in the right arm.”

Then Shawn says, “…if you were honestly describing this event to your friends and coworkers the next day, do you describe it as lucky or unlucky?” and challenges them to explain why they described it the way they did.

So how about you?  Would you consider yourself lucky or unlucky?  Why?

I have to tell you, when my alarm clock went off late and I missed my flight, I wasn’t feeling so lucky – at first…

What Shawn has found, is that the split between those who think they’re unlucky and those who think they’re lucky is about 70/30.  70% of folks describe the bank incident as an unlucky thing, and 30% as a lucky thing.

The unlucky-thing-people would tell Shawn something like, “I entered the bank perfectly healthy and I left in an ambulance…that’s not my idea of a good time.” And the lucky-thing people would say something like, “I could have died.  I feel incredibly fortunate.”

The situation is exactly the same, but how they processed it is totally different.

What Shawn explains in his book is that our brains, in attempt to make sense of something that’s happened, will invent an alternate scenario – or a “counterfact”.  So the unlucky people imagined an alternate scenario where they would have waltzed out of the bank unharmed, while the lucky people imagined that something far worse could have happened.

But the point that Shawn makes – that has made an incredible difference to me  – is that because the alternate scenarios are made up, we have the power to “consciously select a counterfact that makes us feel fortunate rather than helpless.”

Think of the power in that.  When you feel fortunate, how do you show up in the world?  How do people perceive you?  What actions do you take?  When you feel helpless, how do you show up in the world?  How do people perceive you?  What actions do you take?

Who gets better results?

So I started paying close attention to how I was thinking about events in my life, and to how the leaders I was working with described their situations.

And all around me, I began to see opportunity.  To personally experience gratitude where there would have been stress.  To identify, without much conversation, the leaders who were actively and powerfully making a difference in their organizations, and those who were waiting for things to change.  And I realized how much control we all really have on how we experience the world around us and what we choose to do about it.

I remember standing in the line at Starbucks in the airport when it hit me.  The friendly-caffeinated-barista greeted me joyfully with, “And how are you this lovely morning?!”

Well let’s see…my alarm didn’t go off.  I got stuck in traffic (four accidents in-route!).  I missed my flight…

Hmmmm.  How was I?  “I’m doing just great!” I replied.  And I meant it.  For real.  I made it to the airport safely.  I had the flexibility to arrive at my destination anytime that day.  I could afford to buy a Starbucks coffee!  All good stuff.

Now I still have to confess, I’m not always on the “lucky” team – I don’t always look for the silver lining (and when my husband suggests I might want to consider choosing another counterfact, I want to bop him upside the head).  But being mindful of my own power to choose how I process a situation has been huge for me.  Try it on and see what you think.

Are you feeling lucky?


©OnStage Leadership, 2014 (originally posted in May, 2011)

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Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop.  Click here to read what people are saying!

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