4 Ways to Increase Your Good Luck

January 8, 2016
Jeff Brown, MD

Our concept of “luck†is really a catch-all term for a wide realm of happenings that are much more within our control than we sometimes admit.

Are you lucky?

Yes you are. Or you wouldn’t be where you are today. The venerable Oprah defines luck as preparation meeting opportunity, which pretty much calls it, for becoming a doc, anyway. Hard work usually improves your odds of gaining whatever you define as success. So “luck” is not really evenly balanced — “good” versus “bad” – it can be influenced.

In non-Webster terms, luck is the outcome of misunderstood, complex systems’ functioning in ways we do not fully comprehend. At least that is the deterministic position. Cause and effect behavior, very Freudian, as well. More primitive explanations of that which we do not understand include superstition and, for some, if you will, religion. We could at this point get into slippery philosophy, but let’s stick to the more practical. How do we become more good-lucky?

One way is to just take more actions. Your probability of success may still be low overall percentage-wise, but for you as an individual, even one winning lottery ticket, for instance, is a big good-luck. Studies have shown that more active people are more successful, more “lucky,” in most of the ways we know how to measure. Venture capitalists hope for only 1 out of 5 investments to be a home run, so they invest in as many as they can plausibly handle to improve their “luck.”

Another path to more “good” luck is to be relentlessly optimistic. Barbara Corcoran, she of “Shark Tank” fame, says that she “…has been lucky my whole life. Luck has been my friend. I expect it, I don’t always get it, but I expect it.” You know, Dale Carnegie’s “Power of Positive Thinking,” or what we modern docs call cognitive thinking. Corcoran says “Not everything works out. But you keep trying. I’m thinking that any failure is going to lead to something better. If you expect more luck, it will find you.”

A practical corollary from Corcoran is that “I steer clear of negative people. I see them as thieves in the night.” The bad apple theory applies to your personal and professional circle as well as to the whole barrel. I mentioned in my last column the studies that show whom you associate yourself with makes a big difference in your life. Or as that great sage, my mother-in-law, used to say: “You seek your own level, and cream rises.” Go argue with her — I don’t.

Another fount of insight comes from Tom Selleck, the actor. “Start where you might be the luckiest.” Echoed by Willy Sutton, the notorious bank robber of the ‘30s, who was asked why he robs banks and he replied “Because that’s where the money is.” In other words, It’s hard to be lucky at finding water if you place yourself in the Sahara. All of these observations can be seen as versions of “You make your own luck.”

Our whole concept of luck arises from our lack of understanding of how complex systems work and the need to find a way to get a handle on them, so we call unexpected outcomes “luck,” secondarily perceived as good or bad. But wisdom cometh (sometimes) with age and we learn that attitude, paying close attention and meticulous preparation can make a difference in our “luck.” Not the whole difference sometimes, but the best that we know how to do so far. Now about that lottery ticket….