Time to give luck a chance?
A leading psychologist has studied luck – and has found that it often has a lot to do with attitude and personality
Prof Richard Wiseman: ‘more to luck than luck’.
Is luck a matter of luck? That question has perplexed philosophers, writers and psychologists for millennia. The old maxim that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity dates from the first century Roman philosopher Seneca.
Many of the fundamental things in life are a matter of luck. Looks, height, genes and, to a great extent, intelligence are all things that are part of the lottery of life.
Who we are born to is the single most important determinant in life. A child born into a prosperous middle-class family in the developed world is already at a significant advantage than a child born to a drug addict in a developing world slum, for instance.
Nevertheless, there is more to luck than luck, according to Prof Richard Wiseman, the UK’s only professor of the public understanding of psychology, a post he holds at the University of Hertfordshire, who has made lucky individuals one of his principal areas of study.
He has interviewed hundreds of self-described lucky people and those who are down on their luck.
He has concluded that those who consider themselves lucky are lucky for a reason, principally because they put themselves in a position to benefit from any luck that comes their way.
There is an old joke about the man who asks God to help him win the lottery. When he doesn’t win, he asked God again, time after time. After multiple petitioning, an exasperated God answers back: “Do yourself a favour, son, go buy a lottery ticket.”
Luck corresponds with optimism and bad luck with pessimism. Wiseman concedes that there are things that people cannot change and things they can change and those who have the wisdom to know the difference are the ones who thrive.
“You make your own luck by the way you think and behave. There is a psychology behind it,” he explains.
Lucky people are instinctively more optimistic, more open to change and have the ability to cope with life’s vicissitudes better.
Extroverts tend to be luckier than introverts and more sociable.
He cites the example of one businessman who struck up a conversation with another on a plane to find that both had a business idea in common which they were able to bring to fruition.
If the businessman was not inclined to talk to strangers, the encounter would not have happened.
Wiseman concedes that much of his thinking around luck is more common sense than anything, but common sense is not always so common and many people are their own worst enemies when it comes to grasping life’s opportunities.
From his research, he has distilled luck into four attributes.
Listen to your gut instincts – they are normally right.
Be open to new experiences and breaking your normal routine.
Spend a few moments each day remembering things that went well.
Visualise yourself being lucky before an important meeting or telephone call. Luck is very often a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Many of these techniques are already used by motivational psychologists to improve performance. Sports people frequently use visualisation as a tool.
Changing mindsets also forms the basis of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the psychological technique which seeks to change how we view the world by examining how we think about our situation.