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Luck of the Irish? Or can anyone can learn to be lucky?

| 19 comments | Category: positive mentality

paddyHi! I’m Benny – a long-term world-traveller, I speak several languages, work my own hours at a job I like, have many interesting adventures, meet lots of cool people nearly all the time and am a generally happy and positive guy.

There’s only one way all of this can be possible, right? I must just be “lucky“. Fate smiled on me from birth, or karma is treating me well for something I did in a past life, or I’m being cautious and avoiding black cats and ladders, or I have a lucky number and colour I look for in signs, or I have a lucky shoe I travel with, or Jupiter was aligned with Pluto when I was born, or I “deserve” a good life more than others?

No. WRONG! I’m sorry if you strongly believe in any of these things, but I find these concepts absolutely ridiculous.

In today’s controversial post, I’m going to share my “secret to luck” with you. Why is it controversial? Will I be suggesting that you perform some strange new-age (or bronze-age) spiritual ritual? Nothing like that; I’m going to suggest that you look at the universe logically. Crazy, isn’t it?!

Luck has a perfectly logical explanation

A misunderstanding of simple rules about how the universe works is one thing that can hold people back from achieving their dreams (such as travelling, learning a language, having a fulfilling life, etc.). I certainly get called lucky a lot and I can tell you right now that I don’t like that word.

It implies both that things are easier for me for mystical reasons (rather than because I actually worked to achieve them) and (even worse) that you could never achieve what I, or other “lucky” people, have because of a universal conspiracy against it. Without exception, everything in the world has a perfectly logical explanation behind it, even if we may not know it at the time.

Most “lucky” events can be explained by basic statistics or by a change in perspective. Derren Brown, tried to explain this on “The System” (you can watch it here) where he documented a lady who had won bets on five consecutive horse races, with amazing odds against her. He claimed to have found a 100% foolproof system to winning at horse races. The secret?

Spoiler for those who can’t watch the video (I’d recommend it, but the interesting explanation part is given at 36:50): the documentary crew actually contacted almost 8,000 people and simply told them to bet on all possible combinations! They followed all of them and eventually just one had to win all the races. From her perspective she was “lucky”, but there was nothing magical actually happening; the film crew were going to follow the story of someone winning 5 consecutive horse races no matter what happened.

In the same video Derren tosses an untampered coin 10 times and gets 10 heads in a row (at 09:55). How? He filmed himself tossing the coin all day long (boring, but does prove a point!) and edited out the many hours where he didn’t get 10 in a row. It was going to happen eventually, the one time it did wasn’t “lucky” for any reason other than that. :)

This is important to understand many things. People win lotteries not because they followed some lucky ritual, but because statistically someone has to win if enough people play. Fortune tellers, mystics and astrologers are right sometimes because they are wrong most of the time (or too vague to say something that actually means anything) and make so many guesses that eventually one has to be right (or because they can “read” people for logical reasons like through their body language etc.). The few right times get blown out of proportion.

Most lucky stories are simply statistics playing their role and you hearing the story – me not finding €20 on the ground, or not thinking about a song just before it is played on the radio, or not being in the right place at the right time for many different events, are not interesting stories so you won’t hear about them. But statistically these kinds of things have to happen eventually to someone, and there are almost 7 billion of us so it’s going to happen and you’ll hear about it. If you happen to be that someone, I’m happy for you if you feel “lucky”, but there’s nothing mystical about it.

This concept has hugely helped me to live a more fulfilling life. I don’t wait until the day that I’ll win the lottery (relying on the fact that “I deserve it”, or on my lucky key-chain that “helped” me win €20 once etc.) – I find a way to travel without being rich, and I don’t make my decisions based on superstitions; I’m active and find real world methods of achieving my objectives. So how can you learn to be lucky?

The Luck Factor

luckThere’s an interesting book by Richard Wiseman called the “Luck Factor” (you can get it on Amazon UK or US; it would have been on my Christmas wishlist if I hadn’t read it already!), where he discussed how he gathered hundreds of volunteers considered both “lucky” and “unlucky” and scientifically analysed what makes them different. The results emphasise common sense, but can still be applied to anyone to make their life more “lucky”. Here is an article that best summarises the book, but I’ll give my own analysis of what he discussed:

  • Maximise your chance opportunities. Instead of following the same routine, try to maximise your chances of meeting new people (new people means new opportunities). Have a relaxed attitude to life and be open to new situations and experiences – there may be opportunities knocking on your door every day that you are simply not aware of.
  • Become more aware of how things work. Understanding the system and the situation you want to succeed in allows you to work with it instead of against it. It also helps to understand how you work. Your hunches and instincts are actually your subconscious, which gathers information in the background that turns out to generally guide us in the right direction. Listen to it and don’t rely on baseless superstitions (studies have shown that superstitious people actually expose themselves to less opportunities or the wrong ones, and would turn out to be considered as much more unlucky!)
  • Expect good fortune and act to make it happen. Aim for your goals and persevere despite setbacks. Remind yourself that you can do it and be optimistic about all encounters you may have. Don’t just wait until your ship comes in. Do everything possible to make it come in. Your attitude to everyday situations makes a world of difference.
  • Turn your bad luck into good luck. Believe it or not, anyone you consider “lucky” is just as susceptible to misfortune as anyone else. Health problems, robbery, great hardships and even little annoyances that happen every day can happen to anyone. What can change your “luck” is how you deal with these situations if they do happen. Sometimes “bad luck” is actually your own doing or lack of taking precautions, and in this case if you learn from your mistakes you will not repeat them in future. Otherwise, you can try to see the bright side, try to learn from your mistakes, see how things will be alright in the long run, don’t dwell on your misfortune if it happens and get on with your day or your life.

Try not to think in terms of luck

Another thing that holds people back is simply categorising themselves as unlucky and others as lucky. For example, it’s easy to put me in the lucky category based on the introduction to this post, but that’s because I prefer to be optimistic and don’t dwell on bad and even horrible things that have happened to me.”Lucky” people are actually just good filters – they show the world the positive things that happen to them. “Unlucky” people are just as good filters, but they tend to focus on the negative and take so many positive things in their life for granted.

I’ve decided to take negative and extremely difficult experiences in my life as a means of “character building“, and even tried to turn them into funny stories whenever possible, or if not, then just try to move on and look at the bigger picture. Maybe whatever doesn’t kill you might not necessarily make you stronger, but that doesn’t mean it has to make you weaker.

I’ve met lots of people in my travels that live amazing lives, including extremely rich, famous and, most importantly, happy people. When you get to know these people you see that nearly all of them had their own struggle to reach where they are and it’s unfair to oversimplify their situation and say they are what they are due to pure “luck”. Most “lucky” people apply the principles outlined above without even realising it, but may still have their own challenges that cannot be seen by others.

By applying these pretty common-sense rules you can greatly improve your life and become “lucky”. You’ll notice that I keep putting that word in quotation marks. I simply don’t believe in luck in the same way that many people do. To me, there is simply no such thing as a lucky or unlucky person in the traditional sense of the word; “luck” is applying principles of attitude, common-sense and living intelligently. Sorry to sound like a cheesy Disney movie, but you can achieve your dreams if you put your mind to it! Don’t use “bad luck” (or other “luck of the draw” situations like genetics and background) as an excuse! You can learn to be “lucky”, by no longer thinking in terms of luck ;)

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Sorry for the lack of posts recently – I’ve been working a lot so that I can take some weeks off for the festive season and upcoming travels :). But I’ve got lots of posts planned in the coming weeks including the next one where I’ll teach you thousands of words of foreign vocabulary in less than 2 minutes, then I’ll summarise my Brazilian mission and say if I was successful, and will reveal my next destination and mission! Stay tuned ;)

In the meantime, any thoughts on this article? Am I wrong in being skeptical about unprovable magic and superstition? Will you still avoid walking under ladders (even though this tradition is actually from the fact that breaking the triangle made by the wall, ground and ladder used to be blasphemy)? Or am I on to something in believing that you can learn to be “lucky”? Please share your thoughts in the comments :)

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  • wccrawford

    You were almost there when you were trying to say that you should ignore 'luck' and make things happen for yourself, rather than hoping the universe would just give it to you.

    But then your examples of people who fake luck on video kind of change the message. Now, you're saying that you aren't 'lucky', but that someone had to end up with a life of where everything goes your way, and it just happens to be you. That message is absolutely useless to everyone else because they didn't get that life, you did. How do they know? They've already lived a portion of theirs and didn't get what you did so far.

    Now, luck DOES exist. If you want to work for yourself, anyone can do that. But to get into a position where you make good money, don't work hard, and STILL work for yourself… That either takes a lot of luck, or a LOT of skill. And getting to that skill either takes luck or hard work. And since “don't work hard” was part of the criteria, that only leaves luck again.

    Just explaining luck doesn't make it not be luck.

    No, let's bring it back on point: You can have anything you want, so long as you're willing to work and sacrifice for it. I could be making a lot more money right now, but I prefer my (fairly) easy job and my free time for my hobbies, including language-learning. You have to be able to see the choices available to you and pick one, instead of letting life drag you along and taking whatever you get by default.

  • Daphne

    Benny, I love this blog entry and expected nothing less than brilliance from my “soul” (virtual?) brother. I'm generally resistant to advice, but this set of useful tips is good enough to bookmark.

    I'm reminded of a day a few years ago in which I accidentally broke a mirror. Although I'm not superstitious, I couldn't help but wonder a little bit and worry a little bit. I confessed this concern to a friend who witnessed the mirror-breaking event, and she simply said, “You make your own luck.”

    I believe this to be true. Whether or not we believe in the power of anything happening on an otherworldly level or a quantum-physical level, we are absolutely in charge of how our life is going to go (in addition to our attitude about it and how we are going to feel in retrospect and what we are going to say about it). I also believe in the power of belief and focus. I've experienced the power of focus while learning how to ride a motorcycle. If you look to the right, you turn to the right. If you look at the guardrail (or other obstacle), you will aim for the guardrail and have an accident. If you focus on where you want to go, you will get there. If you focus on what you don't want to have happen, you might get there, too.

    There was a wonderful TED talk awhile back on synthesizing happiness. Even though we're not always in control of the external factors, we're always in control of our attitudes. One thing the speaker noticed, too, is that we are generally happier when we *don't* have too many choices about how things go; we're less likely to regret or wonder.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    You've misunderstood what I was saying, I never said “don't work hard” (in fact, my whole post implies the exact opposite) or that people can get exactly my life. Really don't know how you made those conclusions.
    I'm also not denying the existence of chance in influencing how our lives develop, but chance and luck are not the same thing (the latter has a mystical and magical sense to it). People should focus more on what they can influence rather than leave too many things up to chance and hope that they are lucky.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for your comment Daphne :)
    A wise friend of mine also once told me “You make your own luck”. I remember that TED talk – the irony of too much choice being something that we don't inherently want. All very interesting!

  • Lauren

    I relate to this post 100%. I cannot tell you how many times I've been told that since I do well in school, get scholarships, enjoy what I study, spent a year in France as an exchange student, and speak French fluently, I am somehow “lucky”. It's really quite aggravating because it takes away from the fact that I've really worked my @$$ off to get where I am today. My parents weren't rich, the exact opposite actually, and I held a part time job throughout high school to pay for my exchange program. I made a point to learn French while I was there and refused to speak English, even though it would have made things a lot easier at times. Now that I'm back, I work hard in school and I socialize with French students at my university to maintain my speaking skills.

    Like you said, luck is what you make of each opportunity that is presented to you. Instead of hearing about something exciting and wishing it would happen to you, make it happen! Do your research and find out what you have to do to get where you want to go. An exciting life isn't going to simply present itself on your doorstep if all you do is sit idly on the sidelines!

  • Lauren

    I relate to this post 100%. I cannot tell you how many times I've been told that since I do well in school, get scholarships, enjoy what I study, spent a year in France as an exchange student, and speak French fluently, I am somehow “lucky”. It's really quite aggravating because it takes away from the fact that I've really worked my @$$ off to get where I am today. My parents weren't rich, the exact opposite actually, and I held a part time job throughout high school to pay for my exchange program. I made a point to learn French while I was there and refused to speak English, even though it would have made things a lot easier at times. Now that I'm back, I work hard in school and I socialize with French students at my university to maintain my speaking skills.

    Like you said, luck is what you make of each opportunity that is presented to you. Instead of hearing about something exciting and wishing it would happen to you, make it happen! Do your research and find out what you have to do to get where you want to go. An exciting life isn't going to simply present itself on your doorstep if all you do is sit idly on the sidelines!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Lauren! One reason I wrote this post is because a lot of people dismiss my achievements (like they do yours) as luck. That's only seeing the end result and not the struggle to get there or the sacrifices and the smart decisions made along the way. Anybody's luck can be explained as them taking advantage of opportunities available to them and working damn hard with them, while keeping optimistic. Sadly this optimism is misread as everything coming so easy to them – like a universal conspiracy.
    Hopefully this post will light a fire under people's asses and let them know it's not such a mysterious and mystical thing if someone tries to make their dreams come true ;)

  • Antonio

    Yo escribire en español que me es mas facil que en inglés. Bueno queria comentare antes de nada que eres un ejemplo para mi y que ya me gustaria llevar la vida que tu llevas, pero aun leyendo todos tus posts y viendo que no es tan dificil, no se si algun dia sere tan valiente de ponerme a hacerlo, espero que si!!.
    Creo que tienes mucha razón en cuanto a que el hecho de tener suerte o no, es en mayor parte la postura que presentas ante la vida. La “suerte” se busca, no aparece de la nada, pero creo que hay algunas situaciones y cosas que aun habiendo puesto buena voluntad no salen como deberian. Ahi para mi, si que exite un cierto facto de suerte, no mistico, sino por el azar, lo que has comentado antes.
    La principal razon para tener suerte en la vida es ser positivo ante todo, y me gusta bastante como lo has expresado. Un saludo!

  • Weijin

    Amazing Benny! Slightly freaky too as I have just finished reading the Luck Factor yesterday! Today is the first day of my luck journal writing. I'm trying to see how “lucky” I can become in a month. I've taken your comments about conference interpretation previously and I've been to a language event, chatted to other interpreters and have come to the conclusion that language is best kept as a passion for me rather than an occupation. My intuition about a job in interpreting was never good anyway. Thank you for your comment that spurred me to look into myself. I must count myself lucky because I've had the privillege of being in contact with you.

    I guess I was too desperate to get out of my job and want to grab the quickest route out. I just wanted a fresh start but like everything, it takes time and perseverance. And interpreting like any other job takes years of mental preparation and learning. It's not that I've given up on interpreting but I've realised that it's not what my gut feeling says its right for me. I know that its telling me that something in finance/business is right for reasons too long to elaborate here in this post.

    Have fun in your remaining time in Brazil and I will keep a watch out for you summary of being brazillian post.

  • http://www.nomadicneil.com/ NomadicNeil

    Hey dude,

    I agree with your point of view. I also recommend people read the books Outliers and Dance with Chance. Chances are that if you are reading this blog then you are lucky enough (ie probably born and grown up in a developed country, went to school etc).

    I put it this way, you don't make your own luck, rather you make the situations for yoruself where random positive (lucky) things are more likely to happen.

    For example, you invite your buddy out to go to a bar, he decides to stay in an play video-games so you go out on your own. You end up meeting a really cool girl. Where you lucky? To an extent, but you did put yourself in a situation where those kinds of things are more likely to happen. Meeting random people in bars tends to happen, not so much when you're sitting at home.

  • http://www.favouritewords.wordpress.com/ linguaholic

    I agree with much of what you write.
    Everybody has the possibilities to lead a happy/lucky life by taking things in their own hands and being optimistic. However, it is simply not true to say that everybody has the same chances. Yes, I am where I am now because I worked hard for it, but also because I was LUCKY enough not to be born in a slum in a war-torn country. Lucky to have parents supporting me, having gone to a good school etc. Unless you believe in karma, you can't deny that there are “undeserved” outer circumstances in everybody's life that can make thing a lot easier or downright impossible.

    On a lighter note, I just remembered what my English teacher said when he wanted to explain the difference between lucky and happy and got stuck halfway through his sentence:
    “You're lucky if you have luck and happy if you … have hap.”

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for your comment! I'm not claiming that everyone in the world is exposed to the same chances – what makes you “lucky” is what you do with those chances. A poor man in Africa can be considered much luckier than a rich man in America if the decisions he makes with his resources that lead to a more fulfilling life for him.
    There are lots of inspirational stories of people in slums, or people born blind, or people with lots of “bad luck” handed to them who turn things around and live remarkable lives. It may be “easier” for those of us in developed countries in middle to upper class families, but that just emphasises that you have to make the best of your life.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Totally agree ;) I like your example – almost sounds like a real life one… :P

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for your comment and I'm glad to see you are applying the principles in that book!
    Yes, as I said before conference interpretation just wasn't for me. I'm glad to see you've thought hard about it before jumping on a huge life changing path that may just not be for you.
    Best of luck in finding your new path!

  • Johano

    It's bad luck to be superstitious…

  • jchthys

    It's bad luck to be superstitious…

  • http://www.nomadicneil.com/ NomadicNeil

    ; )

  • http://learnspanishfastcourse.com/ Fast Jay

    Agree 100%. We create our own luck.
    Reminds me of a Bruce springsteen song i read about recently:

    You can't start a fire without a spark,
    You can't start a fire sitting 'round crying over a broken heart
    You can't start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart.

    Life's short, make sth happen.

  • Maryna Brij Bundyuk

    Benny – you rock! :)