I’ve read oodles of stories about people who just seem to attract the most fortuitous circumstances. I read about a woman who always seems to know which slot machines at a casino will be paying out. Or a guy who needed to buy a ticket home but didn’t have enough money. He lined up at the ticket booth anyway, believing that things would work out somehow. The guy in front of him suddenly turned around and asked if he wanted to buy his ticket for a discounted price because he wouldn’t need it anymore.
Are stories like these mere coincidence? Can people create their own luck? Richard Wiseman conducted a 10-year study with 400 people of different ages and backgrounds. He recruited people who considered themselves either very lucky or unlucky, and examined every detail of their life. His research revealed that people’s thoughts and behavior are responsible for most of the good or bad things that happen to them.
Wiseman’s study also showed that unlucky people are more tense and experience more anxiety, which affects their ability to notice lucky breaks. He tested this theory by giving lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to count the number of pictures in it. The unlucky people took an average of two minutes to count all the pictures, while the lucky people took a few seconds. Here’s why: On the second page of the paper, written in two inch letters were the words “Stop counting – There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” The lucky people noticed the message. The unlucky people did not. What’s fascinating is that he placed another message halfway through the newspaper that read, “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.” The unlucky people still didn’t see it and continued to count the pictures.
[Unlucky] people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain types of job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than what they are looking for.” (Wiseman, 2003)
So how do lucky people deal with, well, bad luck? Wiseman theorized that they use a coping method called “counter-factual thinking,” which is the ability to imagine what could have happened rather than what actually happened. He points out that research shows that Olympic athletes who win a bronze medal are happier than athletes who win a silver medal. The silver medalists believe that if they had only tried slightly harder, they could have won gold. The bronze medalists, on the other hand, engage in counter-factual thinking: If they had done slightly worse, they could have dropped out of medal contention completely.
Wiseman tested his counter-factual theory with his lucky and unlucky subjects by asking them to imagine a hypothetical situation: They are waiting in line at the bank. A bank robber comes in, fires some shots, and the subject gets shot in the arm. He then asks them whether they would consider this event lucky or unlucky. The unlucky people considered the event ill-fated (I can imagine them – and myself – saying, “Just my luck. Of course I would walk into the only bank in the city that ends up being held up.”). The lucky people adopted a counter-factual thinking style, viewing the circumstances as lucky simply because things could have been worse.
The question is, how can you and I start creating luck in our life? (FYI: If you rubbed the image at the top of the post, don’t be embarrassed to admit it – I did it too). Wiseman’s research reveals four principles that help lucky people create their own fortunate circumstances:
1) Lucky people are open to new opportunities, allowing them to jump on a good chance when it comes around. Wiseman recommends following the example of some of his lucky subjects: Shake up your routine. If you keep hanging around with the same people and going to the same places, you’re more likely to exhaust your opportunities.
2) Lucky people listen to their intuition and trust their instincts.
3) Lucky people create positive expectations, which results in a self-filling prophecy. They plant the seed for success.
4) Lucky people have a resilient or “hardy” attitude. They are able to see the good in a bad situation, which boosts their motivation, improves their resilience, and keeps their mind focused on success.
But do these methods work? Wiseman asked his unlucky and lucky participants to adopt these four principles and described the techniques that lucky people use (e.g. shaking up their routine). He asked them to start thinking and acting like they were lucky. The results: At the end of the study 80% of the people in the sample were happier, more satisfied with their life, and, of course, luckier.
After ten years of scientific research my work has revealed a radically new way of looking at luck and the vital role it plays in our lives. It demonstrates that much of the good and bad fortune we encounter is a result of our thoughts and behavior. More important, it represents the potential for change, and has produced that most elusive of holy grails – an effective way of increasing the luck people experience in their daily lives. – Richard Wiseman