“Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods. Instead, it is a way of thinking and behaving.”
What is luck, and where does it come from? Are some people born lucky, some unlucky? Is it something that just occurs haphazardly regardless of the individual? Perhaps we create our own luck, and it is something that can be forged within any individual. These were the very questions being asked by Dr. Richard Wiseman as he began his career researching the science of luck.
In the early studies of luck, Dr. Wiseman wondered if those who identified as being lucky or not truly performed better in luck driven tasks. Along with others, he performed a study where they asked individuals how well they thought they would do on a coin flip task; essentially asking them if they felt they were:
2. unlucky or
3. uncertain (Smith et al., 1997).
They conducted the coin flip tossing experiment, finding the results of the accuracy of predictions was unrelated to the individuals perceived sense of luck (Smith et al., 1997). Results indicated that there were no differences in luck between subjects. However, Dr. Wiseman did notice that those who claimed to be lucky tended to be more optimistic about their outcomes (Smith et al., 1997). This led Dr. Wiseman to develop a guide on how to be lucky.
According to Dr. Wiseman, one creates their own luck. To create luck in life, one must follow four basic principles:
- be skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities,
- listen to one’s intuition,
- create positive expectations that lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, and
- adopt a resilient attitude that transforms potentially bad situations into good ones.
In this article, we will explore these four principles.
Creating Chance Opportunities
This is all about generating the mindset of noticing the unexpected. Dr. Wiseman famously conducted a study where he gave self-identified lucky and unlucky people a newspaper and asked them to count how many photographs were inside. However, the second page contained the answer in big letters! Those who were “unlucky” missed it, however, and subsequently spent minutes counting all of the photographs (Wisemen, 2003). Wiseman claims that people who are unlucky tend to be tense and anxious, and therefore are less aware of events that can provide greater fortune (Wisemen, 2003).
A similar phenomenon is observed in a study by Dr. Christian Busch et al. in a study on incubators for startup companies (Busch & Barkema, 2020). A startup incubator is an environment, usually a large office space, that houses several startup companies in their infancy. The purpose of these environments is to foster a workplace where entrepreneurs can collaborate, learn from each other, find seed funders and build business connections that will help their businesses flourish and grow. Here, the researchers noted that entrepreneurs tend to plan out ahead of time who they should talk to and build connections with. They overplan to the point of having the false illusion that they know exactly who they need to connect with in order to make their business successful. However, this turns out to not be true. Rather, it is the unexpected encounters that end up being most valuable (Busch & Barkema, 2020). Therefore, environments like incubators that promote unexpected, serendipitous encounters are very healthy for start-up companies.
This trend of openness is common amongst the lucky. Research has shown that people who were born in the summer feel luckier, and these same people are often characterized as being more open and outgoing (Chotai & Wiseman, 2005). It is the unexpected that provides the best opportunity. Therefore, having an open awareness for such opportunities and being more outgoing in order to generate a lifestyle that increases the likelihood of chance encounters is the first step in creating your own luck.
Intuition, in the scientific world, is often described as “a process by which information normally outside the range of conscious awareness is perceived by the psychophysiological systems” (McCraty et al., 2004). The heart has been suggested to be involved with this process as it has been observed that heart rate can change prior to the emotional or cognitive processing of a stimuli (McCraty et al., 2004). Additionally, meditation may be a form of enhancing intuition (Shirley & Langan-fox, 1996). Therefore, practices that boost intuition and the heart-brain connection may be helpful in generating a lifestyle imbued with luck.
As previously mentioned, luck and optimism go hand in hand. In order to be lucky, one must practice optimism in daily life. Those who self-identify themselves as being lucky in life, also tend to be optimistic about chance outcomes (Smith et al., 1997). Similarly, having positive superstitions may go and create the same form of optimism, and therefore luck. For example, some people may have a lucky charm that they like to wear for luck, have a ritual they do every morning, or simply like to cross their fingers before participating in an activity where luck would be appreciated. A research study in 2010 by Damisch et al. found that positive superstitions enhance an individual’s confidence, thereby improving their performance in a task (Damisch et al., 2010). So, the next time you want something to go well for you, boost your confidence and cross your fingers!
Transforming the Bad into Good
The following information is from an article written by Dr. Richard Wiseman titled The Luck Factor (Wisemen, 2003). In this article, he explains an experiment he conducted to evaluate the different mindsets a lucky person and unlucky person may have in a scenario. The scenario was being at a bank during a bank robbery, and being shot in the shoulder. Unlucky people tended to voice the opinion that the situation was very unlucky, for if they hadn’t been at the bank, they wouldn’t have been shot. On the other hand, lucky people viewed the situation as fortuitous. Their answers more commonly described feelings of gratitude that they weren’t shot in the head instead, and that they could sell the story to a newspaper to make money. A classic example of seeing the glass either half full or half empty.
Your perception very much dictates your reality. Constantly judging the events that happened to you as negative and unlucky will cause a view on life that is characterized by just that. However, simply reorient your outlook on something can have a dramatic effect on not only how you perceive things, but also how you choose to act, thereby triggering other lucky attributes such as optimism and creating chance opportunities. It is a vicious cycle that can either work towards your advantage or disadvantage. The choice is yours.
In conclusion, the main takeaways from Dr. Wiseman’s fascinating work involve changing the way we perceive luck. Luck is not something that is outside of our control. It isn’t something that tends to favour one individual over another haphazardly. It is something that can be harnessed and created. Luck comes from within. It comes from how you perceive the events in your life, and how you choose to take action. If you feel unlucky, rather than desiring that the World grant more favour towards you, be mindful of the way you perceive events and try to grant greater favour towards the World at large instead. Hopefully, this article has given you some helpful tips to cultivate luck in your own life moving forward, remembering the wise words of Richard Wiseman:
Busch, C., & Barkema, H. (2020). Planned Luck: How Incubators Can Facilitate Serendipity for Nascent Entrepreneurs Through Fostering Network Embeddedness. Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice. https://doi.org/10.1177/1042258720915798
Chotai, J., & Wiseman, R. (2005). Born lucky? The relationship between feeling lucky and month of birth. Personality and Individual Differences, 39(8), 1451–1460. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2005.06.012
Damisch, L., Stoberock, B., & Mussweiler, T. (2010). Keep your fingers crossed! How superstition improves performance. Psychological Science, 21(7), 1014–1020. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797610372631
McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., & Bradley, R. T. (2004). Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 1. The Surprising Role of the Heart. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 10(1), 133–143. https://doi.org/10.1089/107555304322849057
Shirley, D. A., & Langan-fox, J. (1996). INTUITION : A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ’. 1979, 563–584.
Smith, M. D., Wiseman, R., Machin, D., Harris, P., & Joiner, R. (1997). Luckiness, competition, and performance on a psi task. Journal of Parapsychology, 61(1), 40–42.
Wisemen, R. (2003). The Luck Factor. The Magazine for Science and Reason, 27(3), 1–5.