#46 – About Luck and Personal Power

My question for today is #46:  Do you think you are lucky?  How does that affect the choices you make in life.

If I wanted to just answer this without any waffle-waffling, I’d say yes.  But really, I don’t believe in luck.  Here’s the definition of luck, according to Dictionary.com:

1.       the force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person’s life, as in shaping circumstances, events, or opportunities: With my luck I’ll probably get pneumonia.

2.       good fortune; advantage or success, considered as the result of chance: He had no luck finding work.

3.       a combination of circumstances, events, etc., operating by chance to bring good or ill to a person: She’s had nothing but bad luck all year.

4.       some object on which good fortune is supposed to depend: This rabbit’s foot is my luck.

All of these definitions appear to place the power and control for what happens in your life, outside of you, as though things just happen to you with no input from you at all.  But let’s look at each of the examples given and see just how much luck was involved in each of them.

Example 1, ‘with my luck I’ll probably get pneumonia’.  With the Law of Attraction at work and that gloomy prediction you probably will.  It’s called self-fulfilling prophecy.  Example 2, ‘he had no luck finding work’.  The fact that he had a poor resume, lousy interview skills, and applied for jobs that he wasn’t qualified for had nothing to do with it, I guess.  Example 3, ‘she’s had nothing but bad luck all year’.  Really?  Nothing but bad luck?  Did she keep a record?  I bet if she did she’d find that lots of good stuff happened but expecting and only recognizing the bad will definitely make it seem like it’s all bad.  What you focus on increases; focus on the negative, you get more negative.  And finally example 4, ‘the rabbit’s foot is my luck’.  That’s funny.  Not so lucky for the rabbit though, was it?

When you think that everything that happens to you is because of some force outside of yourself, it’s called an external locus of control.  People who have an external locus of control tend to believe strongly in luck and, usually, they don’t see it as being in their favour. There are certain groups of people who tend to be more likely to have an external locus of control, such as people who are on social assistance, gamblers, criminals, emotionally or physically abused people, people in extremely punitive and controlling religious groups, and conspiracy theorists.

Now before you jump all over me for sounding like I’m down on people who are on social assistance, let me tell you that I was a welfare recipient for years when I was a single mother, before I got my business going.  Some people on social assistance have an internal locus of control, where they believe that they have the primary influence over what happens in their lives, but the system certainly tries its best to bully it out of them.  The social welfare system, while necessary and helpful to many people, in some ways acts as a disincentive to really change your life.  In fact, the minute you do try to change your life, you are often ‘rewarded’ with dire consequences like being cut off with no income, having your income sharply reduced, or having to jump through many hoops to keep a roof over your head.  If you have a child, you may be willing to accept these limits and you might be worn down over time.

After I managed to pull myself up enough to get off of welfare, and I had started my business, I had a job teaching life skills and small business start-up to, you guessed it, people on welfare.  I got the job primarily because the people who operated the program thought I could be a role model.  It certainly wasn’t because I was qualified.  To be honest, I was feeling pretty uppity at the time and I also thought I could be a role model.  I think I thought I would be admired and respected because of how I had started a business and managed to create an income and a life for myself.  Silly me!  The reality was that most of the people in the group had an external locus of control and thought I was ‘lucky’.  And in fact, they were resentful of me because I had it so easy.  Okay, they might have also been a bit resentful because I had that ‘holier than thou’ attitude at the time.

I developed quite a program that I still use.  I introduced the idea of ‘spheres of influence’ and led groups in analyzing what they could and couldn’t control in their lives and then working out a plan to use their control when they could and when they couldn’t, exert more influence over the things they could only influence.  A key part of this is recognizing that if you accept that you have control over certain things, you also then have the responsibility for those things.

Ultimately we only have control over what we think, say and do, but if you think about it, that’s a lot of control.  You can’t blame someone else for you being fat, for example, unless someone is tying you down and force-feeding you.  You can’t go and sue McDonald’s because you’re fat when you are the one going through the drive through and scarfing down a Big Mac every day.

You can’t blame someone else for making you mad and making you smash a frying pan over their head when you’re the one who picks it up and swings it. If you are on the receiving end of a frying pan however, you may be willing to admit that you had some influence in having the pan hit you in the head.  Unless you were just innocently walking down the street when a stranger came up to you and smacked you in the head, you probably played a part in provoking the attack.  Not always, because I am well aware that some people are abusive and will set up a situation so that they get to play it out.  However, you still have the control over your action in the whole scene even if that includes staying in a situation where you are likely to be battered.  I absolutely know that it’s all very easy to say.  I deal with that extensively in discussion in the workshops.  It’s clear that sometimes a situation is complicated and you have to choose between a bad and a worse option. However, once a person recognizes that they are ultimately responsible for their own thoughts, words and actions, it is amazingly freeing.

In one program I was teaching, there was a woman who was pretty badly battered on a regular basis.  I have no background or experience or training in that area but I did what I could.  I brought in a speaker to talk about options.  I talked to her privately but she refused to discuss it or even admit that she was in a bad situation.  But the day after we finished dealing with the Spheres of Influence, she was gone.  She was one of the people who accepted the concept and once accepted, took responsibility and took action and left the bad situation.  I never saw her again but I truly hope that she was able to move ahead into a life where she was able to decide what she wanted and then do what she needed to do to make it happen.

But I digress.  This is something I obviously am very passionate about.  I wanted to address the whole issue of ‘luck’ and a self-managed life and I haven’t really commented on whether I think I am lucky and how it affects how I live my life.  I will answer the intent of the question tomorrow.  This is going to be a two part answer.

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#57: About Change and Daily Habits

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now” -old Chinese proverb

Yesterday, I pulled my little number, as usual, and found that the question for today is #57:  A year from now, what will you wish you had started today?  After thinking about this for the last day, as I do, I have come to the conclusion that this may very well be the most important question in this book.

Misty

This question was contributed by Misty Bastian Trammel, who lives a new-age hippie life in Oregon with her husband Jeffrey and two beautiful little girls.  She told me she was, “doing the usual regrets one day, wishing I had done something earlier (probably start a diet) and it occurred to me that if I didn’t do something about it NOW, I would have the same feelings of regret later. Not exactly an epiphany but It did stick with me and has been helpful in getting me motivated to start a few things. It works with short term goals as well. Asking yourself what you’ll regret tomorrow or next week if you don’t start it today can give you a push in the right direction.  The Now is always the best time to get going on the things you’d like to do.”

So true.  And like Misty says, it doesn’t have to be a big thing either.  Even a slight change in your daily habits can, over time, result in a major change in the trajectory of your life path.  You can never predict the results of the change either because one tiny adjustment in the way you walk through your day may lead to something completely unexpected that has a lasting result.

I can think of so many examples. I remember a woman once telling me about the decision she made to get rid of her television.  When I spoke to her, she and her husband were leading workshops on simple living and she would actually trace out the impact that that one small change had made on their lives; the massive amounts of money they saved as a result of spending less because they were not inundated with subtle ‘buy this’ messages, a better marriage, more health because they started spending time walking and cooking healthy food.

Think of some other tiny habit that you could change that might have some long-term impact.  Suppose you started a writing practice?  Suppose you got up half an hour earlier every day and read or meditated for half an hour?  Suppose you chose to get rid of one piece of physical or emotional clutter every day (a coincidence that my other blog is on that very topic)?  Suppose you started your day with a peaceful walk in your garden drinking a glass of water instead of grabbing a coffee and running out the door to work?  That’s what I did last winter.  I started getting up, putting on my big down coat, getting a glass of water and my big boots and walking my back forty two or three times.  Okay so my back forty is just the number of steps that it takes to walk from the edge of my deck to my big Colorado spruce about halfway down my backyard, but that very quiet and peaceful start to my day was a very pleasurable daily ritual.

Misty’s beautiful daughter, Donora

Back in 2005 when I was going through a terrible time, I started to journal.  It started on a whim.  One morning as I was getting ready for work I had Canada AM on and I heard a man talking about his battle with cancer.  He said at one point in his treatment that he thought to himself, “I can make a choice.  I can go on feeling this bad, I can die, or I can choose to live.”    He chose to live and that was twenty-five years before.  In 2005, he was 75.  I thought, “In 25 years, I’ll be the same age.  Do I want to feel this bad for 25 years?  Or do I want to be happy.”  I sat down and started journaling and I journaled every day for months after that.  Within a week of starting to journal, my life was starting to turn around.  Was it because of the journaling?  I don’t know but I know that I now have a record of my journey from desperation to happiness.  I still journal although not every day and I love to go back and read old entries.But back to the question:  A year from right now, what will I wish I had started today?  This implies that it’s an ongoing thing.  I could start all kinds of things but probably the one that would make the biggest long term impact on my life would be if I started to eat healthier and started to exercise.  It doesn’t even have to be a huge change.  I could start gradually and let my success with that lead to the next step.  I could begin right now with a healthy breakfast and a big glass of water.  I could begin with taking the dog for a walk.  Even a small change could lead to a potential weight loss of just half a pound or a pound a week—small change unless you remember that is 25 lbs or 52 pounds over the year.  That could have all kinds of residual effects:  less blood pressure meds, an increased likelihood of taking on some exciting new hobby like mountain climbing (okay, maybe not).

That is my answer and my commitment:  to start eating healthier, drinking more water, and moving more.  We’ll see what transpires.

#29 – About Failure

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work….Thomas Edison

Arrrrgh!

The quote by Thomas Edison is a great lead in to this next question:  #29–What was your single greatest personal failure?  Did it make you weaker or stronger?  What did you learn? How did you change?

I have to say, this question is one of those that, if I wasn’t pulling them out of a jar, I would probably put off answering.  Even though ‘failure’, like any other word,  is just a symbol representing a meaning that we have adopted as a tribe to apply to it, it carries so much baggage that it would be easy to come up with some blah-blah line that would get me off the hook.  I could say something like, “I don’t believe in failure.  Life is a series of experiments…some work and some don’t…blah blah blah.”  Or “The only failure is to give up trying…blah blah blah.”  Both of which are absolutely true and I could certainly write them with clear conscience.

However, the reality is also that when we try something and screw it up royally, as I, and probably you, have done, we do feel like we have ‘failed’.  We take on the baggage and we beat ourselves up, at least for a little while.  Then, hopefully, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start over—lesson learned.  Or at least if we are smart, lesson learned.  And I believe it is true that the real failure is if you DON’T pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start over.

But I’m going to take this question as it was intended—what is one thing that I did royally screw up and how did it affect me going forward?  Am I weaker or stronger for it?  Did I learn from it?  Did I change?

Actually this question is particularly relevant right now.  What I would call my single greatest failure has to do with money and taking care of it.  Back in 2000, I made a whole boatload of money in one month.  It happened to be a month that came just after a large contract came to an end, and all the people I had working for me had moved on to other opportunities, including the person who did the bookkeeping.  Now I’m not really a detail person.  I’m an idea person.  In fact, I remember once, at the height of my business, Shantelle, one of the great team who worked for me, wanted me to look something over and sign it.  I was busy and I said, “Okay just leave it there and I’ll sign it in a minute,” pointing to the corner of my messy desk.  She said, “Nope, I’m going to stand here and hold it till you sign it.”  She knew me.

So when I made that boatload of money, I failed to keep good records.  I failed to take care of it and invest it wisely.  I gave people things and lent money to people who asked–and never got it back.  I took a bunch of really interesting courses that required travelling all over the country.  I didn’t invoice and follow up when I should have.  Worst of all, I didn’t pay my taxes when I should have.

It took me a while to spend it all but I worked hard at it until I did.  And then it took me a while to get it all sorted out and the taxes paid.  That was my greatest personal failure.

What did I learn from it?  Well I should have learned to keep better records and pay attention to the details but that would probably require a whole personality transplant.  So the other day, facing the same kind of situation potentially, I thought about it and decided that what I need to do is work from my strengths and let someone else take over what I’m lousy at.  I need a bookkeeper.  And I need the bookkeeper in advance of when I earn a whole boatload of money again so that I’m ready next time and don’t replay the same old movie.

Anyone know a great, cheap bookkeeper and virtual assistant in Canada?  Preferably in Ontario?

 Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up…Thomas Edison