Goal Setting vs Serendipity

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We are told that to achieve what we wish for we need to set goals. By and large I think this is correct. However are we limiting our good fortune by being too specific in selecting the opportunities we think would suit us best and make us happy? An article written by Oliver Burkeman in New Philosopher opens up this topic by suggesting luck rules supreme in this journey. Oliver is a writer based in New York and is the winner of the Foreign Press Association’s Young Journalist of the Year. His contributions include exploring the upsides of negativity, uncertainty, failure and imperfection. Oliver,”If you’re the kind of person who considers yourself serially unlucky and who looks with envy at those irritating types who seem permanently blessed by Providence, I have excellent news. Your chances of experiencing a one in a million stroke of luck in the next few weeks is actually really high.”

We need to start with the proposition of British mathematician John Edensor Littlewood who calculated that the longer you are awake and active, the more experiences, coined as events, you will have in your life, and when crunching the numbers showed you can expect a one in a million miraculous experience roughly every 35 days. The premise suggests that something amazing will happen, but doesn’t tell us what! We all have hopes of that miracle we are waiting on to change our lives forever, to arrive. Littlewood’s calculations only tells us that something will occur therefore that miracle we are waiting on in all probability won’t eventuate. That particular miracle may not be probable at all.

The occurrence that will change our lives forever and the one that we focus on almost exclusively probably won’t occur. Oliver, “Unlikely things happen all the time. But when we dream of becoming more lucky, what we mean is that we want to experience certain specific things, usually in line with our existing goals for our lives. We want luck, but we want it in order to have our lives go the way we prefer, and thus, in a deeper sense, to remain in control. Which brings us to the paradox at the heart of luck. You can increase the amount of it in your life, but only by surrendering the very urge for control that leads you to want to increase it in the first place.” Follow the idea that you can’t directly influence individual lucky events, but you can expand the terrain on which they might occur. And, luck is directly proportional to the degree to which you do something you’re passionate about combined with the total number of people to whom this is effectively communicated.

These actions tell us if we really want to become lucky we should not try to control situations, be prepared to hazard our actions to chance and random opportunity, but at the same time find ways to increase our ground cover and connect in as many ways with as many people as possible. Or to express it as an equation, Luck = Doing X Telling. The premise is that we should care about what we’re doing and make sure people know about it. Don’t be selective about the right people as the point is we can’t know who is right. We must focus on creating the maximum numbers of opportunities for serendipitous encounters and not try to control how any given encounter unfolds. Oliver, “it’s the only way to exploit the potentially infinite number of opportunities you don’t already know about.” 

Giving up control is the most relevant idea in the search for maximising our chances to become luckily in life. The psychologist, Richard Wiseman writes, “Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives.” An example of Internet dating shows us that breaking free of control and criteria matching philosophy which flatters our urge for control by inviting us to select the traits we prefer so as to,” minimise the risk of a wasted night at a restaurant with the wrong type of person” is the wrong course to take. Rather being open and not closed to choice and taking the risk of a few wasted nights is the non-negotiable price of entry to a vastly larger pool of people, and alternative versions of the future it hadn’t even occurred to us we might enjoy.

Therefore if we really want to live lucky lives we must surrender control over how we achieve our goals, and the goals that we see as important for our future happiness and fulfillment. We must learn to understand that to focus intently on a singular or small number of goals closes the door to finding success through serendipitous occurrences available in any numbers on our journey through life. The business writer Stephen Shapiro says, “Opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly.”  It pays to keep in mind, too much focus on one goal, determined in advance, can blind us to more promising alternatives. Oliver says, ” Come to think of it, looking at things this way, isn’t it extraordinarily arrogant of us to imagine that we know what will make us happy and thus that we’re reliable judges of whether any given event counts as lucky or not.”

We’re prompted to think about our personal histories and remember any number of apparently bad experiences that turned out to be blessings in disguise, and seemingly wonderful events that soon turned sour. Then, that’s even before you begin to ask about all the ways in which your life is already sensationally lucky, compared to what might have been. Oliver concludes, “Ultimately, the key to living a lucky life may be to surrender your certainty that you know what a lucky life would look like. Which raises the intriguing possibility that you’re already living one.”

We now have the opportunity to adopt this style of goal setting. Rather than focus on a small number of goals, the idea to roam free and think about being non selective in our approach and being open to all sorts of communications with people of diverse interests and not necessarily aligned with ours will ensure we are giving ourselves every opportunity to strike it lucky. Thinking outside the box provides us with the power to increase our opportunities for reward and happiness. Statistics are on our side.

Accept the premise some hopes are simply not probable and let luck guide you to your target (knowing now how to increase your luck). Also hand in hand with this idea we must learn to avoid control in all its forms. If we concentrate on increasing the number of communications we engage in then our views on luck will change for the better. And remember at all times that we could be already living a lucky life.

Hayley James.

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