The harder I practise, the luckier I get


This famous quote was first said by the brilliant South African golfer Gary Player, but, like the very best quotes, it is of course not just applicable to golf, or even sport, but to the whole of life itself.

“The harder I practise, the luckier I get.”

These should be words that we all say to ourselves every single morning. Say them to your friends, your children, your loved ones. Hell, why not shout them at full volume in the shower!

Because luck is a funny thing. Of course, we can all get lucky. Chance, fate, fortune, call it what you will, dominates our every moment. Meeting our ideal partner – luck. Landing that great job – it’s luck we got to hear about it in the first place.

But here’s the rub. If you talk to your average optimist, that person who embodies positive thinking, they may say, “well, of course, I’ve been very lucky in my life.”

Whereas, talk to a pessimist (you can probably see where this is going) and they may well say:

“I just never had the chances.”

“Other people are just so lucky. It isn’t fair.”

“I could have done much better/met the right person/made more money/been happier, but other people seem to get more breaks than I did.”

Why is this? It’s really a question of outlook. Very often, when we are feeling as though life has treated us very unfairly, we end up comparing ourselves to others and resenting them for what we perceive to be their success. “It’s not fair, they were so much luckier than I was” we may think. But the truth is, despite what optimistic types may say, their success and happiness is rarely just down to luck. What they actually did was work on their happiness, worked out what was in their power to do in order to change their circumstances, to create the very best opportunities.

All this is not meant to be some diatribe against the need for society to focus on those who need support. Of course, some people have dramatically better chances at wealth than others, based on historic and frankly unfair privilege.

That is not what this is about. It is about making ourselves be positive and make the best of the circumstances we have. And if that involves fighting for a fairer world, that is absolutely what we should do.

So let’s go back to luck, to getting lucky. How can we actually ‘get luckier’ as Gary Player said, through practice? Surely that’s actually impossible?

Well, no, it isn’t. In the case of sport, let’s consider the tennis player. That tennis player who aspires to be number one in the world. They practise, and practise, and practise. Yes, there are natural gifts at play here; without those, it’s unlikely this tennis player would have formed the aspiration in the first place. For those determined to make it, each aspect of the game of tennis is scrutinised, and years and years of practice and training and honing goes into to creating their very best game.

When it comes to the big match itself, this happens: during a tense rally, the ball happens to slip over the net onto the other side of the court, when it looked as though it could go either way, making it impossible for the opponent to return.

That piece of luck can be the difference between winning or losing the match. But if our hero goes on to win the match, it wasn’t just down to luck. The rest was the result of hard work and practice. Luck played only a small part.

So, we come to the player who has not worked so hard. They will still get these lucky shots, but they will not make the difference because the groundwork wasn’t there in the first place. So, this less hard-working, committed player, doesn’t feel lucky, because luck didn’t make the difference. Therefore, despite having enjoyed similar levels of luck to other players, their perception may be that they weren’t lucky, because luck did not push them to eventual success. They may have had luck, but they don’t feel its benefits.

Compare this scenario, then, with life. The person who is happy in their work may modestly attribute their happiness to luck – and they will of course have enjoyed a lucky break or two – but, recognising an opportunity for what it is, they will have created a situation to capitalise on their good fortune, rather than the pessimist who is so sunk in negativity that they are unable to seize a good chance when it comes their way.

By positive thinking, we really can create luck. We can recognise it, savour it, take it for our own.

Because life is beautiful.

You just have to learn to see that.