J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

30 Day Experiment – Be More Lucky

We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don't like? - Jean Cocteau

Today launches a new 30-day experiment, during which I will try to be more lucky. I’m basing the experiment on the research of Dr. Richard Wiseman, who, starting in the 90’s, conducted a series of experiments investigating the nature of luck, and whether or not being lucky was a trainable skill (he concluded that it was).

This article by Wiseman explains his experiments and results succinctly.  Wiseman’s “lucky” subjects would probably would fare no better at games of pure chance than the rest of us, but they have better fortune in life.  Opportunities fall into their laps, they seem happier, they know all the right people, and so on.  Who wouldn’t want a bit more luck juice to sprinkle on their fate?

From his research, Wiseman concluded the following about his lucky subjects:

“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.”

A nice cake, if you can bake it.  But how do you get from here to there?  How do you turn an unlucky person into a lucky one?  Wiseman prescribed various exercises to help his less fortunate subjects develop the necessary attitudinal traits.  After following the simple exercises for a month, the less-lucky subjects reported dramatically better luck; fewer mishaps and more happy coincidences.  Wiseman’s exercises were along the following lines (in his own words):

  • 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.
  • Visualize yourself being lucky before an important meeting or telephone call. Luck is very often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In other articles, like this one from Forbes, Wiseman focuses on the social side of luck; luckier people have larger social networks (and keep them active, staying in touch with people).  He also notes that luckier people are far more observant than their less fortunate brethren; they are more likely to notice details outside of “what they are looking for,” and this serves them well.

If you view all the things that happen to you, both good and bad, as opportunities, then you operate out of a higher level of consciousness. - Les Brown

Self-Analysis

Where do I currently stand, on the luck spectrum?  I consider myself fairly lucky, with room for improvement.  I tend to have a good attitude and look on the bright side, but I’m not immune to occasional bouts of self-pity or gloomy pessimism.  I have a decently large social network, but I’m horrible at striking up conversations with strangers; I tend towards minding my own business (and even shyness at times).  I trust my gut more often than not, but sometimes plow ahead despite “having a bad feeling about it.”  I’m open to novel experiences and breaking my routine, but I’m spectacularly unobservant at times.

Customized Exercises

Every day in June, I plan to do the luck-building exercises below.  I’ve designed them to addresses my particular weaknesses, build my strengths, and be easy and fun enough to do every day.

  1. Principle: Focus on the positive / Exercise: Discuss and tweet favorite three experiences of the day
  2. Principle: Expand opportunity / Exercise: Talk to everyone — strike up a conversation at every opportunity
  3. Principle: Follow intuition / Exercise: Consciously consult “gut feeling” at all significant choice points
  4. Principle: Resilience / Exercise: When something “bad” happens, consider possible upsides (and refuse to be demoralized)
  5. Principle: Expand opportunity / Exercise: Observe and record (journal) at least three anomalous details every day

I don’t know if these exercises are perfectly designed, but I don’t think it matters.  They should get me going in the right direction.  It’s worth noting that the opportunity cost in each case is low; none of them take very much time or involve much risk (the possibility of initiating an awkward conversation seems real, but bearable).

Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. - Thomas Edison

So far, the experiment is going well.  Hacking away at a coconut this morning, standing on slippery leaves in bare feet, I managed to not hack off my foot, and while stabbing at the inner shell with my Swiss Army knife, I miraculously avoided cutting off my finger when the blade suddenly jackknifed closed (I escaped with only a laceration, easily staunched with direct pressure and a number of Band-Aids).  This resulted in an opportunity to provide a safety lesson for my daughter, and elicited a tender outpouring of concern from both my wife and daughter, making me feel both loved and needed.  I’d say the day was off to an excellent start!

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7 Comments

  1. eric haller

    careful with the machetes, they are not toys 😛

  2. caroline

    just reading this made me feel lucky. thanks for the post.

  3. Michael B

    I like your exercises! But I’m unsure if not hacking off your foot qualifies. Is lack of bad luck the same as good luck?

  4. Definitely appreciating that all my limbs are still attached.

    Exercises are going well. Getting loads of useful info from conversations I would have not otherwise started. Trusting gut is easy … just need to “check in” with intuition. Top 3 things/positive framing is makes huge difference in experience. Being more observant is hardest — still getting the hang of it.

  5. Great post, JD! I’m a friend of Elizabeth and she sent me your link.

  6. Connor

    Dr Wiseman has a strange view on what luck is. That is why he believes that he can improve your luck. His view is that luck is when something good has happened to you and you look back on events as: “The glass is still half full” instead of “The glass is now half empty”. Basically he is just making you think more positively and by doing so, you push the negatives to the back of your mind and focus on the positives. This isn’t what luck is. Luck would be something happening that is out of your control that favours you, such as winning the lottery. Wiseman takes luck to be positivity, instead of “fate”.

  7. Connor — I think that’s part of it, but Wiseman is also looking at how some people “make their own luck” by seeing opportunities in situations that others might miss (and then acting on that perception). So in that case, it’s action, not attitude, that’s making the luck.

    Also, people who are more observant tend to be luckier. They notice more details and can put that information to use. To the outside observer, that looks a lot like luck.

    From my own experiment based on Wiseman’s ideas, reviewing positive events from the day is what stuck with me the most. As you point out, that aspect of his “luck plan” may just improve attitude (and not actual luckiness), but the attitude shift is real. I’d definitely recommend the practice as an experiment, if you haven’t already tried it.

    Thanks for your comment!

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