Early in life, I made a decision to be in control of my career. I decided I wanted to work for the Foreign Service so I could travel and live a life of adventure. I applied but didn’t pass the foreign language aptitude test. But I refused to let this stop me from pursuing my path; I wanted to live an exciting life, so I turned my attention toward the FBI.
Within six months I was hired as an FBI agent—a record in speedy recruitment. The average waiting list is three years. I had people walk up to me and say, “You were very lucky.” But no, I don’t think so.
It’s not that I don’t believe luck doesn’t exist; it’s just that I think it can be created and controlled. Luck happens when we seize opportunities to improve ourselves and our situation. It definitely doesn’t happen if we silently wait and hope for our lives to change.
I wanted to be in control of where I took my life—not a passive spectator. Things don’t always go according to plan. My failure with the Foreign Service is only one example of where life has not always unfolded in the direction or manner that I wanted. When disappointments, roadblocks, barriers, or obstacles kept me from my path, I took them as opportunities to re-evaluate both my plan and my options.
If you are a startup or business owner, it is impossible to be in control of markets, competition, and economic downturns. You can’t predict setbacks and adversity that show up in life, but this is exactly when you need to be in control of your own emotions, thoughts, and behavior so you can manage them in ways that will allow you to keep moving forward. In other words, you need mental toughness.
Here are 4 ways you can be in control of your own life:
1. Focus On A Game Plan, Not Goals
We live in a very goal-oriented society. Once we achieve our goal we feel terrific, but then there is the realization that we have just lost the thing that gives us direction. Goals are temporary and short-term; if we’re not careful, they can be too rigid to change with circumstances. If we’re too wedded to them, we won’t be able to adapt to those changes.
If I’d continued to beat my head against the closed door at the Foreign Service, I would have gained nothing but blood and bruises. That is not mental toughness; that is being stupid.
Often, goals need to change as new information becomes available. So while your approach might shift from time to time, your game plan never does.
Goals are essential if progress is to be made in life, but we are tempted to let them take the place of the bigger picture. Once they do, it’s hard to pivot and move in a new direction when events take an unexpected turn.
Goals are a measure of where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way and impede our progress.
How To Make It Work For You: Our game plan should be hitched to the things in life that give us value and meaning. Your purpose will not change, even if your circumstances do. When confronted with obstacles, keep your eye on your purpose but be prepared to let go of your vision of an immediate goal in order to get there. Other, more expansive goals might become available as you move forward.
2. Work At Ways To Remain Positive
Living on a cattle ranch, I had a couple of different options on how I looked at cow turds. Either something to be avoided or something to be used. When dry, they make excellent frisbees, and they are also dynamite fertilizer for the garden!
If you are positive about the events in your life, you are more alert to the possibilities that whiz around you every day. People who are positive and in good moods actually take in more visual information, while those in bad moods don’t see as much around them.
Always look for opportunities. Luck happens because you’re motivated to take the steps necessary to succeed. You make it easier for luck to find you because you are more open to life’s forking paths, and see possibilities that others miss.
How To Make It Work For You: The best way to train your brain to think differently is to change your attitude. Respond to negative thoughts with something more positive. Instead of saying, “I’m going to mess this up,” say something like, “This is my chance to shine and I’m going to do my best.” Changing your internal conversations can be powerful if you want to change your life.
3. Foster Mental Flexibility
Luck tends to smile on folks who have a more relaxed approach to life. They have clarity of purpose and don’t worry too much about the details. For example, rather than aiming to become the top cardiac surgeon at Johns Hopkins, they vow to be a doctor who helps save lives.
If you’re a flexible thinker, you consider a range of different possible consequences of your actions rather than categorizing them as either positive or negative. You are also more likely to consider both optimistic and pessimistic explanations for other people’s behavior. For example, maybe a lack of understanding indicates someone isn’t paying attention, but maybe not. If you consider both options, you will not automatically assume something is negative.
How To Make It Work For You: If you tend to be either optimistic or pessimistic, remember to factor this in when you’re thinking about things. It is a reminder to yourself to consider the other side of the coin.
4. Move Out Of Your Shell
Researchers have found that people who call themselves lucky are more likely to be extroverts. Because extroverts are curious about others, they are more likely to have opportunities present themselves since they not only meet lots of new people, they also keep in touch with a larger group of friends.
Whether or not you are an extrovert, you can still be curious about your environment and the people around you. Inquisitiveness is one of the most important traits of mental toughness. It is having the curiosity to see beyond your current circumstances so you can create your own luck and move forward. In one study out of the University of Edinburgh, researchers found that those of average intelligence who are curious and conscientious do just as well in school as those thought to have greater intelligence.
How To Make It Work For You: Ask questions. We tend to associate questions with childlike behavior so as we grow older, we want to be the expert rather than the student. Be a student and ask questions! When you learn something new, express an opinion about it and ask why. Why is Italy your favorite foreign country? How do you make kale taste good? Why do you like your job? Explore by the use of questions and once you’ve got an answer, reflect on what you have learned.