Everyone has had a week when nothing goes right. You put your foot in your mouth at a meeting, wear shoes you regret by lunch, miss a friend’s birthday dinner and drop your phone in a puddle.
It is possible to turn around the momentum in a terrible week. You can’t fend off all bad luck, but if you change your reaction, it can have a very powerful effect.
Technology executive Sonita Lontoh made an effort to stay calm earlier this month when a string of mishaps disrupted a trip to Albany, N.Y., where she was set to make a presentation. A flight delay caused her to miss her connecting flight in Chicago. The airline refused to retrieve her bags or pay for a hotel, so she found a room and checked in sans fresh clothing. Just as she was getting ready to fall asleep, she spilled a glass of water on her phone, cutting off access to her work email.
The next morning, she raced to catch an early flight and left her laptop charger in the hotel room. Arriving in Albany, she was told her luggage was still in Chicago. “I really wanted to just scream and lose it, but I told myself that would make me even more stressed out,” says Ms. Lontoh, who lives in San Francisco.
Rather than panicking, she took concrete steps to regain control. She hurried to a store, bought a new outfit and freshened up in a public restroom. By remaining calm, she says, “you handle yourself better, and you handle the other person better,” making others more likely to help. And staying calm also frees you to “focus on the task at hand and have faith that things will work out in the end.”
One way she calmed herself was by looking in the mirror and shifting her focus away from the mishaps to a more optimistic view: “Sonita, this is just another morning,” she told herself. “Everything will work out.” She made the meeting, borrowed a laptop charger, and her presentation went well.
Mishaps make people feel anxious and uncertain, and often lead them to look for patterns as a way to regain a sense of control, according to a 2008 study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Northwestern University.
At these moments, it is worth remembering that misfortune is often a random event. There is always a probability that several bad things will happen at once, says Jane. L. Risen, an associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a researcher on judgment and magical thinking.
Many people, however, have a tendency to see cause-and-effect relationships where there are none. They might interpret neutral events as negative or fall back on a magical belief, such as, “I’m being punished by the universe.”
People who see themselves as lucky might also engage in counterfactual thinking of a different sort. They imagine worse things that might have happened but didn’t, and feel grateful, according to an oft-cited study of 400 people years ago by British researcher Richard Wiseman. If another car crushes your back fender, soften the blow by thinking, “I’m lucky my car wasn’t totaled.”
Bad luck may seem to follow when someone tempts fate. Dan Blank had a bad week that seemed to begin immediately after a friend observed that his 10-year-old Jeep never seemed to need repairs. “What are you doing?” Mr. Blank fired back. “Everybody knows you don’t mess with a streak” by talking about it. The Jeep’s radiator gave out the next day, requiring a $600 repair.
The likelihood, of course, was already high that the Jeep would need repairs. Still, Mr. Blank, a former university soccer coach in Port Charlotte, Fla., and author of “Soccer IQ,” saw his friend’s comments as a jinx. And things actually did get worse. In the next few days, Mr. Blank’s credit card was stolen, he lost a book manuscript in a computer crash, he sprained his ankle playing soccer and he had a bad first (and last) date.
When Mr. Blank took his motorboat out on Florida’s Intercoastal Waterway to relax, the steering locked during a sharp turn and the boat went spinning in circles, “like I was being flushed down a toilet,” he says. He cut the engine and called a tow boat, while onlookers at a nearby waterfront bar laughed and hooted.
“I started thinking that if I was watching a movie and all this was happening to somebody else, I’d be laughing,” says Mr. Blank of the week. Years later, he still hasn’t forgotten it. “What have I done to bring this on myself?” he wondered. “I’d had such smooth sailing for a long time, I guess it was just my turn.”
At times we get so rattled by a bit of bad luck that we make things worse. A belief that you are unlucky has been linked to deficits in decision-making skills, self-control and shifting from one task to another, according to a 2013 study led by John Maltby, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Leicester in England.
In a series of four studies, the researchers asked 334 participants whether they believed they were lucky or unlucky, then surveyed or tested them on several cognitive tasks related to executive functioning, the high-level mental processes involved in pursuing and achieving goals.
Participants who believed they were unlucky saw themselves as lacking in executive-function skills. They performed poorly on timed task-switching tests, which required them to classify letters, digits or symbols in a random stream of characters, as well as on a test of their ability to control impulsive responses and a gambling task that tested their ability to learn from mistakes and make wise decisions. It wasn’t clear which condition–feeling unlucky or lacking mental skills–caused the other, but researchers wrote the relationship might go both ways.
Miranda Marquit a freelance writer and blogger from Idaho Falls, Idaho, says a recent bad week started when she interviewed poorly with a prospective client. Unnerved, she was a little too aggressive on her next call, when she tried but failed to persuade a potential donor to contribute to a professional conference she helps organize. “The negative thoughts started snowballing,” she recalls. She missed a deadline the next day. Then, while fencing with her 13-year-old son, she fell and shattered her wrist, requiring surgery plus six to eight weeks to recover.
Ms. Marquit couldn’t afford to sit around, so she turned her thoughts to positive steps she could take. She decided to try dictation software, which enabled her to get back to work. She took comfort in thinking about her network of family members and friends, who would type for her if necessary. She credits her positive attitude as the reason she’s recovering faster than expected.
Research has found that thinking about cherished values can allay stress and improve performance on challenging tasks. Participants in the UT-Northwestern study were less rattled, and less likely to see imaginary patterns in their misfortune, when they were given an assignment that allowed them to affirm values that were important to them, researchers found. Other studies have shown that students who write about things they value before a high-stakes exam tend to perform better.
Another helpful technique is mental time travel, Dr. Risen says. Imagine yourself in the future; think about how, after the misfortune is over, you’ll have a good story to tell.
Superstitious rituals, such as knocking on wood, can actually help, by instilling positive expectations. Some rituals encompass a phenomenon called embodied cognition, wherein a person’s thinking is shaped by his or her physical movements. The pushing-away motion involved in knocking on wood, or simply throwing a ball away from one’s body, causes people to visualize anticipated misfortunes as less likely to happen, according to a 2013 study co-authored by Dr. Risen. Similarly, wearing a good-luck talisman or picking a four-leaf clover may create positive expectations, as if you’re shielding yourself from bad luck or drawing good fortune your way.
Article Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/having-a-bad-week-tricks-for-turning-it-around-1461690636
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