By Nina Peloso
‘Bad luck’ may be easy to blame when your favorite team is losing, or when you lock your key in the car. For all those cases of ‘chance’ in daily life that don’t go your way.
We fear ‘bad luck’ so greatly that we’ve identified ‘good omens’ from the bad; from black cats to walking under ladders, breaking mirrors, even opening an umbrella indoors are all said to bring bad luck.
Conversely, we try to induce ‘good luck’ by knocking on wood or crossing our fingers. We even wish it upon people, to give them a little boost before their big presentation, test, or job interview.
But why this fascination with luck, is it really “all up to chance”, and more interestingly, could we be to blame for our “chance” misfortunes?
The Deal With ‘Luck’
Most often people define luck as a force outside their control. However, studies have shown that we can control our luck to a degree, and in many ways we already do. We seem to be built with a predisposition to propagate our luck. We do this through our gut-intuition of chances and trends.
‘Regression Towards the Mean’
Very often draft-picks are used as an example of ‘luck’ playing a role. With so many first-round picks turning out to be a huge disappointment, or inversely, a pick from the “bottom of the barrel” becoming big. Although it is often labeled as a simple case of ‘luck”, scientists have identified this phenomenon as ‘regression to the mean‘. In athletics, this refers to athletes having a string of really good or really poor performances just before the draft, but over time, we see these players ‘regress’ or sometimes rise-up to the mean of their abilities as they progress over time. So in reality, chance doesn’t seem to influence these ‘lucky’ performances as much as it seems, oftentimes “improbable” happenings should be the expected, or even the inevitable.
However, sometimes we apply this natural understanding of “regressing to the mean” inappropriately. This inclination is known as the “gambler’s fallacy” where one might be betting on a simple coin toss; after several heads in a row, we become more and more certain that the next will end in tails to “even out” the numbers of each outcome. However, logically we know that the probability of tails isn’t increasing, it’s still 50/50, but it feels like it is and that’s often enough to have us fooled.
Luck & Gambling
On the flip side, studies about online-betting have shown that we can, and often will, employ the “gambler’s fallacy” to discern patterns and use them to our advantage. In more complex games (not a 50/50 chance), like roulette, “hot hands” are a very real thing. As you win, your chances of winning increase from 48%, 49%, 57%, 67% after each round. This is indicative of your natural biases playing a role. As you win more and more you begin to take safer bets because:
a) you’re guarding what you’ve now got to lose.
b) you realize that you don’t need to be as risky because you haven’t amassed any losses to make up.
Correspondingly, researchers have found that losing begets losing in a similar fashion to winning. As you lose, you’ll become more desperate to make a “big win” to collect your losses. However, this leads to far riskier bets because we assume that the risker bet = a bigger, more desirable, payout; hence, you tend to continue to lose.
So yes, luck runs in patterns that we can predict given the circumstance and our own intuition; but, can we manage to set ourselves on the path of a “hot hand” from the get-go, or must we leave that up to chance?
How Can We Make Our Own Luck?
In 2003, British psychologist Richard Wiseman came out with a paper based-around his studies of luck. Through “The Luck Factor“, Wiseman argues that ‘luck’ is not something left up to chance, but rather a consequence of your own attitude.
Through the trials, many common traits were found between those who called themselves unlucky, versus those who felt that luck was on their side. In the latter group, they were described as open-minded, optimistic, and easy-going in contrast to their ‘unlucky’ peers. Interestingly enough, a very common-link was found between just four factors and their unceasing luck.
1. Being a ‘Risk-taker’/”Maximize Chance Opportunities”
It should come as no surprise that those who reported “taking-risks” ended up seeing the larger-benefits from them. Coupled with their attitude towards the more dramatic lows, taking more chances ended up being seen as an overall very positive way to live.
When you take more chances, you are more likely to go out and meet new people, get opportunities, and be exposed to sights and experiences that you would have never come across – all this is seeming pretty lucky to me, but really it’s in the odds when you take-risks and really let it become a possibility.
2. Use Your Intuition/”Listen to Lucky Hunches“
Closely associated with risk-taking, Wiseman reasons that people who go with their gut-feelings are more likely to be ‘lucky’. This has to do with the fact that our natural intuition is very powerful, but is often hindered by anxiousness and second-guessing. People who have the confidence to ‘go with their gut’, are thus more likely to tap into these powers and be successful because of them.
This is similar to how we can use the “gambler’s fallacy” to go on winning-streaks. For people that are ‘lucky’, sometimes this trust in their intuition is all they need.
3. Expecting ‘Lucky’ Things to Happen to You/”Expect Good Fortune“
When you expect good things to happen to you, it becomes a chain reaction that ends in just that. You sense that something positive will happen, so, your spirits are lifted. Since you’re feeling so good, you make more positive relationships with others, you network more effectively, you “…persist in the face of failure…“; thus, all this adds up and good fortune does head your way. In the end, this fortune only re-inforces your faith in ‘luck’ and the cycle begins anew.
In one study, Wiseman gave participants a newspaper with an ad inside that read “Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250” is large, bold, type. Those who identified themselves as ‘lucky’ were much faster, more confident, and more likely to report the advertisement. Wiseman concluded that the two groups differed most in their anxiousness and uncertainty, and as a result, the ‘unlucky’ crowd actually found it much harder to find the ad without glossing over it. Indicative of the ‘lucky’s’ tendency to seek out ‘luck’, and even expect to find it at every turn, which results in them having more of these ‘lucky finds’.
4. Framing Your Life in a Positive-Light/”Turn Bad Luck to Good“
When it comes down to it, luck is largely subjective. Let’s say you’re involved in a car crash while you were in the passenger seat. You might say the accident was a case of bad luck, on the other hand, you could see yourself as lucky for emerging from the crash unharmed. This shift in perspective alone was found to play a massive role in how ‘lucky’ we perceive ourselves to be.
Moreover, many ‘lucky’ participants in the study reported that they could turn around seemingly ‘unlucky’ situations without dwelling. If they had tickets to a concert that got rained out, they’d find a way to have fun at home. Instead of being bummed at your house, maybe you realize you finally have an opportunity to finish that puzzle. In this way, not only are they able to see bad-luck for good, but they refuse to even register these minor inconveniences as negatives.
Does Luck Really Matter in Success?
It is no secret that luck is one of the most important factors in success. Whether it be a career or even health-tendencies, luck is a big part of who we are as people. However, much of this refers to “the luck of the draw”, ie. where you’re born, who you’re parents are, even what your name is, which obviously is not something you can influence.
On the other side, does the ‘luck’ in the opportunities we get, the people we meet, and the dice we roll play a role in our success?
The short answer is – yes, all of these factors that can be manipulated by you, can be huge indicators of, and propellors towards, success. Given the traits of ‘lucky’ people: networking abilities, open-mindedness, and willingness to take a risk. All of these associated traits will only serve you in the workforce as well as in daily life.
You might get ‘lucky’ when you take-a-risk and ask your boss for that raise, or by-chance, strike-up a conversation with someone you grow to adore, but opening yourself up to these opportunities – to the idea of being ‘lucky’ – is a surefire way to increase your chances.
‘Luck’ affects everything from our morale to our success, so why shouldn’t we strive to make it the best it can be?