How to improve your luck — according to science

Four serendipitous tips to keep you in good fortune.

Four serendipitous tips to keep you in good fortune

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

The power failure last night resulted in your phone not charging, which resulted in your alarm never going off, which means you got up and out late — but just in time to feel the bus you needed to catch woosh past you (splashing a singular sampling of city puddle sludge across your new white cashmere coat). Is it karma? Is it fate? Why did I buy a white cashmere coat? Stop your questioning, unfortunate soul.

As luck would have it, you don't really need any. Because it's really something of a science — which, good news, means you can life-hack it. Here's why and how:

Luck doesn't happen in a vacuum (or anywhere near your sofa)

In How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life Janice Kaplan and Barnaby Marsh posit that much of luck is really just better networking.

When it comes to luck, who you know and interact with weekly certainly matters but not nearly as much as the people you may know through them. Whether you're seeking a good bounce in love or career, it's the people you only sort of know who tend to yield the most fortune. Mark Granovetter, Stanford professor of sociology,  says the principle is measurable and he's labeled it "the strength of weak ties." You and your friends already know all the same folks, but those FB friends on the fringes of you social circles have completely unique social networks. Put another way, there's gold in them there friends because they come with an expansive community of options for "luck". And those people know people… and so on. Exponential luck.

Very superstitious writing on the wall… should be heeded

Believe to achieve is an old chestnut that's in no danger of disappearing, and that may be because there's some science to back it up. Researchers have examined superstition to find that your lucky t-shirt (or socks or playoff beard) can in fact put you on the favourable side of chance. One 2010 study had golfers use a standard "ball everyone else had used" and then try their chances with a "lucky ball". The findings were clear: performance improved significantly when a golf ball blessed with fortune was launched down the green. That same study showed that people who were allowed to hang on to their preferred lucky charm from home fared far better when given problem-solving tasks and memory tests. The study authors write that "activating a superstition boosts participants' confidence in mastering upcoming tasks, which in turn improves performance." The real crux, they suggest was "perceived self-efficacy" — or rather, the potential presence of some lucky thing or action made them believe in themselves more. Ultimately, they were far more persistent when tackling challenging tasks because they already felt empowered by something outside of themselves.

So that special phrase, sacred mantra or lucky trinket you favour can really bolster confidence. Something as basic as "I've got this" can change your attitude — which of course changes everything — especially how you approach even the simplest tasks. It's a roundabout form of positive thinking which, kindly reminder, also helps you live longer.

Speak up and your chances to clean up, well, blow up

Socially conscious entrepreneur and life coach, Lara Galinsky, once ran a consulting firm that orchestrated "luck circles". She told media that "luck sounds mystical, but it starts from the very grounded place of knowing what you want." Just saying the right thing to the right person at the right time is often labeled good fortune but it really just happens by virtue of interacting openly with others. "Being declarative about your own desires and putting them into the world creates the conditions for luck," she says. "When you have clear ideas of what you want and see the world as something you can affect, you elicit lucky reactions. It's about openness and possibility and capturing chance." The power of intent comes into play here and it too, has been studied at length. One passage in the book The Intention Experiment has William A. Tiller, professor Emeritus at Stanford, posit that "for the last 400 years, an unstated assumption of science is that human intention cannot affect what we call physical reality. Tiller's research has shown that fruit fly larvae grow 30% faster when positive human intention was directed towards them. Your feelings toward creatures with a larval stage matter not. The take away is intention matters. For any doubters reading this, note that MythBusters proved something similar with houseplant growth. It's plausible. So, get out there and gab a little — with positive intention, mind you.

Consider yourself lucky and you will be

Luck, as it turns out, is something of a mind game — and one you can skew in your favour. In an experiment that pitted self-described lucky folk against unlucky ones, Richard Wiseman, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire had subjects count the number of photographs they found in a newspaper. On one page, however, he'd written in massive bold type "STOP COUNTING - THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER." On a later page he also wrote "TELL THE EXPERIMENTER YOU'VE SEEN THIS AND WIN £250". Time and time again, the lucky people tended to catch these fortunate messages and the unlucky missed them: they just kept counting. Wiseman, who has also written a book called The Luck Factor explains that the missed opportunities have much to do with an anxious mental state — unlucky people rate higher in neuroticism. He explains that "because lucky people tend to be more relaxed than most, they are more likely to notice chance opportunities, even when they are not expecting them." Happily, says Wiseman, luck can be actively cultivated with a bit of cognitive behaviour therapy. That is, if you are consistently open and mindful of potentially fortunate opportunities (because you expect them to happen in any case), you'll be able to spot a bit of good chance when it presents itself. The top four mental tips that improve your chances, according to Wiseman, are as follows:

  • Listen to your gut — it knows what it's gurgling about (put another way, your instincts matter)
  • Mix up your routine and be open to brand new experiences
  • Keep a daily journal where you can jot down moments of good fortune so you can begin to see your own lucky patterns (a few minutes a day is fine)
  • And because luck is self-fulfilling, it pays dividends to imagine good fortune before every and any important phone call, meeting or event (simply visualize it going well).

Fortune, so says science, really is what you make it. Lining the fates up in your favour should at least allow you the means to purchase a battery operated alarm clock or new coat (maybe go for something darker this time). I mean, think of the prosperity that allowed you to buy your old coat in the first place. I know, I'll stop. Lastly, I'd wish you good luck out there, but it turns out you don't really need it.   

Marc Beaulieu is a Montreal writer, producer, performer, professional host and mental health advocate whose one true love is weird news.