Strive To Be Lucky
Strive To Be Lucky
Luck, says Dr. Stuart Walker, is a fundamental, but manageable element of every race. "Strategy" from our October 2009 issue.
When Paul Elvström raced with Aage Birch for the Dragon Gold Cup at Marstrand, Sweden, in 1958, he decided that Sergio Sorrentino, of Italy, was the fastest and that they were the next fastest. The Cup would be won by whoever won the final race, and on the final beat of that race, they alternately crossed each other until, “by pure luck,” according to Elvström, Sorrentino crossed the finish line ahead.
“When things go like that, and it is luck who would win, then we know that and we don’t have to be disappointed,” he said. Elvström’s confidence, his trust in himself, his remembrance of all the times
he had won, assured him that he should have won, that only luck could enable a competitor to beat him!
The attribution of an outcome to luck is a means of expressing an unwillingness on the one hand to assume responsibility for a success or on the other hand to take the blame for a mistake. But it is also a means of retaining power. It’s not that I lost control and that you controlled me; it’s just that this time luck [a higher power, totally unrelated to me or you] usurped my usual control.
We give lip service to the fun of participating in a story filled with surprises and of accepting the role of luck in the outcome, although our actual purpose—disguised, deep down, hidden from view—is to control the entire game and to beat the hell out of our opponents. (Just don’t let anybody know.) We do not actually believe in luck, but we know that it’s better to have luck on our side than against us.
The confident feel lucky; they presume that things will go their way. And expecting the best, they assume that whatever has happened has happened for the best. They rig the past to make themselves look good and after a mistake or a failure they proceed to get on with the race and the series without undue condemnation. Free of preoccupation with irrelevant matters, they are alert to what does matter.
Research shows that bronze medal winners are happier than silver medal winners: silver medal winners regret just missing the gold while bronze medal winners relish just making the podium.
Richard Wiseman (The Luck Factor) compared the lucky with the unlucky and found that the lucky used such counter-factual thinking to ease the impact of misfortune, seized chance opportunities, were pleased by their condition (whatever it was), and presumed that they would be fortunate. He found that the unlucky missed opportunities because they were preoccupied—with the past, with the future, with their inadequacies, with feeling unlucky—while the lucky saw the opportunity that was there. Luck goes to the confident, those who feel lucky.
Of course, our inability to predict the course and outcome of an event does not mean that it was determined by luck. If we could feed all the variables into a computer of sufficient capacity, it could predict every vicissitude of an event and the finishing position of every competitor. Just because we cannot predict precisely when a wind shift will reach us, or whether a lineman’s shoulder will be forced to the left or the right as he is hit, or that a golf ball will land on a pebble that deflects it to the right, does not mean that such events are not predictable. It merely means that we cannot predict them. We deny predetermination because it conflicts with our wish to be in control of, rather than to be controlled by, predictable events.
However, we like to believe we have free will and that we, if not in control, at least have the capacity to be in control, and that luck explains whatever we fail to control. Instances abound of coincidences and surprises that seem to justify these presumptions and account both for the acceptance of luck and its frequent utilization as a psychological defense.
Consider, for instance, the luck involved in the winning of the Olympic gold medal in the Dragon Class at Kiel, Germany, in 1972. Afer the racing was over, John Cuneo, wishing to show his appreciation, invited the team meteorologist to come aboard his boat to see how he had used the plastic overlays that the met man had provided. But the met man was horrified to find that Cuneo had won the gold medal by overlaying his daily wind predictions on a deck mounted chart, upside down!