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Are things really easier for other people?

A huge theme in my book is how easy it is for people to give up prematurely. Not even trying something, or giving up, is probably the easiest thing in the world to do. When we get an idea of how much or what we have to accomplish to get to where we want to go, the things that stick out are what’s hard for us. The fact that bad information is stronger that good information makes sense from a survival standpoint – one mistake and we’re out of the gene pool – but focusing on this is a recipe for all kinds of mental health woes.

Years ago, when I wanted to be a science writer, I was insanely jealous of Jonah Lehrer. I figured things were easy for him because he went to an Ivy League school and had great mentors. His book was well-reviewed, he had these great assignments, and he blogged for The New Yorker and Wired. But I didn’t see the things that were hard for him. Other people don’t advertise or blog about the things that are hard for them.

It’s the classic idea that you’re comparing your insides to other people’s outsides, also called the Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry.

What I got from your book, and this conversation, is that luck really doesn’t exist. It’s a made-up construct to explain people who are just trying harder and paying closer attention to how the lazy brains around them are making decisions.
In a way, sure. It’s really tempting to think everything that happens is out of my control. Because that absolves us of the hard work. And it’s easy to think that because we don’t see it.

Just thinking “this thing I want to accomplish is easier for other people!” and that’s enough to decrease your motivation—and in the end, it’s all about motivation: how motivated you are to keep going, try that thing, get better, reach out to people, maintain social connections, and focus on actions that will yield larger rewards in the more distant future.

When we don’t think that our actions will make a difference, we’re less likely to act at all, which is one reason why it’s more adaptive to believe that you can control your future.

Thinking that things are easier for other people can make our desired future feel impossibly far away, decreasing our motivation. Are things easier for other people? Yes, they are. But focusing on how you think life is unfair will merely drive you crazy.

But the flipside is that plenty of things in life are easier for you, too — you just don’t see them. People don’t see their own good luck because they simply don’t have to spend time or energy overcoming certain barriers. Is it a privilege to be a white male? You don’t think it is when you’re fixated on the hardships in your own life.

Do I feel privileged? Not on a daily basis. But the more people I speak with who have different backgrounds and daily experiences, and the more research I read about how different other people’s daily experiences are, the more I understand what things are easier for me. Unless I exercised intellectual humility and a genuine interest in other people’s perspectives, I’d mistakenly think that other people’s experiences are just like mine—only with minor tweaks. The fact that some things never even occur to it never occurs to us that some things are even obstacles is what makes them easy.

It’s easy to dismiss other people’s concerns as being “in their head” because we lack their perspective and can’t appreciate how much other factors really are obstacles to other people.

tl;dr Yes, other things are easier for some people. But fixating on that will drive you crazy and decrease your motivation to do awesome things.

In the wild

A friend just emailed to say that he received a copy of my book in the mail! Which means: other people who are neither me nor my family can see it!

My book has officially been published! Click here if you want to read the Cliff Notes version of its journey on Facebook.

So far, it’s been called “charming” by someone who is not my mother. I am so happy. I’m also happy that over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting things that were left on the cutting room floor. Yes, there’s more luck ahead!

The Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang Principle of Science Writing

One of the reasons I took so long to finish my book was that, in reverse-engineering books I considered to be “good,” I kept coming across a very annoying, common feature that is best encapsulated in the lyrics of Dr. Dre’s seminal 1992 classic, “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang,” featuring Snoop Dogg:

It’s like this and like that and like this. In books, it usually emerges as: “Often, the brain/intuition/motivation/that guy/hiring appears to work like [this]. Except, of course, when it functions like [that].”

The most prominent example of the “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang Principle” in pop science writing is arguably in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: “Sometimes, intuition is smart! Except, of course, when it’s not!” Sometimes, science has it figured out! Except when it doesn’t! Sometimes, being messy is good! Except when it’s not!

I’m not arguing against acknowledging the inherent complexities of the world, but these books are frustrating because they’re often accompanied by a lack of cohesion between the sides. Understanding why intuition works well sometimes and why it doesn’t—not just the fact that it works better than others—is precisely what’s needed to present a coherent idea and help readers figure out how to implement these ideas in their own lives.

It took me so long to finish my book because I kept researching until I felt like I understood why some things and people seemed to get lucky or unlucky all the time. We all know that some people do get lucky more often than others, but I wanted to know why.

Knowing the why is important because it serves as the foundation and connective tissue for all the material. We all know that life is complex, but knowing why is what allows us to take action.

As Adam Alter wrote in Drunk Tank Pink:

“At its heart, this book is designed to show that your mind is the collective end point of a billion tiny butterfly effects. Your thoughts, feelings, and actions are the products of chaotic chain reactions, fueled in no small part by the nine forces described in this book. Human behavior is hard to predict, then, in part because it’s so sensitive to each wing beat of Lorenz’s proverbial butterfly.”

All outcomes are really the end point of a billion tiny butterfly effects, and even though the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts, one of the aims of science is to offer insight through the very the act of identifying those parts.

Want a great book to read this summer? Learn to be lucky!

I’m so happy that Inc.’s contributing editor Jeff Haden has included Can You Learn to Be Lucky? Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others in his roundup of “5 Great New Business Books to Read This Summer.”

I’ve talked to a lot of incredibly successful people. They all credit luck for at least part of their success. Yet when they do, I often think, “Wait… that wasn’t luck. You put yourself in that position.” Or, “You worked hard to build those connections.” Or, “You got that break because you refused to quit.”

You get the point. Total luck sometimes happens, but more often people get “lucky” because of things they did.

Using a blend of research and cool stories, Karla shows we can all learn to be a little luckier.

And that’s a skill we all can use.

Consider the nail squarely hit on the head: we can’t control every external variable in life—if our résumé was picked, if the other person thought the date went well, where we went to grammar school, or if we were given a subpar piece of equipment on game day. Actually, we can’t control anything beyond ourselves.

That’s why it’s how we habitually respond to the world and what we do while there that winds up determining our overall trajectory and who ends up breaking through.

Thank you, Jeff!!

Ready to get lucky?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

® 2012-2018 Karla Starr | All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Can You Learn to be Lucky: Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others by Karla Starr

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