One Secret to “Getting Lucky”

Long-time readers know that one topic I return to over and over again is the study of decision making.  I have written on such topics as decision-fatigue, overcoming biases, and delegation.   

Recently, in my reading on decision making in general, I came across the topic of random chance.  The truth is that a person can make great decisions and still have poor outcomes, or poor decisions with great outcomes.  The difference is simply luck, and luck is inherently something that is outside of our control...or is it?

In the early 1990s psychologist Richard Wiseman surveyed 400 people who considered themselves either “lucky” or “unlucky,” then performed a test.  He gave them all a newspaper and asked them to look through it and tell him how many photographs were inside. On average the unlucky people took two minutes to count all the photographs, and the lucky ones determined the number in a few seconds.  How could the "lucky" people do this? Because they found a message on the second page that read, "Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper."

Professor Wiseman ran many experiments on the subject of luck, but one of his key takeaways was that “lucky people” generate their own good fortune.  One way that they do that is by creating and noticing chance opportunities.  To paraphrase, they don’t feel lucky because they experience good fortune.  They experienced good fortune because they first identified themselves as a lucky person.  So how can we feel lucky?  This is where I turn to another bit of reading.

In his book Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins wrote the following:

“Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”

We are undoubtedly mathematically lucky to even be alive. This is more true when you consider details like being born in a democratic society and after the invention of indoor plumbing! Now that you’re feeling appropriately lucky, go create your opportunities to be lucky.

Related: 3 Lessons From an Ugly Naked Shortstop