Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Serendipity: Are You a 10?
“In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.” Louis Pasteur.
Whether it was Christopher Columbus on his way to India (and we know where he ended up), US Navy engineer and Slinky inventor, Richard T. James, who, while working with torsion springs, observed the motion of the spring as it fell from his table, or Chocolate Chip Cookie creator, Ruth Wakefield, who intended to make chocolate drop cookies, and resorted to putting broken chocolate pieces in her cookies (because that is all she had), these people all had one thing in common in their respective serendipitous discoveries: an open observational mind.
As a coach, an artist, and art therapist, chance discoveries and serendipitous happenstance are part of the creative art process; mini inventions take place all the time. Ask any student of mine and they will tell you that music to my ears is when in front of the canvas, he/she says: “I have no idea what I am doing.” This is synonymous with an open mind. We WANT to bypass the thinking/logical/rational brain and allow the creative/intuitive/imaginative brain to fully emerge, unfiltered, uncensored. In art therapy sessions, the unrestricted image will always reveal profound insights to the creator. It is serendipitous law.
Many people will dismiss serendipity as coincidence; many feel uncomfortable with experiences that are not clearly and logically explained. And there are some who acknowledge that things happen for a reason or that they were in the right place at the right time. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being completely open, consider taking a moment to reflect on where you stand on your openness to serendipity.
Ben Fletcher, a University of Hertfordshire psychologist, suggests we: “Do something different,” to break behavioral patterns that have kept us from being open to possibilities. “People’s lives can be absolutely transformed by being nudged along a slightly altered route,” Fletcher says. In this month’s Psychology Today, contributing writer, Rebecca Webber prompts us to check in with our mood. Researchers at the University of Toronto found evidenced based proof “that people in good moods actually take in more visual information, while those in bad moods don’t see as much around them.”
When our minds are occupied with workplace struggles, burdens, or unemployment, we so limit the opportunities in front of us. We angst about not getting a call back from a desired employment opportunity, and that angst festers and erodes our ability to attend the next networking event, to make the next call to a prospective organization, or to spend some time networking on social media. Fletcher concedes: “Most successful business people are also failed business people. The key factor is that they go after fortuitous moments, and they are not put off by failure once or twice.”
Last June, I met colleague and “The How of Happiness” author, Sonja Lyubomirsky at the International Positive Psychology First World Congress. Sonja says: “Sometimes there is a short-term cost, in terms of your resources or time or stress…but you get a long term benefit.” Another fellow Positive Psychology colleague, Todd Kashdan, author of a great book: “Curious,” says that as we age, we become rigid thinkers, whereas, “People in their teens and 20’s tend to be open because they are discovering who they are as a person.”
As a College Psychology professor and Career Coach who works with my growing specialty with the 20-somethings, who are just entering the marketplace, I see firsthand the willingness of students and clients to be open to possibilities and opportunities. I love Shakespeare’s offering in Henry V: “All things be ready if our minds be so.”
Understanding the psychology of what is behind the human thought and behavior of our “stuff” that limits us to serendipitous and fortuitous happenings, is the first step in forging remarkable lives of personal and professional well-being. Once we identify the head chatter that drowns out our intuition – be it our own monkey mind or our mother’s voice - we have an incredible availability of choices and opportunities that will literally seem to fall into our laps. I promise.
Take a mindful risk. Prepare your mind for chance. And please let me know how your experiences next week turn out for you with an openness of “10” on your mood scale. Kashdan explains: “If we wait until all negative emotions disappear, we’re never going to go anywhere.” And as the beloved and playful Dr. Seuss might say, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”