Do you believe being lucky?

Well, do you?

This is a two part question. Firstly,  do you believe there is some external agency that decides your fate, and, secondly, can you influence this in some way?  Some cultures immediately say yes, and others say no.

So how can you test for luck? Yes I know a very western approach- try to see if their is some objective foundation to luck!

Two academic researchers Jeffrey Zwiebel and Brett Green, decided to research luck by looking at the sport of baseball, where there is a tradition of hitters “being on a roll” and being lucky. Their initial research seemed to show that they were on to something: when they analysed 12 years of data from Major League Baseball, they found that how a player performed the most recent 25 times at bat was a significant predictor of how he would do the next time. They also calculated that a “lucky” player was 30 per cent more likely to get a home run than if he were not on a “winning streak”. Lucky streaks are real and not just an illusion, they said.

But what causes these lucky streaks? Is it truly luck, or something else?

Perhaps it comes down to the odds. That’s the suggestion from research into both winning and losing streaks from University College London. Researchers Juemin Xu and Nigel Harvey analysed about half a million sports bets (courtesy of an online gambling company) and found that those on winning streaks were much more likely than not to keep winning, and those on losing streaks were more likely to keep losing than 50/50 chances would dictate.

For example, a gambler who had just won three times in a row, won 67 per cent of the time on his fourth bet. If he won on his fourth bet, then he cleaned up 72 per cent of the time on the fifth bet. Those who lost their first bets were just 47 per cent likely to win on the second and, if they lost again, only 45 per cent likely to win on the third. Could good luck beget good luck and bad luck really beget bad luck, just as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?

The research team then dug deeper to reveal why these streaks were in fact real: and found it was the bettors’ own doing.

As soon as they realised they were winning, these lucky players made safer bets, figuring their streaks could not last forever. In other words, they did not believe themselves to sustainable good luck. A different impulse drove gamblers who lost. Sure that “lady luck” was due for a visit, they fell for the gambler’s fallacy and made riskier bets. As a result, the winners kept winning (even if the amounts they won were small) and the losers kept losing. Risky bets are less likely to pay off than safe ones. These western gamblers changed their behaviours because of their feelings about streaks, which in turn perpetuated those streaks.

If behaviour influences luck, do people who think of themselves as lucky behave differently from the rest of us?

A 2009 study co-authored by Maia Young, Ning Chen and Michael Morris assessed whether students believed in stable luck as a trait they themselves possessed. They found a relationship between the belief in stable luck (versus fleeting luck) and measures of achievement and motivation, including whether or not the students persisted at tasks or chose challenging ones to begin with. Lucky people, it seems, are go-getters. ‘You can see how someone who believes in stable luck will be more motivated to pick difficult goals and then stick with them. If you believe luck is this chance, fleeting luck that you can’t rely on because it ebbs and flows, you might be less motivated to stick with hard tasks, the challenging tasks,’ explained Young.

Young’s finding dovetails with the work of Richard Wiseman, a Professor  at the University of Hertfordshire who argues, that luck is a stable trait that people cultivate – not one that people are born with. Wiseman’s research found that people who considered themselves ‘lucky’ people were adept at creating and noticing chance opportunities (such as meeting an important businessman at a café), listened to their intuition, had positive expectations that created self-fulfilling prophesies, and had a relaxed and resilient attitude about life’s trials. Poor unlucky souls were more tense and anxious than lucky ones. His research found four characteristics of lucky people

  1. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities,
  2. make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition,
  3. create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations,
  4. and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

In the same research Wiseman tried to assess whether he could make the unlucky people, lucky by following the behaviours of the Lucky.  Here are his three easy techniques that can help to maximise good fortune:

  1. Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. Wiseman considered this helped because gut feelings act as an alarm bell – a reason to consider a decision carefully.
  2. Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives. For example, one person described how he thought of a colour before arriving at a party and then introduced himself to people wearing that colour. This kind of behaviour boosts the likelihood of chance opportunities by introducing variety.
  3. Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse. In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.

Following these techniques, 80 per cent of the unlucky group reported that, after just a month, they were happier, more satisfied with their lives, and even had more good luck.

So to become more lucky in life become more optimistic: it was one of the key qualities of lucky people identified by Wiseman. But if you want to be lucky in a casino  the study by University College London of those lucky enough to be on a winning streak kept winning because of their pessimism. They played it safe.

So while Wiseman’s lucky people might win at life, their sunny outlooks could get them in trouble in Las Vegas.

So there you are, you can make your own luck!