Attitude and Odds

Posted on July 8, 2014 by Robert Ringer


Billionaire J. Paul Getty was once asked to write a magazine article about how he became so rich, to which he responded, “Some people find oil. Others don’t.” Talk about playing into the hands of randomness advocates. I acknowledge that there’s a lot of luck involved in the way life turns out. But luck isn’t the only factor in the equation of life, so it’s unwise to depend on luck to guide your destiny.

The law of averages determines the long-term inevitability of things, i.e., it establishes odds. However, when it comes to the human experience, there’s an important additional factor to consider. Human beings, unlike any other species, are much more than just conscious creatures. Human beings can plot, plan, conceptualize, and even will things to happen. Unlike the flipping of a coin, human beings have the capacity to alter events.

In other words, a human being has the power of choice. He can decide to drive slower and lessen his chances of being on the wrong side of the law of averages. He can decide not to smoke and decrease his odds of dying of lung cancer. He can decide which business deal to work on and try to improve his chances for success. He can decide to stay single or get married, go skiing or just hide under his bed.

But whatever decisions he makes — whatever his choices — they will have a great deal to do with his odds versus the overall odds of the general population dictated by the law of averages.

To be sure, randomness and inevitability will always take their toll. But you have been given the power to intervene, to affect the odds in your specific case.William James was unequivocal on this point when he stated, “The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

I thought about James’s quote when I read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning many years ago. Frankl was a world-renowned Austrian psychiatrist who followed in the footsteps of fellow Austrians Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. The most remarkable thing about Viktor Frankl was that the majority of his remarkable accomplishments in the field of psychiatry came after he had spent three horrifying years in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl recounted, in vivid detail, the trauma, the degradation, and the suffering he endured during his incarceration by the Nazis. He described trudging through snow, ice, and mud, with no socks on his feet — frostbitten toes sticking through the holes in his shoes.

He recounted how the Nazis tormented him, beating him and hitting him on the back of the head with rifle butts, and what it was like to see friends and relatives stuffed into gas chambers or buried alive. Then, at the end of each brutal, agonizing day, sick from the pangs of starvation, he and his fellow prisoners would be given a cup of watered-down soup, with a single pea at the bottom of the cup, as their daily ration. He told of even having to sleep in his own excrement.

But perhaps the most fascinating reflection of all by this remarkable man who managed to survive three years of indescribable torture in Nazi concentration camps is when he stated, in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everyth­ing can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Throughout Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl emphasized that attitude was an essential, shared element among those who survived Auschwitz and Dachau. I was so impressed with Frankl’s emphasis on attitude as the key to his survival that it prompted me to take a closer look at the phenomenon commonly referred to as “positive mental attitude.”

I am still of the opinion that most people who expound the virtues of maintaining a positive mental attitude do not have a clear understanding of what it really means. In fact, when I was much younger, I was very cynical about people who advocated PMA, because those who most vociferously promoted its powers often seemed to be advocating a superficial approach.

Worse, I noted that this artificial approach often backfired over the long term. The problem is that if a person merely smiles and makes superficial proclamations about his attitude, or paints on a happy face and inundates everyone around him with positive statements, he is likely to become disenchanted with PMA at the first sign of failure.

To sustain a true positive mental attitude, you must do more than just artificially hype yourself. You must analyze and understand exactly what a positive mental attitude is and how and why it works.

Because atoms vibrate at tremendous speeds, and because all atoms are connected, it makes sense that a person’s thoughts have the power to attract to him the things, people, and circumstances he envisions. A true positive mental attitude is based on science, not mysticism.

Therefore, theoretically speaking, our limitations are pretty much where we choose to place them. I use the term theoretically, because a positive mental attitude doesn’t give you omnipotence. But to the extent having a positive mind-set becomes a way of life for you, one thing is certain: You will have a better chance of succeeding at anything you undertake.

Make no mistake about it, Viktor Frankl’s positive attitude didn’t guarantee his survival in Auschwitz and Dachau, but it did guarantee that his odds would be much better than if his mind had been negative regarding the possibility of survival.

Put another way, while we are never free from the inevitabilities of life — illness, accidents, natural disasters, and the like — we are free to choose our attitude toward them. And in so doing, we can at a minimum swing the odds in our favor and dramatically increase our chances for success.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

18 responses to “Attitude and Odds”

  1. RAM says:

    Well stated! Goes back in part to two old adages: "The harder you work, the luckier you get." And, "it's better to be lucky than smart." The current headmaster of the White House, the Kid from Kenya, would introduce such elements as "sly" and "devious" and "crafty" but I will stick with "hard work" and "lucky." RAM

    • Murray Suid says:

      Are you saying that President Obama would advise that people be devious and crafty? I haven't got that message from him, but maybe I'm not looking in the right place. I do recall an earlier president suggesting that the mission was accomplished when in reality it wasn't. To me, that looks like deviousness.

      Really, I wonder why it makes sense to even bring up the President as a response to Mr. Ringer's analysis. Obviously–and luckily–we live in a country where people are free to express their opinions. But I don't get the context.

      Also, are you implying that President Obama hasn't worked hard in his life?

      • Jean says:

        If you really scrutinize Pres. Obama's resume, you may come to that conclusion. His singular achievement seems to have been graduation from an Ivy League university. After that, he goes downhill. First, he worked as an adjunct professor of constitutional law. As such, he never was required to publish anything, never had anything peer reviewed, so his actual grasp of constitutional law is sketchy at best. Second, he worked as a "community organizer." The New York Times published what was meant to be a glowing report concerning this phase of his life – what they came up with was that he showed up for a project that had been initiated by two residents of one Chicago public housing community, worked for a year and left the project prior to anything being resolved. The two residents actually completed the project. As an Illinois state senator, his record shows that he voted "present" most of the time, only signing his name in the affirmative to the bill stating that physicians aren't required to provide palliative or compassionate care to babies that survive an abortion. I've written stronger resumes for elementary school teachers and Home Depot store managers.

        • Phil says:

          Agree, though I would suspect many elementary school teacher and Home Depot store managers produce a more useful product than 99% of the politicos and govt. employees. Don't find any irony there.

      • Ragnar says:

        You are always funny dude – name one product Obama has put into the market place that anyone bought on a voluntary basis. He knows how to coerce, that's it. Does he work hard – yes at spending other peoples money, which is not really very hard. Want to test it – give me your money and I'll show you how easy it is. In that regard he is no different than any other office holder. So it not just him but the whole operation of the state.

      • Ferd Berfel says:

        I have never seen him work at all a day in his life. A product of affirmative action which promotes people, not by their effort, but by the color of their skin. He is the example for ending it He has never accomplished anything. That is why he constantly says you can't be successful without help. He is the embodiment of using others to get ahead, especially when they will do it because of your skin color. It keeps things simple (stupid) and punishes those who work hard for their success. Ain't it grand.

  2. larajf says:

    I think it helped me the most when I realized that a situation was neither good nor bad, but it was my perception of it. Now, that's simplistic as well….but I think the majority of situations a common person runs up against can be neutralized if we just choose to find the lesson (the good) in the situation.

  3. Paul Anthony says:

    Attitude is vitally important, but the old saying "attitude is everything" is not quite true. Seeing opportunity is the first step to success, but success still requires taking action. As someone said "You can't plow a field by turning it over in your mind".
    Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is a nightmare.
    Expect good things to happen, figure out what you can do to make them happen, and then do what must be done.

  4. Tex says:

    In 1970, I'd just gone through a financially and mentally devastating divorce. Talk about feeling "down." Then one day, I realized most folks simple react to daily life rather than create it for themselves.

    For example, most folks simply respond "fine" when greeted with a "How are you?" To get myself out of the doldrums, I decided I would henceforth respond with a resounding "Super!" At first, I got some rather strange looks. As time passed, I really felt as though I was "super" instead of just fine.

    For whatever reason, that was all I had to do to get myself out of a slump. I never tried to dissect it or, as you opined, "…you must really analyze and understand exactly what PMA is and how and why it works."

  5. John E. Gabor says:

    Interesting follow-up to the folks that go around telling everyone how great they are. If you watch and listen you can learn a lot from the successful people with whom you get to share some time.

  6. Phil says:

    Frankl's book is well worth the read when in a funk. Always reminds me of the truism that it is up to us to determine how we respond to life. Facts are facts, but we have the ability to perceive them in a way beneficial to ourselves and those we love.

  7. Rich Lee Van says:

    Viktor Frankl's MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING is a "must read" for thinking people. I went on to read his fat book on Logotherapy, THE DOCTOR AND THE SOUL. Human mind is wonderful, when USED. That is what is UNequal about people. Intellect coupled with character. Which is the problem with political leaders from top to bottom. currently the top gun is the bottom rung! And makes many of us (w)ring our hands! Alas! BUT, I contend, all is CYCLES! What has been will come again and vice versa! I would like to be in a position to psychoanalize all Persons of Political Power to see why they are as they are! That would, I do believe, tell the story! First the temperament they are born with, then the conditioning factors that follow. Imagine the Story of Putin the Powerful!

  8. Robby Bonfire says:

    One of the most infantile, dark ages superstitious positions anyone can take is to try to play off "luck" vs. "being smart," as in "I'd rather be lucky than smart," or, in a sporting context "I'd rather be lucky than good."

    First of all, trusting in "luck" is as lazy and uniformed a.k.a. "ignorant" as it gets. Regression to the mean parcels it out, randomly, over time. Understanding this, wise people develop skills that separate them from the unwashed, superstitious masses who think the next scratch card they buy will put them on "Easy Street," because they are "special" or favored by a "Deity in the sky," etc.

    Developed skills come from hard work, not "luck," and can take years to realize and implement. Anyone espousing "luck" as the avenue of approach to living one's life is akin to "the sucker born every minute" P.T. Barnum alluded to and immensely profited from pandering to.

    What some call "luck," I contend, comes into play when a person has developed the insight and skill-level to accurately evaluate the risk-reward dynamic, and play the hand, make the investment, etc., when it is long-term favorable, and walk away when it calculates to the long-term risk more than offsetting potential long-term reward.

    Putting this into horse playing terms: "An underlay winner is a loser, and an overlay loser is a winner." (You just have to play the projected favorable-outcome game long enough for the percentages to fall into place and declare you a net winner.) Those who believe that "The luck factor" is controlling their lives are gambling with their future through a deck that is stacked against them.

  9. Ted Tes Story says:

    I guess I'm missing what Robert said had anything to do the President. I got that it was about living your life at choice. Deciding whether to be in effect or be at cause. We can't always choose what happens in our life the only this we can do is choose how we react to what has happened.

    One thing that is a trick used to divert solid information is to create a diversion by creating a tangent to take you away from what is being taught. We really have no control over what politicians do other than at election time and those who vote get to complain. My challenge is focus on what was said instead of running off to chase the first rabbit that comes by. Make a conscious decision to be in charge of your life and let others live theirs.

    • John E. Gabor says:

      I'm not sure voting is enough any more. We can't get voter I.D. passed to ensure fair elections. One of the craziest things I've ever seen. It seems to me anyone who is against voter I.D. might as well tattoo CHEATER on his/her forehead.

  10. Robby Bonfire says:

    I question how much, if any, "power" any individual has to attract this and that desired result from PMA or any other frame of reference? What I do not question is the capability each of us has to measurably add to our life experience via the ATS – addition through subtraction, approach to living, so that we can quit smoking, quit associating with the glut of unhappy, negatively-disposed people we associate with – and that just about goes double for controlling, vituperative relatives; we can opt to indulge in an improved nutrition and exercise life style, by dropping the junk food and physical-lassitude life style, etc.

    First get rid of the junk in your life, and in so doing you will leave plenty of room for the upgrades which will automatically flow into your conscious experience and physical fortune.

  11. Big Dave says:

    Since no one can see into the future, I tend to usually take into account statistical probabilities in my decision making. I too believe the quote attributed to Seneca which states that "luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity".