This post is going to be a little out-of-character for me. Usually, I like to focus on the things we can control and change, but I think it is also worth noting that there will always be an element of uncertainty as we move forward in life.
This uncertainty can lead to both good or bad outcomes. We may put a lot of work into trying achieve a goal, like trying to get our dream job. We buff up our resume and try to make all the right contacts, only to find out later that someone else got the job because they happened to be “in the right place at the right time.” Maybe a friend of a friend knew the person who was hiring and hooked him up with an exclusive interview. That sucks, but it is beyond your control.
Such “failures” can leave a bad aftertaste in our mouth; perhaps they may even cripple us from pursuing other goals because things just never seem to work out. But it’s important to remember that sometimes we can do nothing wrong, yet still not get what we want. Such expectations have to be managed, and when something does go wrong due to chance, it is crucial that we let it go and persist forward anyway.
“Perhaps we are surrounded by positive opportunities all the time but just rarely notice them.”
If we remain persistent through life, then most of us will also have our fair share of good fortunes. You never know when a good opportunity might fall into your lap, so stay vigilant toward life’s opportunities and you can increase your chances when these opportunities present themselves.
Successful people condition themselves to look for opportunities of growth even though they aren’t yet sure where they may arise. Something called preemptive perception (PEP) attunes the observer to capitalize on a situation they hadn’t planned for. Therefore, an outcome that might be considered “pure luck” could actually be a greater awareness of potentially fortuitous circumstances. Perhaps we are surrounded by positive opportunities all the time but just rarely notice them.
The psychologist Richard Wiseman goes over ways people can actively increase their luck in his book The Luck Factor: The Four Essential Principles. The principles he writes about in the book include:
Lucky people are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities.
In one study they had both a “Lucky” and an “Unlucky” group solve a task that involved counting photographs in a newspaper. On average, the Unlucky group spent about two minutes, while the Lucky group spent just a few seconds. Why the huge disparity? Because participants in the Lucky group were more likely to spot a message on the second page that read: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”
Those who consider themselves more lucky are more likely to spot opportunities like this in the real world as well.
They make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition.
Those who consider themselves more lucky also seem to exhibit better intuition. While at times impulses can lead us in the wrong direction, some psychologists argue that intuition is a form of “rapid cognition” or “situational knowledge,” and gut instincts can be an appropriate way to begin searching for answers to a particular problem. While lucky people practice following their hunches and get good at it, unlucky people can sometimes limit themselves by only approaching a problem from a strictly rational or calculating perspective. Thus they can have a hard time solving a problem that may require a shift in paradigm.
They create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations.
Similar to the newspaper study, lucky people often facilitate positive outcomes by expecting to find them. This form of expectation creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, the belief that something good will happen helps reinforce behaviors that make the outcome more likely. One example of a self-fulfilling prophecy is the Rosenthal-Jacobson study, where teachers who believed that certain students would perform better in school actually did. It was the belief that helped create that fact. This can happen in similar ways when we have positive expectations in our own life.
They adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.
Lucky people also seem to have an impeccable way of reframing bad events into good ones. In the book Wiseman shares a story where a “Lucky” volunteer fell down a flight of stairs and broke his leg. When asked whether he still felt lucky, the man replied that he felt luckier than ever because he could’ve broken his neck. Lucky people try to see the good in everything; this can have a significant impact on their mental persistence and well-being.
I guess I was wrong earlier to say that luck is completely out of control. As Wiseman clearly demonstrates, there are a number of ways we can facilitate good fortune in our own lives. Wiseman even had some volunteers in his studies go through exercises designed to make them feel more lucky, and 80% reported being happier and more satisfied with their lives. It turns out that luck and optimism are probably attitudes worth having, especially when we aim for success.