What do you do for luck?
- Rub a rabbit’s foot (or a whole rabbit?)
- Cross your fingers
- Knock on wood
- Wear your lucky jersey on game day
- Toss a coin into a fountain
First the bad news: none of those actually work. The good news is there are things you can do to make yourself luckier.
We define luck as an unlikely positive event occurring from randomness (we’ll talk about bad luck another time). You run into an old friend by chance whose company happens to have a job opening that fits you perfectly. Or you go to a party at a friend’s house and you meet your future soulmate. Or you win the lottery.
Meaning in the chaos
The subconscious lizard brain hates randomness - even if the result is something positive. Why? Because random means we can neither predict nor control what will happen. The lizard brain wants good things to happen to us (and to avoid bad things) so it coaxes us into finding patterns that explain the cause of events (see The Narrative Fallacy).
When something lucky happens to you or someone else, you want to know why so you can make it happen again. Your team won the last two playoff games when you were sitting in that certain chair, so you’d better sit there for the next game as well. If you don’t and they lose – it’s your fault!
Psychologists call this invisible mind block "the Illusion of Control.”
One way we create this illusion is to misinterpret luck as a kind of mystical skill. Do you know someone who is extremely lucky? Or unlucky? It happens, but it’s not something about them. It’s because of math. In any random sampling of people, most people will seem to have an average amount of good luck, some people will seem unusually unlucky, and some will have above average luck. That’s a statistical fact, not magic!
The problem then is that we make decisions based on results that are often the result of luck, either partially or completely. For example, we believe that a stock analyst outperformed the market last year because of skill, and then we are surprised when they underperform the following year. The same could be said of CEOs, managers, and athletes. Sure, skill contributes to overall performance, but we discount how large of a role random luck has in outcomes.
To make better decisions we should take a deeper look at the causes of outcomes, rather than just the outcomes themselves.
Give luck a chance
Since randomness plays such a huge part in what happens to us (and crossing our fingers won’t help), what can we do to increase our own good fortune?
Psychologist Richard Wiseman investigated luck by studying 400 people who considered themselves exceptionally lucky or unlucky. He found that lucky people were able to generate their own luck.
How? Lucky people increase the number of new experiences and chance encounters they have. It may seem lucky that I just happened to meet a meeting planner at a networking event that needed a keynote speaker on performance and productivity. But I wouldn’t have met her if I spent my time talking with people I already knew. I also wouldn’t have met her if I spent the evening at home watching TV.
Lucky people consciously look for new experiences. Take a different route home from work on occasion. Read from different authors or news sources. Go to events that will put you in contact with new people and ideas. You will be opening the door for good luck to come charging in!
And you won’t need a rabbit’s foot to find it.