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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December 2003, 13:23 GMT
The loser's guide to getting lucky
By Professor Richard Wiseman
University of Hertfordshire

Why do some people get all the luck while others never get the breaks they deserve? A psychologist says he has discovered the answer.

Ten years ago, I set out to examine luck.

I wanted to know why some people are always in the right place at the right time, while others consistently experience ill fortune.

I placed advertisements in national newspapers asking for people who felt consistently lucky or unlucky to contact me.

Hundreds of extraordinary men and women volunteered for my research and, over the years, I have interviewed them, monitored their lives and had them take part in experiments.

The results reveal that although these people have almost no insight into the causes of their luck, their thoughts and behaviour are responsible for much of their good and bad fortune.

Those who have succeeded at anything and don't mention luck are kidding themselves
Larry King
Take the case of seemingly 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.

Kenny from South Park
Professor Wiseman's formula came too late for some...
I had secretly placed a large message halfway through the newspaper saying: "Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win 250."

This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than two inches high.

Anxiety

It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

Everything in life is luck
Donald Trump
Unlucky people are generally more tense than lucky people, and this anxiety disrupts their ability to notice the unexpected.

As a result, they miss 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 miss other types of jobs.

Self-fulfilling prophecies

Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.

Luck is believing you're lucky
Tennessee Williams
My research eventually revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four 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.

Towards the end of the work, I wondered whether these principles could be used to create good luck.

I asked a group of volunteers to spend a month carrying out exercises designed to help them think and behave like a lucky person.

Dramatic results

These exercises helped them spot chance opportunities, listen to their intuition, expect to be lucky, and be more resilient to bad luck.

I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it
Thomas Jefferson
One month later, the volunteers returned and described what had happened. The results were dramatic: 80% of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives and, perhaps most important of all, luckier.

The lucky people had become even luckier and the unlucky had become lucky.

Finally, I had found the elusive "luck factor" .

Here are Professor Wiseman's four top tips for becoming lucky:

  • 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

I Should Be So Lucky is on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday mornings, at 0930 GMT.


Some of your comments:

I think the Professor is right in terms of having a "positive" attitude and generally being prepared to accept that things can and do go wrong. However, my experience is when they do and although it may be not what you wished, very often, something new and better happens that wouldn't have arisen without the "knockback". For many years, I said that my life seemed often like a complete accident. Not for me the steady job and climb up the career ladder but, I've had more fun and different experiences as a result. A friend of mine told me a couple of years ago that I was wrong to say my life was accidental, what they said was that the difference was that I was open minded, saw opportunities others missed but, most of all, was prepared to do something about them. Do I consider myself lucky? Well maybe I will never win the National Lottery but I enjoy life, after all, it's a journey not a destination so, enjoy the journey!
John, London, UK

The best definition of luck I've heard is that "luck occurs when preparedness meets opportunity".
Tim Field, UK

I have always thought of myself as a lucky person, although when I look back I have had road accidents, relationship break-ups, and bad jobs like anyone else; its whether you dwell on these, and define yourself permanently by them, or seek out the positive instead.
Nicky, Bristol, UK

Prof Wiseman seems to have confused "luck" with superstition. Perhaps he should try carrying a rabbit's foot as well. My gut instinct is that following gut instinct is bad. Seriously, though, everyone has good and bad luck in equal measure - what's different is that some people dwell on the good and others on the bad, just as some see a glass half full and others as half empty.
Brian, UK

Prof Wiseman seems to be confusing luck and success. There are dozens of self-help pop psychology books out there saying exactly the same thing as him, but none of them are about luck. If something causes "good luck" then, by definition, it is not luck. Luck is a chance happening, where the outcome is governed purely by outside, uncontrollable factors. So rolling a double six is lucky, paying attention whilst reading a newspaper is not.
Phil, UK

Brian and Phil from Uk seem to be missing the point of Prof Wiseman's research. There is no such thing as 'luck'. There is only chance. It is the outcome of chance occurances that people will then attribute the judgements 'lucky or unlucky' - and this is very much reflected by their personality or state of mind. 'Luck' is not a universal law or property. I have always felt instinctively what the Professor has shown - that people who regard themselves as 'lucky' reflect more their attitude to life than any inherent 'luck'.
Ryan D, England

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