Hi! 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
There’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
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
Enter your email in the top right of the site to subscribe to the Language Hacking League e-mail list for way more tips sent directly to your inbox!
If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.
This article was written by Benny Lewis
Comments: If you liked this post or have anything to say, please leave a comment! I love reading them
Just keep in mind that I’ll delete any rude, trolling, spammy, irrelevant or way off-topic comments. Also, use your REAL name, not a brand or business one, and don’t link to your site in the comments unless it’s relevant to this post.
If you have a general language learning question, please ask it in the forums. Otherwise please use the search tool on the right for any other question not related to this post.
- How to make time if you are too busy (Very similar post)
- Does drinking help you speak a foreign language? (Very similar post)
- Do you need to be rich to travel the world? (Very similar post)
- How to survive as a travelling vegetarian (Very similar post)
- Don't be scared to meet new people (Very similar post)
- Are you closed minded? How I finally learned how to get along with Parisians (RANDOM - Very similar post)