How to become luckier

Luck is an underestimated ingredient in success. It has a role in the outcomes of the average person all the way up to the most spectacular success stories in history.

It was a crucial success factor in Bill Gates’ and Microsoft’s meteoric rise in the software space and it helped launch the acting careers of Al Pacino and Bryan Cranston. It made Dilbert one of the most popular comics of our time, and it was responsible for the discovery of penicillin.

Luck is important in success, so we should look for ways to increase our good luck and minimise our bad luck.

Some experts think we can actually increase our good luck

Professor Richard Wiseman’s book The Luck Factor explores the idea that we can improve our luck. His research found that good luck is largely a result of your behaviour. It’s a state of mind rather than the result of magic or divine power.

He conducted research on lucky and unlucky people and found that lucky people were creating their good luck in four key ways which he called the “four principles of luck”.

The crux of his book is centered around these four differences or principles, and the 12 sub-principles underneath each of them.

How to improve your luck with Richard Wiseman’s “four principles of luck”

1. Create, notice and act on the chance opportunities in life

Lucky people consistently seem to meet people who can help them in life. They build strong lasting networks with friends and colleagues, and because of this are more likely to receive lucky breaks compared to unlucky people. Unlucky people on the other hand are more likely to meet people who negatively influence their lives.

Lucky people are more relaxed towards life and so notice more opportunities. They also try new experiences regularly which exposes them to unpredictable outcomes.

This principle is all about maximising your basic opportunities, and it’s something we can all do. Imagine the following two people:

Person 1

  • Age 35 with 10 years of work experience in a professional role
  • Makes a strong effort to keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues e.g goes for coffee, makes weekly calls etc
  • Strikes up conversations everywhere they go: their favourite cafe, their regular supermarket etc
  • Frequently tries new activities, hobbies and places to eat

Person 2

  • Age 35 with 10 years of work experience in a professional role
  • Doesn’t make much of an effort to keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues
  • Keeps to themselves in public
  • Has the same routine and places to eat

Now imagine both of our hypothetical people were out of a job. Who do you think would find a new job quicker? Which of the two would encounter new opportunities for jobs generally? Person two is my bet. They would have a larger pool of possibilities from their own network and activities.

How to work on this luck principle:

  • Call one a friend, family member or acquaintance you haven’t spoken to in a while and speak to them for 10 minutes. Find a new person to call each week.
  • Strike up a conversation with someone you haven’t spoken to before each week e.g a work colleague, sports acquaintance, someone in a cafe or supermarket queue
  • Have open body language when in public e.g smile and don’t cross your arms
  • Make a conscious effort to try new things e.g pick six new experiences you want to try and roll a die to decide which you will do.

Note: Go into this being genuinely interested and curious in what your friends, family and colleagues are up to. This principle was a good reminder for me that I actually enjoy touching base with the people around me and seeing if I can help them in anyway.

2. Improve and listen to your intuition and gut feelings

Lucky people tend to make great decisions by following their hunches. Their business and personal decisions tend to work out great for them, whereas for unlucky people the opposite tends to happen.

How to increase this luck principle:

  • Meditation
  • Returning to a problem after some time and reflection
  • Finding a quiet place to relax and calm your mind before making a decision

3. Expect good luck

Lucky people usually have good expectations about the future and this helps them to reach their goals. They’re more likely to work harder and deal with setbacks when trying to achieve a goal compared to unlucky people, who tend to give up more easily on their goals. Lucky people will try to reach a goal even if the chances are slim.

How to increase this luck principle:

  • Visualise yourself being lucky
  • Write and repeat a luck affirmation e.g “I am a lucky person and my luck will continue today”
  • Write a cost/benefits analysis of any goals you have to motivate you when you encounter a setback
  • Set short, medium and long term goals

4. Bounce back from bad luck more effectively

Wiseman noticed that lucky people tend to move past bad luck events better than unlucky people. He found that unlucky people feel ruined by bad luck, whereas lucky people have a habit of seeing bad luck as opportunity. Lucky people don’t dwell on bad luck events and make efforts to avoid similar experiences in the future.

How to increase this luck principle:

  • Think about how any bad luck you’ve encountered could’ve been worse
  • Question the importance of a bad luck event in the long term. It’s usually not as bad as you think and you may learn something from it
  • Compare yourself to unluckier people you know. Don’t compare yourself to luckier people you know
  • Think about how bad luck events can actually positively benefit you in the future
  • Distract yourself when bad luck happens by exercising, watching a comedy, seeing friends etc
  • When bad luck comes your way, create a plan to address it and execute it right away

I strongly recommend reading The Luck Factor to get the nuts and bolts of Wiseman’s ideas. The book also includes a 12-part questionnaire which identifies which of the four principles you’re lacking in the most.

I found that I was most lacking in the first principle. I needed to genuinely work on maintaining my extended social circle. I also wasn’t smiling enough, my body language was closed, and I was sometimes a bit closed off when meeting new people. These were things I’ve wanted to improve about myself for a while, so having another reason to address this has made me feel more connected to the people around me.

Can introverts follow these principles?

Wiseman’s research found that lucky people were generally more extroverted than unlucky people. You can mostly see this in the first principle, which includes plenty of “lucky” behaviours which some extroverts do naturally.

I myself am naturally introverted. As I mentioned above I was most lacking in the first luck principle, which mainly centers around maintaining a larger network, striking up conversations and having more open body language.

My solution was “fake it till you make it”. I thought of the most sociable people I knew, and wondered how they would approach certain social situations. Then I just started acting on these thoughts before my inner introvert could stop me.

On a recent business trip I struck up an hour long conversation with my seat buddy and we learned about each other and the flight went by much faster. I got off the plane a little bit more mentally fatigued than normal but also felt charged up from the conversation.

Final thoughts: Can you actually improve your own luck?

Some luck experts such as Michael J. Mauboussin, the author of The Success Equation, disagree with Wiseman’s ideas. Mauboussin’s rebuttal is that you can’t technically improve luck because it’s not a skill. Any effort you spend supposedly improving your luck in the way above is actually just improving your skills.

According to Mauboussin we should approach luck with equanimity regardless of the possibilities. We should realise that any outcome is made up of an element of skill which we can control, and an element of luck which we can’t. If we have approached an activity in the correct way but have still lost due to luck, we should shrug it off and try again. Good or bad luck says nothing about us personally.

Regardless, I’ve still found the four luck principles useful in creating positive opportunities for myself, and maybe this is all that matters in the end anyway.

Learn more about luck with the following resources

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