How To Use Science To Increase Your Luck

Written by Anna Akbari, PhD

Photo by Stocksy

Luck. It may be my least favorite word. Anc anyone who’s ever had their success or happiness dismissed as “luck” knows what I’m talking about. Luck isn’t something we’re born with—it’s something we cultivate. Psychologist Richard Wiseman’s research found that people increase their “luck” by following four key principles:

1. They notice opportunities

2. They make decisions by listening to their intuition

3. They project positive expectations that become self-fulfilling prophecies

4. They exercise resilience

Put another way, “lucky” people seize the moment, are decisive and positive, and always find a way to bounce back. Most importantly: These are active choices. Meaning luck is a choice. Luck is not created merely by thinking positively. Sure, positivity is important. But positivity alone won’t the deliver the results you’re seeking. I promise.

Go beyond positive thinking.

So what’s the alternative? Well, you can operate like a startup and experiment your way to happiness and success. Startups are disrupting large organizations and entire industries, so planning is counterproductive. Instead, they form hypotheses and test them out to create clarity and build a sustainable foundation as they forge a path ahead.

And lest you think experimentation is just risky business, this isn’t about chance. Calculated experimentation delivers more valuable results than years of planning. Why? Because life isn’t “plannable”—it requires improvisation and the more you’re testing and getting feedback, the easier it is to ensure you’re staying on the right path.

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Be open to deviating from the plan.

But we are largely afraid of experimentation. We think it’s risky and reckless. What if I make a wrong move? What if I humiliate myself or disappoint others? There’s a sense of security associated with maintaining the status quo, even when it’s outdated. Planning feels more adult. And yet, it will only take you so far (and sometimes in the wrong direction). Planning assumes variables don’t change and that the context is controlled. I don’t know about you, but that isn’t my life. I’m bombarded with unforeseen curveballs on a daily basis. And landing on my feet requires real-time pivots, not sticking to the original plan at all costs.

So I want to challenge you to stop planning and start experimenting. Here's how:

1. Scope out the scene.

We overlook and take much of our everyday existence for granted, so observation is key when launching your own experiments. Merely paying attention is a game changer to the way you make decisions and tweak your behavior. Tune into everything from dress habits to etiquette around technology to hierarchical office rules. Ask yourself, “What dominates? What’s rewarded or punished? Are there any anomalies?” Regardless of your intimacy with a scene or subject, observe as objectively as possible. Take it all in. Become a keen observer of your own life and spare no detail. And remember: Truth is often revealed in actions, not words. So make a habit of tuning in to the world you inhabit and soon your life will be in a constant state of experimentation.

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2. Hedge your bets.

Experiments start with a hypothesis, which then requires validation. Don’t get intimidated—give yourself permission to test out small details, like what you eat for lunch or what you wear to an interview. Nothing’s too mundane for experimentation. You want to push yourself into constant testing mode so it becomes a natural part of how you operate. Choose something you want to improve or optimize; this is about what makes you happy.

3. Cash in on results.

How do you know if it’s working? These are nuanced, subtle experiments, so it’s not always immediately obvious if something is working. Identify some incremental goals that can serve as checkpoints along the way to larger milestones. And if things don’t go entirely as planned (spoiler alert: that’s highly likely), reflect on the speed bumps you encounter, consider some workarounds, and use the unanticipated data as fodder for your next experiment. As Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” All results are useful results, making you that much stronger the next go around.

Do you tend to overplan? When have you experimented to optimize results? Which areas of your life are ripe for experimentation? Ask yourself the right questions and you will set yourself up for happiness and success.

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