and lucky people
review for the Richard Wiseman book "The Luck Factor" was
published some years ago by a UK news paper. If you can get a hold
of the book, DO! It makes for very interesting reading:
A decade ago, I set out
to investigate luck. I wanted to examine the impact on people's lives
of chance opportunities, lucky breaks and being in the right place
at the right time. After many experiments, I believe that I now understand
why some people are luckier than others and that it is possible to
To launch my study, I placed advertisements
in national newspapers and magazines, asking for people who felt consistently
lucky or unlucky to contact me. Over the years, 400 extraordinary
men and women volunteered for my research from all walks of life:
the youngest is an 18-year-old student, the oldest an 84-year-old
Jessica, a 42-year-old forensic scientist,
is typical of the lucky group. As she explained: "I have my dream
job, two wonderful children and a great guy whom I love very much.
It's amazing; when I look back at my life, I realise I have been lucky
in just about every area."
In contrast, Carolyn, a 34-year-old care
assistant, is typical of the unlucky group. She is accident-prone.
In one week, she twisted her ankle in a pothole, injured her back
in another fall and reversed her car into a tree during a driving
lesson. She was also unlucky in love and felt she was always in the
wrong place at the wrong time.
Over the years, I interviewed these volunteers,
asked them to complete diaries, questionnaires and intelligence tests,
and invited them to participate in experiments. The findings have
revealed that although unlucky people have almost no insight into
the real causes of their good and bad luck, their thoughts and behaviour
are responsible for much of their fortune.
Take the case of chance opportunities.
Lucky people consistently encounter such opportunities, whereas unlucky
people do not. I carried out a simple experiment to discover whether
this was due to differences in their ability to spot such opportunities.
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.
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
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.
In one experiment, people were asked to watch a moving dot in the
centre of a computer screen. Without warning, large dots would occasionally
be flashed at the edges of the screen. Nearly all participants noticed
these large dots.
The experiment was then repeated with
a second group of people, who were offered a large financial reward
for accurately watching the centre dot, creating more anxiety. They
became focused on the centre dot and more than a third of them missed
the large dots when they appeared on the screen. The harder they looked,
the less they saw.
And so it is with luck - unlucky people
miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking
for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect
partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look
through newspapers determined to find certain types of job advertisements
and as a result miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed
and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they
are looking for.
My research revealed that lucky people
generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled
at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions
by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies
via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms
bad luck into good.
I wondered whether these four principles
could be used to increase the amount of good luck that people encounter
in their lives. To find out, I created a "luck school" -
a simple experiment that examined whether people's luck can be enhanced
by getting them to think and behave like a lucky person.
I asked a group of lucky and unlucky
volunteers to spend a month carrying out exercises designed to help
them think and behave like a lucky person. These exercises helped
them spot chance opportunities, listen to their intuition, expect
to be lucky, and be more resilient to bad luck.
One month later, the volunteers returned
and described what had happened. The results were dramatic: 80 per
cent of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives and,
perhaps most important of all, luckier. While lucky people became
luckier, the unlucky had become lucky. Take Carolyn, whom I introduced
at the start of this article. After graduating from "luck school",
she has passed her driving test after three years of trying, was no
longer accident-prone and became more confident.
In the wake of these studies, I think
there are three easy techniques that can help to maximise good fortune:
Unlucky people often 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.
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. For example, one person described how he thought
of a colour before arriving at a party and then introduced himself
to people wearing that colour. This kind of behaviour boosts the likelihood
of chance opportunities by introducing variety.
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.
Richard Wiseman is a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire.
His book, The Luck Factor is published by Century