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We tend to think of a bout of good fortune as a random act of kindness from the universe. Certainly that is sometimes true: Serendipity or (depending on your belief system) random chance can be the reason you narrowly miss an airport closure or get the last cab in a rainstorm.
But many of the life events we consider “lucky” are not so random at all. Instead, they are directly related to the actions we take and the worldview we embrace. After all, even winning the lottery requires buying a ticket. As businessman Bob Miglani wrote:
So many successful people I met — from couples in blissful long-term relationships to successful career women to billionaires to profoundly happy people who have very little — became “lucky” because they think differently and take certain actions.
Indeed, research shows that people who consider themselves lucky behave differently than those who self-identify as unlucky. In a 10-year experiment, Dr. Richard Wiseman — a psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire and author of “The Luck Factor” — examined the behavior of self-identified lucky and unlucky people who answered a newspaper ad. Not only was there a significant difference between the way lucky and unlucky people approached their lives, the unlucky people benefitted from learning to approach life using behavior gleaned from lucky people. In other words, luck isn’t a rote life-orientation, but a viewpoint that can change with some personal adjustment.
Here are four ways we can all harness the power of so-called “lucky” people:
Seize the day
“Time is relentlessly unkind,” writes psychiatrist Mark Banschick in Psychology Today. Lucky people make the best use of time, they don’t let opportunities pass them by with assurances that they’ll start over tomorrow. They show up for networking events, even if they don’t feel like it. They write the email now, not later.
As Banschick writes, “An event that you turn down now is an event that will never — ever — happen again. There may be a similar opportunity in the future but it is not same opportunity — and you are not the same person. Time changes us.”
Consider yourself lucky
People who think of themselves as lucky approach situations with greater optimism and openness. And that, in turn, puts them in a better position to accept the twists and turns of life as happy accidents. As Wiseman wrote in Reader’s Digest of the unlucky subjects who learned to behave like lucky ones: “80 percent were happier and more satisfied with their lives — and luckier. One unlucky subject said that after adjusting her attitude — expecting good fortune, not dwelling on the negative — her bad luck had vanished.”
Don’t confuse luck with randomness
“People often use the term luck and randomness interchangeably,” financial strategist Michael Mauboussin told Wired. “I like to think of randomness operating at a system level and luck at an individual level. If I gather 100 people and ask them to call coin tosses, randomness tells me that a handful may call five correctly in a row. If you happen to be one of those five, you’re lucky.”
Because this is true, it is important not to think of an unfavorable random outcome as part of a meaningful pattern of unluckiness. Lucky people don’t seem to notice the bad stuff that happens to them — and certainly don’t identify with it.
Pay close attention
As part of his research on the habits of lucky people, Wiseman found that people who considered themselves lucky were more perceptive than those who identified as unlucky. He wrote of one experiment:
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 2in 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.
Why? As Wiseman explained, it was the triangulating factor of anxiety that accounted for the difference. So-called unlucky types tend to be more anxious, which in turn is associated with attention difficulty — particularly when it comes to unexpected occurrences.