We asked academic experts in the field of luck (yes, they exist) to share their insights on how best to be on luck’s receiving end.
Know what you need to say when the opportunity is right. While there are plenty of stories about single people stumbling into their soul mates or inventors randomly meeting investors, it’s far more likely that these encounters will have successful outcomes if you are prepared for them, according to Colleen Seifert, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. “We need to tell ourselves about the kind of opportunities we are looking for, so that when we do bump into them, we recognize them as lucky breaks.” In other words, memorize your “elevator pitch” because you never know when you will need it.
Multiply the number of encounters you have with people. In Seifert’s opinion, efficiency is overrated. Although it may seem counter intuitive, Seifert says luck started to pour into her life when she stopped rushing around trying to get more done and began recognizing that every person in her path presents an opportunity for a new connection, one that could enrich her life somehow. “I used to see people ahead of me in line as impediments,” she says. “Now I strike up a conversation.”
Pay attention to the laws of probability. Much of life is a game of chance, governed by very specific laws of probability. Rami Zwick, a marketing professor at the University of California, Riverside, who has studied people’s perception of luck, says that thinking those odds through can help you be more successful than the “unlucky” people who just don’t do their homework. Instead of sitting at the same table at the same coffee shop every day, start getting your morning jolt at other locations. The more you are engaged and communicating in person – and through social media networks -- the greater your chance of making a “lucky” connection.
Do favors for people without thinking about a quid pro quo. While the idea that “what goes around, comes around” is an ancient one, there’s some compelling new evidence that it’s true. Professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania does favors for anyone who asks, even perfect strangers. In fact he’s written a book about it. What he’s found is that making a conscious effort to help others is empowering, making practitioners more likely to feel effective and engage in other forms of pro-social behavior.
Recall the times when you were lucky. Remembering past successes paves the way for future wins because it increases confidence, says Zwick. “Excellent athletes focus on what they need to do, not what they need to avoid,” he explains. “If you go into an interview thinking about the last time you got hired, you’ll be much more sure of yourself than if you’re thinking about the last time you bombed.”
Don’t scoff at lucky charms and rituals. If you have a lucky charm, wear it; if you always turn off the lights in a particular order, do it. The elaborate batting rituals baseball players use may seem like frustratingly, time-consuming superstitions, says Donald Saucier, an associate professor of psychology at Kansas State University and a luck researcher, but there’s some real science to them. “They focus on what [they] need to do to feel prepared, not some external force,” he says. He admits he still listens to Dave Matthews’ "Ants Marching" before giving a lecture, for example, a habit he got into as a new professor.
Understand that luck is just one of many forces in the universe. Because people see luck as an external force, anything you can do to shore up your internal strength makes you feel less dependent on good juju, explains Eric J. Hamerman, an assistant professor of business at Tulane University, who has researched why sports fans buy “lucky” products to help their teams. “Self affirmations, whether they are general, like `I am a good person’ or task-specific, `I do well meeting new people,’ work.” So when disappointments come—let’s say a new romance fizzles—you can say, “This didn’t pan out, but I am a still a worthy human being.” It may seem inane, he says, but that kind of self-talk “bolsters people so they need luck less.”