69% of the population thinks that career success is dependent on chance encounters. In other words, success is based on luck. Not hard work. Not talent. Not determination, discipline, or sacrifice. Luck. At first glance, that might seem depressing. But then I realized it’s great news for the other 31% of us. We’ve already got a leg up on them.

Expect Good Things Quote
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According to a 2005 study done by Jim Bright, Robert Pryor, and Lucy Harpham, 69% of high school and college students believe that their career decisions depended on chance encounters. That was in 2005. Based on what little news I listen to, I’d have to guess it’s higher today.

What’s the difference between the 69% and the 31%?


What they focus on. I’ll delve more into the psychology behind that in a moment. But first…a story.

What’s your favorite course?

My dad used to tell me the story of a successful golfer from his era (you know, B.C. – Before Cellphones).

At a tournament once, a reporter asked the question, “What’s your favorite course?” His answer was the one they were playing that week. Not any of the famous courses like Augusta National or Pebble Beach. The course they were playing that week, which wasn’t even ranked in the top 300 in the country.

The reporter was shocked. “This is your favorite course? But you’ve never even won here. It’s not set up for your style of play. How can this be your favorite course?”

“Because,” the golfer answered. “This is the course I am playing this week.”

His focus was on what he could control…in other words, he was playing mind games with himself.

Give me wind, give me rain. give me the trophy

My dad called me a “mudder.”

What he meant was that I tended to play golf well in the worst conditions.

Both tournaments that I won in college were played in horrible conditions. Both were played in a cold, windy, downpour. So bad that it took 6 hours to complete one round (4 1/2 was the norm). Umbrellas were snapping in the wind. All of the players were soaked, shivering, and exhausted at day’s end. It was just as taxing mentally as it was physically.

And I knew I had the field beat on the first tee.

When I stepped on the first tee, I knew 95% of the players were beaten. In a field of 80 players, that left only a few who even had a shot at me. It wasn’t because I had more talent or was a better player than 77 of the players. It was because my dad had labeled me a “mudder” and I took it to heart. I expected the conditions to raise others’ scores by five or more shots, while not raising mine. I expected to use the distractions of trying to keep warm and dry as causing other players to suffer, but for me they had no effect.

I stood on the first tee with the attitude of “just go ahead and give me the trophy.”

I capitalized on the chances I had to play in horrible conditions while others complained or lost focus.

The difference

Chance encounters, like weather conditions, are uncontrollable. Every one of us will get breaks. We will sit next to the right person on the airplane, have a blog post shared with the 1,202,045 Facebook fans of a famous author, or show up to the biggest golf tournament of the year only to have it raining sideways with a wind chill below freezing.

The difference between people who take advantage of these events and those who let them pass by is all about focus.

69% see tough situations as unfortunate. They complain, curse their bad luck, and bemoan their fate. They focus only on what is wrong.

When the 69% has something positive happen, they still focus only on the negative aspects. “Great, I am sitting next to the CEO of Widget Co. and I didn’t shave today. Just my luck. I can’t speak to him now.” Or, they don’t even notice that the CEO of Widget Co. is sitting next to them.

They are literally incapable of seeing the positive. Their minds are closed to the opportunities.

But the 31%?

We’re open to everything. Possibilities abound. We look for the positive in everything. We seek opportunities and opportunities find us. We are magnets for positive chance encounters. We are attracting the right people who will positively influence our lives.

Some may say that it is just positive mumbo jumbo speak. But it’s 100% backed by science. And it’s been proven over and over again.

Predictive encoding

When opportunities do come along, like the right person on the airplane or bad weather at a golf tournament, your expectations are the number one factor in the result.

When you expect good things, your mind is open to seeing the opportunities. Your mind is positioned to look for positive chance encounters, for meeting the right people, and for performing at a high level during adversity.

When you expect bad things, your mind is closed. You don’t even see opportunities and when you do, only the worst case scenario plays out in your mind.

The psychological term for this is “predictive encoding.” I was predictively encoded with the mindset that I was a “mudder,” so my expectation in bad weather was to win.

What are you predictively encoded with?

Are you looking for the good or the bad?

When opportunity arises, do you see it for what it truly is…a chance to shine?

Predictive encoding can be used for good or bad. It can be your greatest blessing or your worst nightmare.

How you use it is up to you.

You have a choice…expect the best or look for the worst.

Which group are you in? The 31% or the 69%?


Text me anytime at (260) 217-4619.

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8 thoughts on “Great News for 31% of Us | Predictive Encoding and Positive Thinking

  1. Jon D Harrison says:

    Great post Matt – the crazy thing is how quickly you can build momentum if you pivot from the 69% to the 31% – the most you look for the best, the more often you see it. Like buying a new car – all of a sudden you see the same car you bought everywhere else. They were always there, you just notice it more – a total reshaping of perspective.

  2. brentmkelly says:

    Spot on Matt. I used to be one of the 69%, but realized late in my 20’s that it’s up to me to make my own breaks. Focus is certainly the key. Success is earned, never given. Great post.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      BAM! Well said Brent.

  3. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Love this post! I’m pretty good at seeing the upside in situations…when it’s not directly affecting me! I have a much harder time when I’m the one in the middle of the challenge! Great post and a great reminder for me. Thanks!

  4. Nancy Heidger Benavides says:

    Great post, Matt! I constantly challenge people to see their dreams as a compilation of ‘can do’s’. Building confidence in bite size chunks makes tackling the big things easier when you get to them.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I love that Nancy!

  5. Jon Stolpe says:

    I’m on the 31% list for sure.

    After reading your post, I’m thinking I should golf in the rain more often. 🙂

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