The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind

The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind by Richard Wiseman, 2011

Richard expounded how luck can be scientifically manufactured.

9 Apr 2021

And how did Buffett get to be one of the richest men in America? In an interview in Fortune magazine, he explained the important role that luck had played early on in his career. When he was twenty, Buffett was rejected from Harvard Business School. He immediately went to a library and began looking into the possibility of applying to other business schools. It was only then that he noticed that two business professors whose work he admired both taught at Columbia. Buffett applied to Columbia at the last minute and was accepted. One of the professors later became Buffett’s mentor, and helped initiate his highly successful career in business. As Buffett later remarked: ‘Probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to me was getting rejected from Harvard.’

Lucky people just happened to live lives that were peppered with chance encounters – such as meetings with loved ones and business colleagues – that always worked out for the best. The unlucky people thought that accidents and ill fortune came their way also by chance alone.

Lucky people constantly encounter chance opportunities. They accidentally meet people who have a very beneficial effect on their lives and come across interesting opportunities in newspapers and magazines. In contrast, unlucky people rarely have these sorts of experiences or, as in the case with Stephen, they meet people who have a negative effect on their lives. Lucky people also make good decisions without knowing why. They just seem to know when a business decision is sound or someone shouldn’t be trusted. Unlucky people’s decisions tend to result in failure and despair. Lucky people’s dreams, ambitions and goals have an uncanny knack of coming true. Once again, unlucky people are the exact opposite – their dreams and ambitions remain little more than an elusive fantasy. Lucky people also have an ability to turn their bad luck into good fortune. Unlucky people lack this ability and their bad luck causes nothing but upset and ruin.

Lucky people create, notice and act upon the chance opportunities in their life

I compared the personalities of lucky and unlucky people on the five dimensions of personality. The first dimension I examined is referred to as ‘Agreeableness’. This is a measure of the degree to which someone is sympathetic towards others and willing to help them. I wondered whether lucky people were the recipients of large amounts of good fortune because they tended to help others, and so others tended to help them in return. Interestingly, lucky people scored no higher on Agreeableness than unlucky people. The second dimension that I examined was that of Conscientiousness. This is a measure of the degree to which a person is self-disciplined, strong willed and determined. Perhaps lucky people experienced more good fortune because they simply worked harder than unlucky people. But once again, there was very little difference in the Conscientiousness scores of lucky and unlucky people.

Lucky people build and maintain a strong ‘network of luck’

Additional research revealed that there are three ways in which lucky people’s extroversion significantly increases the likelihood of them having a lucky chance encounter – meeting a large number of people, being a ‘social magnet’, and keeping in contact with people.

Lucky people tended to engage in three times as much ‘open’ body language as unlucky people.

Lucky people are effective at building secure, and long lasting, attachments with the people that they meet. They are easy to get to know and most people like them. They tend to be trusting and form close friendships with others. As a result, they often keep in touch with a much larger number of friends and colleagues than unlucky people, and time and time again, this network of friends helps promote opportunity in their lives.

Without realising it, lucky people behave in a way that maximises the chance opportunities in their lives. They chat to lots of people and spend time with them, attract other people to them and keep in touch with people. This results in a massive ‘network of luck’ and a huge potential for chance opportunities. It only takes one chance encounter to change a life.

Lucky people’s ability to notice opportunities is a result of their relaxed way of looking at the world. It is not that they expect to find certain opportunities, but rather that they notice them when they come across them. In contrast, unlucky people tend to be more anxious. They are the type of people who are so busy counting the photographs in the newspaper that they don’t notice the advertisement offering them an opportunity to win one hundred pounds instantly. In real life, they might be focused on getting to a meeting on time, thinking about finding a new job or worrying about the problems in their lives. As a result, they have a very narrow, focused, beam of attention that can cause them to miss the unexpected opportunities that surround them on a daily basis.

But being relaxed does not just help lucky people notice money in the street, or spot helpful items in newspapers, magazines and on the radio. Exactly the same principle applies when they meet and chat with other people. They do not go to parties and meetings trying hard to find their dream partners or someone who will offer them their perfect job. Instead, they are simply relaxed and therefore more attuned to the opportunities around them. They go to parties and listen to people. Lucky people see what is there, rather than trying to find what they want to see. As a result, they are far more receptive to any opportunities that arise naturally.

It is easy to exhaust the opportunities in your life: keep on talking to the same people in the same way; keep taking the same route to and from work; keep going to the same places on holiday. But new or even random experiences introduce the potential for new opportunities. It is like visiting a new part of the orchard. Suddenly you are surrounded by hundreds of apples.

Lucky people are more likely than unlucky people to create, notice and act upon chance opportunities. They do this in various ways. They initiate conversations with more people because they are extroverts. More people start to chat to them because of their ‘social magnetism’. They are good at keeping in touch with people, too. Lucky people are also more relaxed than unlucky people, and this makes them more able to notice unexpected chance opportunities in many different aspects of their lives. Finally, lucky people also introduce more variety and new experiences into their lives, and this also helps to increase the likelihood of them experiencing, and maximising, chance opportunities.

To increase the good fortune in your life.
1: Build and maintain a strong ‘network of luck’
2: Develop a more relaxed attitude towards life
3: Be open to new experiences in your life

A very large percentage of lucky people used their intuition when making decisions in two of the four areas mentioned on the questionnaire. Almost 90% of lucky people said that they trusted their intuition when it came to their personal relationships, and almost 80% said that it played a vital role in their career choices. Perhaps more importantly, a greater percentage of lucky than unlucky people reported trusting their intuition in all four areas. And often these differences were far from trivial. About 20% more lucky than unlucky people used their intuition when it came to making important financial decisions, and 20% more used their intuition when thinking about their career choices.

Without realising it, we all prefer things that we have seen before. The phenomenon affects many aspects of our everyday thinking and behaviour. It is part of the reason why companies are willing to spend millions of pounds on advertising campaigns to keep their products in the public eye. Our unconscious guides many of our everyday choices: from the sweaters we buy to the colours that we paint our rooms, from the goods that we choose to the supermarkets that we use.

Lucky people think that if their flight arrived on time in the past, then it will arrive on time in the future. Unlucky people think that if they have failed job interviews in the past then they will continue to fail them in the future. What happens, however, when unlucky people encounter lucky events and lucky people encounter unlucky events? Surely this must make their expectations about the future a little less extreme? In fact, this is not the case. Instead, something very strange happens. Lucky people see any bad luck in their lives as being very short lived. They simply shrug it off and don’t let it affect their expectations about the future. Unlucky people are convinced that any good luck in their lives will only last for a short period of time, and will quickly be followed by their regular dose of bad luck.

Unlucky people are convinced that any good luck that does happen to them will soon fade away, and that their future will continue to be bleak and miserable. Lucky people dismiss any unlucky events in their lives as short lived and transitory. In doing so, they are able to maintain their expectations of a bright and happy future.

Lucky people attempt to achieve their goals, even if their chances of success seem slim, and persevere in the face of failure

It seemed possible that, if they were convinced that they would perform well at a job interview, they might become overconfident and wouldn’t find the time to prepare thoroughly. Interestingly, I found no evidence of this at all. Lucky people’s expectations about the future did not encourage them to engage in risky behaviour. Instead, their positive expectations motivated them to take control of their lives. They attempted to achieve whatever they wanted from life, even if the likelihood of them being successful was quite low.

You make your own luck through your attitude. If you sit in the house and do nothing then nothing will come to you, but if you’re out there working for it then it will come and find you. I firmly believe that I am lucky. Even though things might look a bit black at times, I know that it will be all right. As long as you just keep battling away . . . as long as you keep on with whatever the problem is, trying to find a way through it for yourself, you’ll find the bit of luck that you need will come, and push you through.

Lucky people expect their interactions with others to be lucky and successful

In the workplace, lucky people expect those around them to be productive and competent, and they expect their meetings to be successful and profitable. In contrast, unlucky people do not expect their colleagues and clients to be especially competent, or their interactions with them to be especially successful. Research has shown that, when it comes to business, these sorts of expectations really matter.

Lucky people do not achieve their ambitions by chance. Neither are unlucky people destined never to get what they want from life.

Lucky people tend to imagine spontaneously how the bad luck they encounter could have been worse and, in doing so, they feel much better about themselves and their lives. This, in turn, helps keep their expectations about the future high, and increases the likelihood of them continuing to live a lucky life. However, this use of ‘counter-factual thinking’ is not the only way in which lucky people imagine how any apparent bad luck could have been even worse. They also compare themselves with other people who have experienced even more ill fortune.

Lucky people are convinced that any ill fortune in their life will, in the long run, work out for the best.