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Can you make your own luck?

"Some of the most important determinants of life paths often arise through the most trivial of circumstances.”

Luck is that mysterious element of chance that we can't control, and can only hope favours us.

  • Sometimes you just meet people at the right points in time, forming lifelong friendships.

  • Sometimes a great opportunity comes to you at a time when you're in a great frame of mind.

  • Sometimes you misread your opponent and with 5% chance, luck out at poker.

  • And probably the best and most important example, sometimes the chef just squeezes the right amount of sauce onto your burger, to create the perfect condiment-patty-bun-toppings ratio. 


Humans have been looking to create their own luck for just about as long as we can remember. These come in the form of superstitions. Whether it is avoiding black cats or walking under ladders, touching wood or wearing red, the list is pretty imaginative. Even some of our greatest athletes have their own superstitions - Serena Williams the great female tennis player wears the same pair of socks throughout an entire tournament (thankfully washing machines were invented huh?) and Michael Jordan, possibly the most famous athlete ever, started a trend of longer basketball shorts... because he wanted to cover his college shorts which he wore underneath for good luck. 

I don't think we really need to examine whether superstitions work. They don't. 

I want to stress that we're not examining how we can mythically have more good things happen to us here. That is not what we can control. Instead, what we should focus on is how we can practically increase the probability of occurrences that might be beneficial to us.

Think about it. New opportunities in life mostly occur because of new circumstances or new people that you meet. If we live our lives in largely the same manner every day, the probability that a lucky opportunity will come upon us is very low. So obviously, one key element of creating our own luck is simply changing our routines - this doesn't need to be a major change. Perhaps just once per month, we can skip the Netflix session and volunteer for 2 hours, try an exercise class, or join a group activity. This increases the chance that you might meet someone (or someone who knows someone), from which something might develop.


Dr Richard Wiseman shares more with his study on luck:

Dr Richard Wiseman
University of Hertfordshire

For the best part of a decade, Richard Wiseman studied the difference between people who saw themselves as lucky and people who saw themselves as unlucky. This experiment of his provides some insight. 


The experiment:

  • 400 participants were invited to classify themselves as "lucky" or "unlucky".

  • Those who felt they were "lucky" were placed in one group, while those who felt they were "unlucky" in another

  • All participants were given the same newspaper.

  • They were asked to report back on how many photographs the newspaper contained


  • On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs

  • The people in the lucky group? Less than 10 seconds.

  • Why? The second page of the newspaper contained the message “Stop counting – There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” This message took up half of the page and was written in font over 2 inches high.

  • Even though it was staring right at the participants, people in the unlucky group tended to miss it while people in the lucky group tended to spot it.

  • Just for fun, there was a second large message halfway through the newspaper. This one announced: “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.” Only some people spotted this, all from the lucky group.  

  • People in the "unlucky" group missed the opportunities because they were still too busy looking for photographs.

It's important to get the correct story here. We don't get luckier just because we re-write your story to be "lucky". We won't hit the lottery just because we want to and believe so. As this experiment shows, the "lucky" and "unlucky" go through the same experience. The "lucky" weren't in a more advantageous position. However, those who saw themselves as lucky were able to be open to opportunities that came.  But thinking of ourselves as "unlucky" causes us to miss out on the same opportunities because we don't think they are there. 

4 basic principles of luck

Wiseman's research led him to conclude that lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles.

  1. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities:
    People who saw themselves as lucky tend to create more opportunities for themselves. Many describe different ways of disrupting routine in life, making sure they meet new people. This could be as simple as regularly changing routes to get to work, travelling to countries very different from their own, to talking to unfamiliar people at parties. There is no magic in this. If we only talked to the same people you already know, there is a lower probability for a new opportunity to come by. However, each new person you meet could potentially introduce new opportunities in your life. 

  2. Make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition;
    I'm going to skip this bit because I think this is very misleading. If you want to find out, you can check out Wiseman's book.


  3. Create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations.
    This is best exhibited in the experiment above. Remember, people were not actually more "lucky". They all had the same opportunities. But the folks who thought they were lucky had a positive enough mindset which enabled them to see the opportunity which the "unlucky" folks couldn't.


  4. Adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.
    In further tests, Wiseman presented different scenarios to people. He found out that those who thought they were lucky, tend to imagine spontaneously how the bad luck described in the scenarios could have been worse. This then leads to point 3 above -  the positive view helps keep their expectations about the future high, and, increases the likelihood of them continuing to create or spot opportunities when they come. 

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