How To Get Luckier!


Samara Bay-Kelsey Sammy-0072“She’s so lucky.”

We’ve all thought it.  A dash of vinegar, before we quickly attempt to turn it sweet.  But I’m not here to talk about the abundance principle – that there’s enough to go around and a win for one member of our field is a win for all.  I mean, I’m a big proponent of that philosophy ‘cuz life is totally better if we believe it.  But I’m not talking about it.  I’m talking about:

What if we were the lucky ones that evoked the response above?

Maybe you think of yourself as lucky already – god knows, we all work on gratitude in this town.  But do you twinkle with just a little more sense of good fortune than your friends?  Do good things just seem to follow you around?  Are you on a winning streak?  Was there that one chance connection that led to that thing that lead to that other thing that lead to the job you have now, which is awesome?  All of us could probably answer yes to the above – but perhaps a bit half-heartedly.  “Yeah, I guess I’m lucky… but I mean… I could be more so, if that’s what you’re asking.”

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My mom recently sent me a link to one of those Articles That Make You Think.  This one, as it turns out, is more than a decade old – but it totally stands the test of time: in it a psychology professor convincingly, and rather charmingly, argues that luck can be learned.  By anyone.  As long as there’s a little more intuition at play, some breaking-up of the ol’ routine, and perhaps a tad more goofy optimism in the mix.

Sounds like a perfect recipe for us crazy industry folk.

The professor, Dr. Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, describes collecting hundreds of test subjects, unassuming Englishmen and women of all ages who self-identified as either lucky or unlucky people, and then spending years asking them to participate in various experiments and submit diary entries and answer questionnaires and take personality tests.  And some very noticeable trends began to appear: although no one quite knew why they were lucky, their behaviors and thought patterns totally gave it away.

This experiment says it best.  The professor writes:

I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because 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 type that was more than 2 inches high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

For fun, I placed a second large message halfway through the newspaper: “Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.” Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs.

This is the thing.  We can go through life wondering why it’s so much more difficult for us to get what we want than it is for others despite working sooooo hard (bless Facebook for compounding that particular neurosis), or we can stop focusing so much on getting what we want… and end up actually getting it.  Not necessarily because focus itself is bad or because life is a cosmic joke.  Rather because the act of relaxing around a goal frees us up to achieve it in UNEXPECTED WAYS.  Focus is fine; tension is icky.  (For anyone who’s read The Artist’s Way: synchronicity!)  According to Dr. Wiseman, “Personality tests revealed that unlucky people are generally much more tense than lucky people, and research has shown that anxiety disrupts people’s ability to notice the unexpected […] Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else.”

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If we go to a networking event hoping to find someone useful for our career, we’ll probably feel gross and also, relatedly, fail.  So there’s that.  But if we go open to connecting with awesome new people, we may very well find someone useful for our career by accident, or someone who leads to someone who leads to someone.  Or the love of our life.  Or none of the above, but a renewed sense of confidence and social ease, which will likely help with those other goals down the line.

Clichéd but true: it can’t hurt to try.  So this month I say here’s to going home a different way and lingering to chat with that interesting person and saying “yes” to random outings or events despite a flutter of anxiety.  ‘Cuz comfort zones are for the unlucky.  Here’s to taking comfort instead in the new – in surreal, magical, unexpected treats we may never have found in that musty old zone.  Turns out, when Dr. Wiseman suggested to his “unlucky” group that they spend a month following some prompts that would help them do more of what the “lucky” folks did, there was an 80% uptick in happiness and satisfaction.  And what were those prompts?

  • Make decisions more intuitively – think, yes, but feel too.  Follow hunches.  Your gut knows.
  • Introduce more variety into your life.  Not only go to events you might not otherwise have attended, but also talk to everyone there wearing red.  Or sparkles.  Or of the mustachioed persuasion.  Make up games for yourself.  Randomness breeds luck.
  • Expect good stuff to find you.  There is, of course, this self-fulfilling thing about life, eh?  Eeyores will be Eeyores, until they decide not to be.

  • Remember, it could have been worse.  In Dr. Wiseman’s interviews the “lucky” people would tell stories of crappy situations they’d been in – situations of equal crappiness to the “unlucky” people’s tales of woe, in fact – but somehow these lucky folks would see the bright side instead.  So pull a little Silver Linings Playbook on that crap.

Tellingly, when pressed by a Fast Company interviewer with “But can we acknowledge that sometimes bad stuff – car accidents, natural disasters – just happens? Sometimes it’s purely bad, and there’s nothing good about it?” how did the good doctor respond?

“I’ve never heard that from a lucky person.”