In some moments our lives seem far luckier than at others. Like when you go traveling the first time. For those months everything just seems to go your way. You meet interesting people, find opportunities and have a ton of lucky coincidences – way more than before. It’s like your charmed or something.
But for a logical person who doesn’t believe in superstition that can’t be, right? Luck is random, after all.
Well, it turns out that it might not be entirely true. It’s quite possible to actually be luckier during some times than others. And it’s not down to fairy dust, lucky numbers or your astrology sign.
Instead, according to psychologist Richard Wiseman’s book the Luck Factor, being lucky comes down to behavior and beliefs. In his book, he discusses four principles which separate the lucky from the rest. It would seem that during those lucky times, like when we first start traveling, we unconsciously embrace those behaviors.
Now imagine what you could do if you were consciously aware of those principles. Then you could take steps to enhance them in your daily life and end up not just with periods of good luck but a whole life filled with it.
For that reason, without further ado, here they are (along with a few observations of my own, of course).
Principle one – maximize your opportunities
The first step is about creating more lucky opportunities. In effect, luck is a numbers game. The more often you roll the dice, the more likely you are to roll double sixes. And as having good luck is valuable and life-changing – say if you get a new job or find love – rolling the dice more often is worth it. Heck, often it’s even fun!
Wiseman talks about three ways that we can boost the number of opportunities in our environment.
Try to relax. In the field of positive psychology, they’ve got something called the broaden-and-build theory. The basic idea is that negative emotions focus you on a specific problem. Positive emotions, in turn, broaden your perspective so that you take in a wider range of cues and learn more.
That first step turns out vital for being lucky. After all, being lucky is about seeing opportunities. You can only see those if your attention isn’t focused – laser-like – on some problem to the exclusion of everything else.
Now all positive emotions help, but most of those are hard to force. One that’s easier than the other ones is to relax. Go a little slower. Take in your surroundings. Sit still long enough to appreciate where you are and what’s going on there. Look around. Pay attention to a little bit more than the churning of your own mind.
For you never know what opportunities are around you. Perhaps the woman at the next table has the perfect job for you. Or there is a hundred dollar bill lying right by your feet that you only have to see. Or the man at the checkout counter has run into the situation before and has some great advice.
But you can only access all that if you’re willing to engage.
Be open to new experiences. Equally important, of course, is that you have to actually be open to the opportunities that come your way. If your first reaction to a new opportunity is to say ‘no’ well, then it doesn’t matter that you spotted them.
For that reason, start saying ‘yes’ to things. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new restaurant, a new route to work, or a life-changing idea. You never know where the luck will come from. Now you don’t have to take it to ‘yes man’ extremes, but when you’re about to use the word ‘no’ stop yourself and consider. Would it actually be so bad to say yes?
Wiseman has a nice metaphor:
“Imagine living in the centre of a large apple orchard. Each day you have to venture out into the orchard and collect a large basket of apples. The first few times it won’t matter where you decide to visit. All parts of the orchard will have apples… But as time goes on it will become more and more difficult to find apples in the places that you have visited before.” But if you go to new places well then there will be plenty of apples.
To go to the same places in that orchard means to stick to the same routines you’re used to, while going to new places means to try new things. So be open to new opportunities. You’ll never know what apples you’ll find there.
Get in touch and stay in touch. Other people are an invaluable source of new opportunities and lucky breaks. They know people, have gone through similar problems and possess a huge amount of knowledge you do not.
For that reason, to boost your luck you have to make sure you have a large network of people around you. There are two sides to this. You both need to try to meet new people as well as maintain the network you already have. That’s because they offer up different things. New people give you new opportunities. Only established friends and acquaintances will put themselves on the line for you, though.
So make time for both of those groups. Reach out to new people and remember to connect with people you know as well.
And do it today. For while networks can help you weather the storms of the bad times, they can only be built while the sun is shining. So don’t neglect them as then there is a good chance they won’t be there when dark clouds gather.
Principle two – let your intuition guide you
Our brains are complex machines. What’s more, the extra complexity that we’ve gained is largely meant for understanding others and their motivations.
The thing is, most of that happens subconsciously. Most of these subsystems – from sight to our emotions – operate under our awareness and then feed their findings into our consciousness. The book Thinking Fast and Slow by the noble-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman covers this idea at length.
Therefore, to boost your luck, you have to make use of the immense power of our subconscious. To do that, Wiseman suggests two principles.
Listen to your gut feelings and lucky hunches. If you don’t listen to your subconscious, then how can you use it, right? For that reason, pay attention to your intuition. That doesn’t mean you always have to do what your subconscious says. Nonetheless, you should at least stop and take stock when you’ve got a strong feeling like ‘don’t trust him’ or ‘help this person out’.
And don’t let others waltz over it. Even when all the evidence points in one direction but your intuition says the opposite, don’t bury your intuition. Now, to be clear, don’t always go with your intuition either. There are plenty of examples where our brains are wired incorrectly.
Instead, take a step back and consider why your intuition is sending out these warning signals. Then, rather than letting other people browbeat you into making a hasty decision, make a considered one. In the long run, it will be worth it.
Boost your intuition. Of course, if you can boost your intuition further then you’ll be able to trust it more. The best advice Wiseman gives is for us to start meditating as this puts you more in tune with what’s going on below awareness.
The great thing about meditation is that it doesn’t take that much time or money and has a tremendous amount of other benefits as well. So what have you got to lose?
If you don’t know exactly where to start then close your eyes and either focus on one thing (like your breath) or let all thought go. These are referred to as concentrative and contemplative meditation respectively.
They have been shown to have different benefits. The former helps you concentrate, while the latter helps you get more in touch with your emotions. So you might want to do a little bit of research before you decide on which is better for you.
Principle three – perspective
Have you heard of self-fulfilling prophecies? The idea is that often our very beliefs about how things will turn out will decide what happens. They do so by influencing our beliefs and behavior (rather than because of magical thinking – the difference is explained here).
So, if you enter into a conversation with a person with a smile and a laugh because you expect them to be helpful, well then they’re far more likely to be so. This is also why it’s so hard for hostile people to escape their idea that the world is hostile, as their expectation ends up creating that very hostility. The ironic thing being that they blame everybody else for what is in fact often is their own fault. So don’t do that.
Instead, use the powers of expectations in three ways.
Lucky people expect their good luck to continue. The first sub-principle of this principle is having faith that your good luck will continue. If you believe this, then you will continue to interact with the world in good faith. And that, in turn, makes the world far more likely to interact in a positive way with you.
To a large extent, this is what I’ve covered above. If you believe you’ll be lucky, healthy and happy then you’ll continue to take actions that make you luckier, healthier and happier. If you believe you’re going to be unlucky, well then your actions will lead you down that path.
One interesting way this manifest is that people who believe they’re luckier will often take far more steps to prevent bad luck. They will get insurance, go for checkups to the hospital when they feel ill and so on.
People that believe they’re unlucky don’t do that. ‘Why bother’, they think, ‘I’m unlucky anyway so I’m bound to get sick, have rotten teeth and get into accidents’. As a result, they get serious illnesses diagnosed later. Their accidents have more serious consequences. And they go to the dentist only when their teeth are in such a bad shape that only major (and expensive) procedures can help them.
And yes, then they feel unlucky. But in part, it’s their own fault. It didn’t need to be that bad.
Lucky people keep going. Another consequence of feeling that you’ll be lucky in the future is that you keep pushing where others throw in the towel. After all, you expect that lucky break to come sooner or later. Similarly, they are more likely to try things where they have a small chance of success, believing their luck will carry them through.
And the longer you keep going at something or the more often you try the more likely it is you’ll succeed. For example, people who believe themselves lucky will enter into more competitions. And the more competitions you enter, the more opportunities you have to succeed.
Of course, do note that it’s better to take part in competitions where skill actually plays a factor. For then you have more influence over your luck. Competitions which are random (like the lottery) in the meantime are generally a bad investment. So don’t do that. After all, we’re trying to create behaviors that make us lucky, not force random chance (for that can’t be forced).
Lucky people expect their interactions to be lucky. And the final part of this principle is about your interactions with other people. I already touched upon this at the beginning of this section.
So consider this bit from Wiseman’s book. In a study, “men were asked to have a… conversation with a woman. Beforehand, they were shown one of two photographs and were told that it was a picture of the woman they would be speaking to. One… showed a very attractive woman whilst the other showed a very unattractive woman. In fact, all of the men spoke to the same woman, but men who believed that they were talking to an attractive woman were far more outgoing and sociable…
“Not only that, their behaviour influenced how the woman responded… The researchers later played just the woman’s half of the conversation to other people, and asked them to judge how attractive she was. These people tended to rate the woman as attractive when she had been talking to a man who thought that she was attractive… The men’s expectations caused them to behave in a certain way which, in turn, caused the woman to behave in a way that made the men’s expectations come true.”
In other words, expectations influenced reality. And that isn’t only the case in terms of attractiveness. If you think people will be nicer, more helpful or more interesting they most likely will be.
Principle four – see the bright side
Try out the following thought experiment:
You’re in a bank when a bank robber comes in. Before being overpowered he fires off a shot and hits you in the shoulder. Would you interpret this as lucky or unlucky?
Most people who think they’re unlucky interpret this as the worst of luck. They moan about how of course it’s them that get hit and that this is how things always go for them. Lucky people have a different interpretation, however. They say things like, ‘Wow, I’m so lucky it was my shoulder and not my head.’
They’ll also see the potential upsides down the road – they’ll have stories to tell. They might even be able to get some good fortune! Like the farmer who didn’t get recruited to go conscripted to fight in a foreign war because he’d been thrown off his horse and broken his leg.
Lucky people see the positive side of their bad luck. It’s about making lemonade. If you can reframe your experience in a more positive manner and look on the bright side, that can bear serious dividends. Perhaps it is down to you seeing opportunities where other people see problems.
Also, it will mean the confirmation bias, where we see and remember what fits our worldview, will work in your favor.
And then there’s the benefit of moving on and not wasting energy being upset about things you can’t change. That means you can get back in the saddle and get on with making good fortune elsewhere.
Lucky people are convinced bad luck will eventually lead to good. Even if you can’t see the good fortune of it now you might somewhere down the line. I mean, how often do you hear stories of people getting fired and then finding their dream job as a result?
The faith that things will work out for the best is important. For it gives you the energy to pull yourself out a negative emotional spiral far faster. From there it then becomes possible to turn the bad luck into something good.
So try to see the positive side of what you’ve experienced. What have you learned? How could it have been worse? How will these experiences add to the tapestry of your life?
They do not dwell on bad fortune. Can’t see the good fortune yet? Well, then work on compartmentalizing the bad luck. Put it in perspective. Yes, it might be bad right now that your partner cheated on you, your business flopped, or you’ve been robbed. At the same time, it could have been worse. Your partner could have taken all your money as well. It could have been your health that flopped so that you could no longer work at all. Or they could have shot you dead.
If you can do that, if you can get on with it and put the bad luck in perspective, then you will find room to rebound quicker. And that will give you the mental space to take the next good opportunity which comes along.
When you have that kind of a mindset you’re going to be able to make your own luck far more easily.
Lucky people take constructive steps to prevent more bad luck in the future. I talked about this a little bit earlier on already. It’s about covering yourself so bad luck won’t floor you when it does roll around.
It turns out happy go lucky people don’t live by the seat of their pants. Instead, they put things in place to mitigate the damage that bad luck can cause. This makes it far easier not to dwell on what has happened to them and get on with creating good luck down the road.
For that reason, whenever you’re going to do something that is risky, make sure that you’ve taken steps to mitigate it. Leave a key with your neighbor. Don’t carry all your bank and credit cards with you. Back up your laptop and your phone. Have multiple bank accounts so that thieves don’t make off with everything you own. When you take a longshot, don’t invest everything into it without having a plan B.
Small things like this can make it much easier to recover from the capriciousness of the universe.
Nudging your way to luck
All these qualities sound fantastic, don’t they? And if you had them all, you would be luckier. But if you don’t follow them, then embracing them is easier said than done. For the rivers of our lives have dug channels into our minds. And thought it would be nice if we could reroute them at whim that often isn’t possible.
Sure, you can try, but then something will happen, you’ll get tired, or you have a bad day, and fall back into old patterns. Then you’ll find yourself back where you started. And that amounts to taking two steps forward and two steps back.
So don’t do that. Instead, the strategy is to take only one step at a time. Build a dam here. Dig a new channel there. Then, when that has become a new part of your behavior, you take the next step. In this way, you’ll be able to hold onto the changes you make.
Start where it’s easy
The best strategy is to start where it’s easy. Generally, that’s in behavior (beliefs are often harder to change). So try to be more open to new experiences, or go out of your way to connect with friends who you haven’t spoken with, or learn to meditate. Whichever works for you.
The goal is to make sure you actually permanently change your behavior. Not for a few days or a few weeks, but forever. Then you can move on to the next behavior you can change.
If you can do this and pay attention to the benefits it causes, you will create virtuous cycles. You’ll create behaviors that bring good luck and these, in turn, influence your beliefs. And once that starts happening, you’ll see that other beliefs and behaviors start to change as well. You’ll find your personality fall into line with these luck principles.
So, the first thing you do is make a list of the changes you could make. Then take one or two that are both easy and yet far-reaching. As you want to continue these for the long run, don’t only hold them in your mind. Instead, write them down and put this in a prominent place. You can put it on the wallpaper of your phone, or write it on your bulletin board. From there you practice it several times a week until it’s become second nature.
And then you move on to the next one.
It’s a simple process. But it works. Even better, it will do so without making demands on you that you can’t live up to. In that way, you’ll gradually but surely lead yourself to a luckier life.
So go on. What are you waiting for?