During the month of June I conducted a 30-day experiment; I tried to “be more lucky.” I based my experiment on the research of Richard Wiseman, who has studied lucky people (and what makes them lucky) for a number of years. Wiseman discovered that lucky people tend to have the following qualities:
- They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities.
- They make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition.
- They create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations.
- They adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.
Based on these findings, I created and resolved to practice five customized exercises everyday for the month of June. I’ll discuss my experience of each exercise in turn.
Exercise #1: Discuss and tweet favorite three experiences of the day (focus on the positive)
Discussing the “Top 3″ with Kia and Tesla Rose was an easy and fun thing to do in the evening. Sometimes it was surprising which experiences made the list. For example, one evening we were walking in the evening on a beach trail, in near-total darkness (it gets dark very early in Costa Rica) when we began to hear scurrying and rustling on either side of the narrow trail. The noise intensified; soon we were threading our way through a surround-sound mosh pit of horror movie sound effects. The experience was harrowing, but it made Kia’s Top 3 list for that day. She has written about the experience here.
Simple activities, like playing in the surf at the beach, often made the list. So did experiences with nature … hearing or seeing howler monkeys, for example (we were on a working vacation in Costa Rica for the entire month of June).
Early in the month I tweeted the top 3 experiences of each day, but this started to feel obnoxious, and I abandoned that part of the exercise. People don’t necessarily want to read about how precious your day was. Nobody complained, but I ultimately decided it wasn’t the kind of thing I want to tweet about. I would rather share interesting links or facts … provide value of some sort.
Did it make me luckier?
This exercise certainly made me feel luckier. It’s an effective method. Even though the exercise was very focused — picking out three discrete experiences — the overall effect was to make me consider the big picture. Here I was in Costa Rica, with my loving family, in good health, and so on … so yeah, it made me feel like a lucky man.
Exercise #2: Talk to everyone — strike up a conversation at every opportunity (expand opportunity)
This was the hardest exercise! I’m not naturally a chatty person, and I had to overcome extreme reticence in order to make myself strike up random conversations with strangers. My limited Spanish contributed to the problem.
I ended up compromising; I struck up conversations with people who I perceived to be interesting in some way. Also, if needed information (directions, when a store opened, etc.), or help, I made myself ask someone nearby. Asking for directions or help comes quite easily to some people, but for me it’s challenging. A combination of 1) pride, and 2) not wanting to impose usually conspire to make me to tough it out alone. Could be a guy thing.
Interestingly, sometimes this exercise contradicted Exercise #3 (“follow your gut feeling”). Sometimes my gut instinct directed me not to talk to somebody — to avoid engagement. In those cases I always went with my gut instinct … definitely the easier choice.
Did it make me luckier?
Somewhat. I just wasn’t that good at this one. It was good to overcome my reticence about asking for directions or help, and that proved helpful in several situations. One afternoon I asked a random construction worker if he could spray some WD-40 on crusty bike lock, and I bought him an ice-cream cone for his trouble (he was working right next to CariBeans). I also had some short, interesting conversations with a few random people.
Kia is quite good at talking to strangers. She actively sought out people with young children (Tesla Rose had a dearth of playmates during most of our trip), and cornered The Dellingers one morning at the beach. Tesla Rose had a great time playing with the Dellinger girls (Eli and Annika) for the remainder of our trip, and meeting them definitely enhanced our experience. A stroke of luck, you could say.
Exercise#3: Consciously consult “gut feeling” at all significant choice points (follow intuition)
This one was easy to do, and felt effective. Significant parts of our brains are processing information at a tremendous rate before our conscious minds are aware of the data; the calculations are subconscious (as Malcolm Gladwell discusses in Blink). While intuition is inferior to cold, conscious calculation in some situations (evaluating financial securities, for example), it’s a perfectly adequate way to navigate a Costa Rican workation.
Whenever I had a moment of doubt or confusion regarding the ever-present question “what to do next,” I consulted my gut instinct. What felt like the right course of action?
Did it make me luckier?
I think it did, but it’s hard to prove. The evidence is invisible; bad things that didn’t happen. We stayed out of trouble, avoided crime, didn’t get (badly) injured, etc. Is this a good beach to hang out at? Correct choice = fun times, no sunburn, and not being mugged.
Perhaps the main benefit of “trusting your gut” is that it provides a way to move forward in life, with confidence, and without excessive, time-consuming analysis. Unfortunately there is no way to do a controlled experiment; once a choice has been made you can’t go back in life and try things the other way.
Another benefit of following one’s intuition: it provides an easy way to maximize the return on the expenditure of limited personal resources (such as time, money, willpower). If you find yourself with a spare ten minutes, what’s the best way to use it? Send an email? Relax and stare at the trees? Read, or read a book to your kid? If you had to consciously calculate what the best way to use that time would be, the decision-making process itself would probably take you ten minutes.
Exercise #4: When something “bad” happens, consider possible upsides, and refuse to be demoralized (resilience)
This exercise was moderately difficult, but extremely effective. When I was feeling down, for whatever reason (usually mosquito bites, or Tesla Rose throwing plates on the ground, or having internet connectivity problems), it wasn’t always easy to find “the bright side.” Usually the “opportunity” in the situation was to change my own perspective or behavior. Mosquitoes? Part of the Costa Rican equation — avoid as much as possible, but don’t focus too much on the bugs or the bites. Two-year-old acting out? What’s going on with her psychologically? What’s she feeling, and what are her motivations? Internet problems? Find something else to do.
Did it make me luckier?
Our biggest piece of “bad luck” was renting a house that wasn’t an ideal fit for our family. This exercise helped give us the fortitude to do something about the situation; we moved from the jungle to a beach house. There was a financial hit, but not a huge one. We found ourselves much happier closer to the beach — the double rental cost was well worth it.
Following this exercise made me realize the absurdity in the “I’m having a bad day” attitude. You can always turn it around. You can always use your imagination to find a course of action that will improve your situation. To paraphrase Lt. Gen. Harold Moore: if plan B doesn’t work, go through the entire alphabet.
Exercise #5: Observe and record (journal) at least three anomalous details every day (expand opportunity)
I failed miserably at this exercise. Part of the problem is that I created too many exercises for myself — I couldn’t keep them all in my mind at once. The other part of problem is that my natural observation skills are dismal; this one was just too much to bite off. I basically gave up after a few days. This would probably be a good 30-day experiment on its own. I’ve read accounts of people dramatically improving their powers of observation; I believe it’s possible. But it was too much for this time around.
Did it make me luckier?
N/A — I didn’t do the exercise.
Maybe I’ll actually buy Wiseman’s book and see what “make yourself luckier” experiments he proscribes. I wanted to start with making up my own exercises, but I think mine might have been too ambitious. Three out of the five I created for myself really worked for me — the other two more or less flopped.
The three exercises that I was able to practice did all seem to have a positive effect. They made me happier, if not luckier. There’s a reason those two qualities are often paired, as in “happy-go-lucky.” Focusing on the positive leads to both luck and happiness.
Focusing on the positive doesn’t mean that you ignore problems, or that you have any less awareness of evil, injustice, wrong-doing, bad feelings, or bad situations. It simply means that you focus on what is good in your own life, and build on that.
I’ve never had a victim mentality; at least in adulthood I’ve always seen myself as responsible for my own fate. But these exercises had the effect of moving the personal responsibility dial from 8 to 10. What “luck” I would like to have befall me — it’s just a matter of doing the work, meeting people who can help me out, and cultivating an indomitable spirit. There’s nothing magical or mystical involved (though the subconscious is heavily involved, and one’s path through life is ultimately unpredictable, which can make it feel mystical).
June did contain a couple “extra lucky” events. One night I went out to dinner, and by the time I returned a lucrative Loöq Records music licensing deal had been offered, negotiated, and closed by the time I returned. That same evening I received an email notifying me that there were some uncollected music royalties in my name — would I like them to be collected? Why yes, I would — thank you!
On a less tangible note, June was filled with creative inspiration. Ideas (mostly for stories, blog posts, music) sometimes came faster than I could write them down. I attribute this mostly to being in a different environment, with a high degree of novelty.
What About “The Power of Intention”?
I completely believe that we have the power to “manifest” our desires (or preferences, as I prefer to call them) by imagining them. That is, as long as we’re willing to do the tangible work in the world that brings us to that reality. Bringing something into reality always starts with imagination (or visualization, if you prefer), but it must be followed up by action, by work.
But what if I’m wrong?
What if all you really have to do is imagine what you want, to completely believe that reality will manifest, and then, well … kind of sit around and wait for it?
Back in April, Steve Pavlina put up an interesting post. He suggested that if you don’t believe in the power of intention, you can put a “tracer” on your intention so that you’ll be able to distinguish an intentional manifestation from coincidence. One example he gives is manifesting $100, somehow related to a lime. Yes, the fruit. The more random of a tracer, the better.
What’s the opportunity cost of trying something like that? Zero, I thought — I’m going to manifest $15,000, somehow related to a lizard. Kia hates it when I try kooky stuff like that that doesn’t align with my beliefs about reality, but I don’t see what the harm is. We all know that some of our beliefs must be wrong — we just don’t know which ones. So since early April, I’ve been “trying” to manifest $15,000, somehow related to a lizard, by believing it will happen. That’s all I’m doing. I’m not starting any lizard businesses, or writing songs with lizard names.
When I receive my $15K, somehow related to a lizard, I’ll be sure to let you know.