Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Four Secrets of Lucky People

Photo courtesy of babileta

From childhood, I've always thought of myself as lucky. Good things seemed to come my way, and bad things stayed away.

At Stanford, I even adopted a special t-shirt as a lucky talisman. Whenever I wore it, no matter how dire the circumstances, I always seemed to be be able to pull out an A on my final exam. It became part of my pre-final ritual, along with getting a good night's sleep. "Lucky t-shirt, never fails," I'd mutter to myself as I pulled it on.

Even today, I often tell people, "My fond hope is that people will call me lucky. Nobody ever calls broke, unhappy guy lucky."

Yet on some level, I always assumed that luck was either an illusion or a mystical force beyond comprehension. It turns out, however, that scientists have shown that luck exists. Moreover, they know how you can be lucky.

And I found out about this in Newsweek of all places (thanks to Ben Casnocha for the link).

When it comes to hidden messages, lucky people perceive more of the world around them. "It is not that they expect to find certain opportunities, but rather that they notice them when they come across them," Wiseman writes in his book "The Luck Factor." This ability (or talent) "has a significant, and positive, effect on their lives."

Wiseman, who holds Britain's only professorship in the public understanding of psychology, at the University of Hertfordshire, has devoted a decade to exploring the secrets of serendipity. He discovered that some people actually do have all the luck, while others are a "magnet for ill fortune."

"Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods," Wiseman writes. "Instead, it is a state of mind—a way of thinking and behaving." Above all, he insists that we have far more control over our lives—and our luck—than we realize. Going back to the Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, great thinkers and writers have argued that 50 percent or more of what happens in life is determined entirely by chance (or Fortuna, the Roman goddess of fortune). Wiseman says no way. He believes that only 10 percent of life is purely random. The remaining 90 percent is "actually defined by the way you think." In other words, your attitude and behavior determine nine tenths of what happens in your life. Wiseman has concluded that there are four reasons why good things happen to certain people.

First, lucky people frequently happen upon chance opportunities. "Being in the right place at the right time is actually all about being in the right state of mind," Wiseman writes. As his newspaper experiment shows, lucky people are more open and receptive to unexpected possibilities. They tend to be more relaxed about life, and they operate with a heightened awareness of the world around them. Quite simply, they spot and seize upon openings that other people simply miss. They also tend to be more social and maintain what Wiseman calls a "network of luck." Most of us know around 300 people on a first-name basis. According to Wiseman, that means you're only two handshakes away from 90,000 people who could bring chance opportunities into your life.

Second, lucky people listen to their hunches and make good decisions without really knowing why. Unlucky people, by contrast, tend to make unsuccessful decisions and trust the wrong people. "My interviews suggested that lucky people's gut feelings and hunches tended to pay off time and time again," Wiseman writes. "In contrast, unlucky people often ignore their intuition and regret their decision." In survival, this kind of instinct can make all the difference.

Third, lucky people persevere in the face of failure and have an uncanny knack for making their wishes come true. They're convinced that life's most unpredictable events will "consistently work out for them." Their world is "bright and rosy," Wiseman writes, while unlucky people expect that things will always go wrong. Their world is "bleak and black." When Wiseman gives lucky and unlucky people a puzzle that is actually impossible to solve, the reactions are very telling. "More than 60 percent of unlucky people said that they thought the puzzle was impossible, compared to just 30 percent of lucky people. As in so many areas of their lives, the unlucky people gave up before they even started."

Fourth, lucky people have a special ability to turn bad luck into good fortune. Of all four defining factors involved in luck, Wiseman believes this one plays the most important role in survival. Wiseman's conclusion echoes the work of Dr. Al Siebert, one of America's foremost authorities on survival psychology. After more than 40 years investigating what he calls "the survivor personality," Siebert believes, "life's best survivors not only cope well, they often turn potential disaster into a lucky development."

Let's see...relaxed about life and open to opportunities, check.

Maintain a social network of luck, check.

Get good results out of trusting hunches, check.

Convinced that life will work out, check.

Ability to turn bad luck into good fortune, check.

Maybe I was onto something with my childhood belief after all.

1 comment:

Ben Overmyer said...

Same for me on all four points, and I've always been considered one of the luckiest folks my family and friends know.

Just a few weeks ago, I was in a really bad crash on the interstate. Escaped with just a single small scratch on my hand, and wasn't even sore the next day. It was the second time that I was t-boned at speed on my side of the car and emerged unscathed.

During both crashes, I was completely calm and relaxed. I have a feeling that had something to do with it.