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Chance favours only the prepared mind

6th May 2021

More than a century ago, the great scientist Louis Pasteur said “Chance favours only the prepared mind.” By this, he meant that sudden flashes of insight don’t just happen, but are the product of preparation.

A seed in order to germinate, needs a well prepared soil and in the same way  breakthroughs in our understanding and creativity can only arise within a well-cultivated mind. What we or others may attribute to ‘chance’ or ‘luck’, is likely to arise from a ‘prepared mind’ which consciously or unconsciously is able to make the connections, leading to new insights and greater creativity.

And at this time we do well to reflect on the legacy of Pasteur for it was his research in chemistry which led to remarkable breakthroughs in the understanding of the causes and preventions of diseases, which laid down foundations of hygiene , health and modern medicine. His works are credited with saving millions of lives through the development of vaccines , particularly for rabies and anthrax. Also it is to this pioneer of vaccination that we can be thankful we are now benefiting from the coronavirus vaccination programme. Through thorough research, testing and study the ground was prepared for breakthrough.

So how do we mentally prepare to become more creative whether in science, arts or humanities? If you’ve experienced the highs and lows of creative thinking, you know that sometimes the creative well is dry, while at other times creativity is free flowing. It is during the latter times that people often experience so-called “Aha!” moments – those moments of clarity when the solution to a challenging problem falls into place with a sudden insight and you see connections that previously eluded you.

But why do “Aha!” moments sometimes come easily and sometimes not at all? A new study reveals that patterns of brain activity before people even see a problem, predict whether they will solve it with or without such an insight, and these brain activity patterns are likely linked to distinct types of mental preparation. So how do we prepare?

Of course we are not simply disembodied minds despite Descartes saying ‘ergo cogito sum’  (I think therefore I am), and regarding everything other than the mind and its thoughts as something to be doubted. The fact is our body effects our thinking and our thinking effects our body. So for our mind to function , we need to be well nourished, exercised and rested . One stark piece of evidence which shows clearly that our body can affect our mind, is research which has shown that greater leniency may be given to people who come before a courtroom after lunch, when those who are passing judgment are more rested and well fed!

And then we come to the importance of what we feed our minds. Good soil produces good plants. So we need to choose what we fill our minds with wisely. Fast food or ‘junk’ food may have its place but not as a complete diet and the same is true of  ‘fast’ culture in whatever form it comes.

Finally we need to cultivate Carol Dwek’s Growth Mindset. Professor Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, found that we all have different beliefs about the underlying nature of ability. Children (and adults!) with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort, persistence, trying different strategies and learning from mistakes. Whilst we are all undoubtedly handed a particular ‘set of cards’ at birth, the outcome is not fixed and we can optimise the hand we have been dealt by changing our mindset and acting upon it.

So the message is encouraging, that we need not be a ‘hostage to fortune’ , ‘lady luck’, or mere chance. There is much we can do to cultivate our body, soul and mind in order to become the best version of ourselves.


Christine Crossley

Chance Favours The Prepared Mind