Luck: Is it truly random, or can it be learned?

This article talks about whether or not luck is something that can not only be created, but learned as well.

The Gist of it:

With two groups of lucky and unlucky people, Richard Wiseman (the psychologist) did a quick test by having them count all the photographs in a newspaper he created.

The newspaper had a headline on the second page that said: “Stop counting, there are 43 photographs in the newspaper.

The lucky ones saw the message instantly, and took seconds to complete the task, while the unlucky ones spent significantly more time actually counting the photographs.

Furthermore, halfway through the newspaper, there was another message that said: “Stop counting and tell the experimenter that you’ve seen this to win Β£250.

Again, the unlucky ones were too focused on counting and missed the message, while the lucky ones received Β£250 each.

Maybe luck is not as random as we think

I’ve always believed that you can create your own luck, or at the very least, do as much as you can to set yourself up for luck.

Sure, there have been times when I’ve been extremely lucky, but I am not relying on the powers of the universe to hand me anything on a platter.

Take for example what I think is extremely good luck: getting or as BF put it “falling into the job” in the exact field and industry that suits me the best, without having to soul search for 30 years.

A lot of people call that lucky — being able to find a job you love to do, and wake up early every morning to go to, in anticipation of what’s to come.

(Sometimes I’m so eager, my brain wakes me up at 4:00 a.m., as evidenced by my recent tweets).

Many still don’t know what they want to do, or love to do. They just know that they hate what they’re doing and don’t know how to break the cycle.

But if we dig a little deeper here are some necessary conditions for my lucky break:

I studied and worked fairly hard during school to be able to get into a business school

I had an early aptitude and love for the computer — particularly online gaming and web designing, which helped me decide that I wanted to be in something tech-related

I also had to work full-time to help ease the pain of schooling, and started my own freelancing company when I was young

…..which showed favourably on my business school application (they wanted a well-rounded individual who had decent grades AND an entrepreneurial spirit)

Because I was in this particular business school, I had an opportunity to be hired by the alumni…

…the alumni chose this year as their first year to hire for the industry I am now in

I happened to make a decision based on how close I’d be to my family, and the rest is history.

Undoubtedly, luck intersperses out of the history of how I got into this job, but I’d like to believe that in every instance, I tried my best, and as a result, helped created the conditions for luckier opportunities.

How about rationality versus luck?

BF is the most rational person I know.

He times everything he cooks just so he knows how long it’ll take, he measures everything, he controls and sets the situation for all of the tasks he undertakes.

He even has PROCEDURES written down for everything.

Me, I’m really more an intuitive, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of person.

I think things through, but I don’t go down to the details of everything, and a lot of times, I just say: “It sounds right” or “It feels good”, and I make a decision based on that.

Very impulsive.

BF is the opposite of impulsive, and would NEVER make a decision based on gut feelings.

As a result, I actually feel like I’ve been a lot luckier than he has. I just happen to fall into good things, whereas he seems to never have any luck with getting things to naturally go his way.

Take for example our banks.

We both have the same banks, but I’ve never had a problem with the bank really screwing up anything or not being able to fix what I saw was a mistake.

In contrast, the bank has switched his names twice, set up the wrong accounts at least 3 or 4 times and a whole host of other BS, so much that he finally pulled everything out.

Am I just plain stupid lucky? Perhaps.

But that’s just one example of how I’ve always been (somehow) luckier than BF.

Whether or not I can attribute it to going with my gut rather than my rationality, is something that is more difficult to prove.

So what creates luck?

I do have occasional runs of bad luck here and there, but 90% of the time, everything seems to works out for me.

I think your luck can be determined with 5 following factors:

1. Really trying to work hard and be the best at everything you do, and staying positive

“Create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations”

If you are a generally lucky person, and things just seem to go your way, but if you don’t capitalize on it, and coast instead, you can’t make your luck grow.

Just as how if you don’t save a dollar, you can’t watch the balance grow with the magic of compounding interest.

I worked some pretty crappy jobs (newspaper/flyer girl, fast food slinger, to name a couple), and I had an opportunity to see what my life would be like if I DIDN’T apply myself.

I had positive expectations about my future, and that I would NOT be stuck being a fast food slinger for the rest of my life, which was a big motivation for me to see how far I could go.

Instead of saying: “I’ll NEVER be __________” or “I’ll NEVER get out of debt!”..

I just tried to keep myself positive the whole time, and eventually things just seemed to work out.

I am also not stuck on deadlines or schedules like: “By the time I’m 30, I want to have _____ and be like _________”. I just kind of go with the flow.

2. Not always making a decision based solely on the facts

“Make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition”

Fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches.

Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation.

I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell – a reason to consider a decision carefully.

Another example of my intuition was quitting my job to became a freelancer.

In hindsight it wasn’t the smartest, most rational idea I’ve ever had because I didn’t have a huge cash fund saved — only $2000 — but it just felt right.

It sounds SO stupid now, even writing it. But it FELT right.

I had a brief day or two where I panicked about what I was doing, and then the call came and I started on my first freelancing contract the following week.

When I look back at the conditions of how I quit, the job market was blazing, and it seemed like everything was pushing me towards quitting on that very day.

3. Willing to give anything a shot – just to try

Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine.

They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties.

In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives.

When I first got the job I am currently doing, I wasn’t sold on it.

I thought it was a pretty crappy deal:

  • traveling all the time (airport delays are the worst)
  • being away from your family and friends, and therefore missing all the events
  • having to deal with filing expenses and arguing about them
  • changing clients so often that you can’t establish any kind of real bond or trust
  • 8/10 projects you are working 60-70 hours a week under a lot of stress all the time

But I thought:

“Well let’s give it a shot.

The traveling might be a fun new experience, as I DO like to travel, and worse comes to worst, I can always find another job in another area.

Let’s not rule this out based on arbitrary factors. I may actually love this job.”

In the end, I love the job even with all of my original cons (some of which have turned into pros for me).

The best part is to eliminate the rest of the cons (management, arguments, lack of control over whether what projects you can go to), I studied the options, quit and became a freelancer.

4. Trying to look at things from different perspectives

“Adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.”

Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune.

They imagine how things could have been worse.

In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs.

I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before.

As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.

I don’t always do this, but I try to see the best of everything.

When I didn’t work for most of 2009, I said:

“Well, at least I had the time to really relax, take a trip to Europe, spend a lot of time with BF and make some serious headway on my blog(s)”

Of course, it helped that I had a big contract that helped me clear my debt and save a good amount of money before the drought began, but I could have just stressed out the whole year about whether I made the wrong decision or not, instead of enjoying it.

5. Keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunities

“They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities”

The last one is truly what I’d attribute as actual “luck”.

Just the fact that I chose that business school, or that it was the first year they decided to hire new people for the industry, or that I happened to make a choice to join that company instead of another one.

All of these were just lucky coincidences and choices I took advantage of.

If there’s an opportunity to try something new, and it SEEMS like it could be a good deal albeit with a few cons — give it some serious thought instead of brushing it off like:

“Well, there’s no guarantee I’m going to even like that job and it sounds like a LOT more work. I don’t want to risk my comfortable position to try anything new..”

So what about you? Do you consider yourself to be pretty lucky?

(Assuming the obvious —Β  that we’re all pretty lucky to be living in the countries we’re in & not having to worry about our general safety)

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.