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Luck be a Lady

Or is it?

Up to which point do you influence, take responsibility for, and decide your own life?

Thank you dimensionsdesign for the free image.

If you wanted to question luck, that dialogue could go something like this: "So, I finally got that promotion yesterday, and I feel so very very lucky!" - "Oh, really? Congratulations! But, wasn't that long overdue? I mean, you did work pretty hard at your job plus you managed that last project really well, everybody noticed your potential."

I think in most cases luck is the point where preparation, opportunity, and timing meet. You prepare yourself and your work-ethic to be eligible and on the radar for promotion. At the same time, your boss has to agree that your efforts are better than anyone else's, the budget has to fit, and there has to be a position for you to move up into. Looks like you cannot have complete control over all the deciding factors of the outcome which would invite attributing the outcome to "luck", but arguably, the things you do control play the biggest part. Now, even more interesting is looking at how you react when things don't go your way.

For instance, if your efforts are ignored and someone else is promoted (married/wins the lottery/loses weight) instead, a) do you feel unlucky, point fingers and blame what- or whomever, and leave the company in the dramatic manner of your choosing, b) consider it a reflection of your bosses preference / general circumstances / that job wasn't meant for you after all-destiny, or c) do you hang in there and wait your turn?

You might have heard about "The Secret" and the "Law of Attraction" (Esther Hicks / Jack Canfield) which at first glance sound like wishing for things makes them come true. If that really worked, why not all go out and buy lottery tickets or have that second helping of cheesecake then? Because it's not that easy: you have to send the positively articulated wish into the universe, affirm your belief that you deserve what you wish to attract, visualize it frequently, and act as if your wish is already a reality (without running into debt or stalking your favorite celebrity [call me, Leo!]).

"I've been doing that for ages yet I still don't fit into my skinny jeans!" I hear you lament. True, because even affirmations, visualizations, and acting as if cannot replace the actual doing. They make you feel better while you are waiting for your goal to materialize, but the necessary preparation still includes elbow-grease, making decisions, and taking physical action. That means going out if you want to meet someone, eating right and exercising if you want to lose weight, and putting in the hours or getting the obligatory  qualifications for that job.

Alright then, what about gambling? Surely it's pure luck which way the dice fall or what high card is dealt next? Maybe. Except cards can be counted, tables can be manipulated, and people are way too complex to be predictable, plus they have their own minds to make decisions with. "The house always wins" isn't just an empty phrase, you know. But alright, let me ask you this: do you really feel comfortable with letting a card/dog/football team decide whether your kids go to college or you retire happily? Make no mistake, there's no judgment here, just a gentle nudge towards using appropriate stakes, I guess. If you don't mind losing what you put in, go right ahead, I'm sure it's fun. Just remember that it is your decision to put yourself in that position and gamble in the first place, so again, my opinion? Luck has nothing to do with it. I'm quite prepared to believe what I've heard in a few places now that the majority of millionaires aren't filmstars or lottery winners, but regular folk who steadily put away small amounts and successfully invested their savings.

To sum up, I guess what I'm advocating here is to always wish and hope for the best, and to do everything in your power to make it easier and more likely for the best to happen. There are things beyond your control, but there's no need to let them ru(i)n your life. You have the powers of reasoning and common sense at your disposal. Use them. And if things don't turn out the way you want, you have an option d): reassess the goal, if you still really want to achieve it but at first don't succeed, ask the right people for feedback, adjust your behavior, and try again.

Til next time!

PS: for those who have been hit hard by the current economic crisis, this video probably won't cheer you up, but its foresight is scary interesting.

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Positive Thinking


Positive Thinking

This is a speech I gave at my last Toastmasters meeting that was very well received (a tad longer than other articles I've written, but presenting it only took 5 minutes 30 secs). Remember Toastmasters International is an organization that helps everyone improve their presentation and public speaking skills in a fun and relaxed environment. If you have a talk or presentation coming up that you'd like to prepare for, check out a meeting near you!

Positive thinking is one surefire way to happiness. Are you happy?

There’s a saying that loosely translated from German goes like this:

Mind your thoughts, as they become words. Mind your words, as they become actions. Mind your actions, as they become habits. Mind your habits, as they become your character. Mind your character as it becomes your destiny.

I’m not sure who came up with it, but they had a point. And you’ll notice that they explained a causal relationship between your thoughts and your destiny and thus your level of happiness.

Let me give you a quick overview of what’s ahead. I’ll start by quoting a philosopher and taking his message one step further. Then, I want to share a little information on three points: one, your brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what isn’t. Two: you can control the messages that you send it, and three: I’ll share some tips on how to make those messages more positive.

Renee Descartes, the famous French Philosopher coined the phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” At a time where other philosophers were questioning everything, “is this really a table?”, “will the sun rise again tomorrow?”, “what is real?”, Descartes took apart his house of beliefs brick by brick and came to the conclusion that the mere fact that he was thinking about thinking meant that he must, indeed, exist.

This is where I (and many others before me) go a step further and say “we exist the way we do, meaning: our lives are what they are, because of what we think”.

Thinking occurs in your brain, and your brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.

Who here has ever had a dream that seemed very real, or woke up screaming or sweating from a horrific nightmare? Because your brain cannot differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t, it sent the message to your adrenal glands to pour out the hormone and prepare you for fight or flight even though there was no real threat present. (Your brain also doesn’t register the word “no”, e.g. if I tell you now NOT to think of a red balloon, what do you think of? ...which is why it's so important to make your goals out as positively worded statements, but that's another story.)

While you’re sleeping, your subconscious is in charge, but while you’re awake, you can directly influence what messages you send to your brain, so you better make them positive. Actually, let me precede the following example with this little nugget: your brain also likes things to be true and make sense.

So, if you bump your leg on the coffee table and tell yourself “I'm such a clutz!”, your brain will go looking for ways to make that statement make sense. That means it’ll remember past instances where you’ve fallen down or bumped your leg or dropped something, and in future it’ll apply the same label, and the more evidence it can come up with, the more it becomes true that you really are a clutz. That is the self-fulfilling prophecy everybody's talking about. The alternative here is to turn that negative thought around and look at the event through a different lens, a less judgmental one. For example, you could recognize that the coffee table wasn’t in its usual position because you had cleaned and moved it earlier, or that you were preoccupied with thinking about the speech you have to give at the next Toastmasters meeting and hence weren’t paying attention to where you were going. That makes you many things - a dedicated toastmaster, a clean housekeeper, but not a clutz.

Now, how can you improve the level of your positive thoughts? With these following tips:

Be nice to yourself. What does your inner voice usually say? How do you talk to yourself? Are your thoughts helpful and supportive? Or - the test of all tests - would you speak to your best friend the way that you speak to yourself?

Furthermore, try and notice when you’re not being nice and simply stop those negative thoughts, and turn them around into something positive, like with the housekeeping or dedicated Toastmaster mentioned earlier. As with speech-making, continued practice will make perfect, so give yourself some time and patience. Last but not least, focus on the positive things that are already in your life. Every evening write down, relive or simply remember in all its glorious detail at least three things that went well that day, that you were proud of, that made you happy. This exercise will put you in a positive state of mind, and once you’re in a positive state of mind, you know your brain will do the rest and find more positive things to make sense of and perpetuate that positive and happy state you’re in.

At the end of the day, your thoughts are your business, I just wanted to make sure you're aware that every single one of your thoughts contributes to you shaping your own destiny, and that you can take control and decide what you are prepared to do for your own happiness, whichever form that may take, by being nice to yourself, turning bad thoughts around and focusing on positive things.

Til next time, good thoughts!

Image by Li-Ji, Flickr, Creative Commons License.