The current issue of Newsweek (cover-dated 02 February 2009) has a fantastic article from Ben Sherwood entitled “What It Takes to Survive”. Ostensibly, this piece is about how people handle crises. Why do some people panic, some people lead — and most people stand around in a daze?

This larger topic is fascinating, of course, but even more interesting is the article’s sub-theme: some people are lucky and some are not. But what we think of as “luck” has almost nothing to do with randomness and everything to do with attitude. According to Richard Wiseman, a professor in the public understanding of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in Britain, only about 10% of life is purely random; the remaining 90% is defined by the way we think. Our attitudes produce our luck.

Sidenote: Professor Wiseman’s research focuses on “quirky areas of psychology, including deception, humour, luck and the paranormal.” He has a new and excellent little blog filled with quirky stuff.

From the Newsweek article:

“Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods,” Wiseman writes. “Instead, it is a state of mind—a way of thinking and behaving.” Above all, he insists that we have far more control over our lives — and our luck — than we realize.

This echoes almost exactly the sentiments in the book Luck is No Accident, which I reviewed last year. In that slim volume, the authors write:

You have control over your own actions and how you think about the events that impact your life. None us can control the outcomes, but your actions can increase the probability that desired outcomes will occur. There are no guarantees in life. The only guarantee is that doing nothing will get you nowhere.

I’ve certainly found this to be true in my own life. When I sit around and moan about my misfortunes, more misfortunes seem to come my way. But when I attempt to learn from my mistakes, or from the bad things that happen to me, when I take action instead of remaining passive, even bad luck can be turned to good.

In the Newsweek article, Professor Wiseman suggests four reasons that luck favors certain people:

  1. Lucky people frequently happen upon chance opportunities. But this is more than just being in the right place at the right time. “Lucky” people also have to be aware or the opportunity, and have the courage to seize it.
  2. Lucky people listen to their hunches. In other words, they listen to their gut instinct. This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, which argues that often our first instincts are correct.
  3. Lucky people persevere in the face of failure. You’ve all seen that Nike commercial from Michael Jordan, right? “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
  4. Lucky people have the ability to turn bad luck into good fortune. The past couple of weeks have been pretty shitty for me. They’ve sucked. It would be easy to surrender and just give up. Instead, I’ve tried to find the positive, and to build something constructive out of my experience. Instead of focusing on the loss of a close friend, I think, “What can I take from this?” As I wrote and delivered my eulogy, for example, I tried to learn more about speaking in public. (My second eulogy at tonight’s memorial service should be even better.)

I encourage you to read the entire Newsweek article. It’s well worth your time. And it may prove to be the luckiest thing you do all day!

Photo by cimarroncat.

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