Self Help

Science of Being Lucky How to Engineer Good Fortune, Consistently Catch Lucky Breaks, and Live a Charmed Life, The - Peter Hollins

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Matheus Puppe

· 14 min read

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Here is a summary of the key points from the introduction and first chapter of “The Science of Being Lucky”:

  • Luck refers to random chance events that result in good or bad outcomes beyond our control. People desire luck as it seems to give a sense of influence over uncertain outcomes.

  • Cultures have developed many superstitions and rituals intended to attract good luck or avoid bad luck. Things like lucky charms, avoiding black cats, etc.

  • The human need for control leads us to attribute outcomes to luck when we can’t fully understand or predict the complex causes. Luck serves as a way to feel less subject to chaos.

  • Gambling is used as an example - skill can influence outcomes but luck is still needed to consistently win. The line between luck and probability/risk is blurred.

  • Near misses and accidental escapes from harm are also considered matters of luck. Luck explains both positive and avoided negative random events.

  • The concept of luck is socially useful for making people feel better about failures/successes by attributing them to forces beyond individual control or skill. But ultimately luck is just an attribution, not a causal force.

Believing in luck is a human coping mechanism for events that can’t be rationally explained. While believing in luck can sometimes improve one’s mood, it can also have harmful effects by leading people to take unnecessary risks or deceive others.

Scientifically, concepts like chance and probability are more accurate than luck when describing random outcomes. Still, people often try to influence luck through superstitions as a way to feel in control. This stems from a psychological tendency called locus of control - the desire to believe one can control life’s outcomes rather than accept external forces.

Believing in patterns of luck where none exist is known as the “gambler’s fallacy.” This cognitive bias, along with the broader concept of apophenia (seeing connections in random data), helps explain humanity’s propensity to find meaning and causality where there is only randomness. While this trait was evolutionarily useful, it can also encourage irrational beliefs if not recognized.

  • Locus of control refers to whether people believe they have control over what happens to them (internal locus of control) or whether external factors like luck or fate determine outcomes (external locus of control).

  • Psychologist Julian Rotter first developed the concept in 1954 to describe these beliefs about internal vs external control.

  • People with an internal locus of control believe their actions determine outcomes and take responsibility for successes and failures. Those with an external locus of control attribute outcomes to external factors like luck.

  • Most people fall along a spectrum rather than having purely internal or external views. Younger and older people tend to be more external than middle-aged.

  • Those with an external locus of control are more likely to believe in and rely on luck. Researchers found they can be further divided based on whether they see luck as stable or fleeting.

  • Seeing luck as stable (a trait) leads to more motivation and goal-seeking, similar to those with an internal locus of control. Seeing it as fleeting undermines motivation since outcomes seem random.

  • Locus of control and views of luck influence behavior - those with an external locus but stable view of luck are more likely to be successful due to greater initiative, while those external with fleeting view of luck tend to be more passive.

The passage examines two popular methods claimed to increase luck: visualization and affirmations, and signs/symbols.

For visualization and affirmations, the idea is to clearly visualize your goals and repeat positive statements about achieving them. A study found that a group who mentally rehearsed free throws daily improved their shooting as much as a group who physically practiced, suggesting visualization can be effective.

However, visualization alone may not manifest impossible goals. The key seems to be that visualization increases awareness, readiness and willingness to act on opportunities, rather than magically creating outcomes.

Signs and symbols rely on noticing coincidences as signs of future luck. But research shows people tend to see patterns that confirm preexisting beliefs and overlook disconfirming ones.

In summary, while luck cannot be fully controlled, visualization may help one maximize opportunities by influencing mindset and behavior. But popular methods make overly broad claims not supported by evidence and risk overlooking personal responsibility in outcomes. Moderation and skepticism are advised.

  • Studies show that self-affirmations and positive visualizations can help reduce stress and improve performance under pressure. Visualizing the process of achieving a goal, like studying for an exam, is more effective than just visualizing the outcome.

  • The Law of Attraction proposes that positive thinking alone can shape reality and manifest desires. Supporting evidence is mixed. One study found students who fantasized positively about exams studied less and did worse. Another found students who fantasized positively about romantic crushes were less proactive in pursuing relationships.

  • Positive thinking may provide temporary feel-good benefits but could also lead to complacency instead of action. visualization is more effective when focused on the actions needed, not just the desired outcome. While positive mindset is important, real-world effort is also needed to achieve goals. Simply believing in luck through positive thinking alone does not appear to impact tangible results. Visualization works best when paired with proactive steps, not just wishing.

  • Creating luck is more about creating conditions for positive things to happen rather than just wishing for outcomes. You need to take actions like applying to jobs, building skills, networking to qualify for dream jobs.

  • Visualization and affirmation work better for process goals like exercising regularly rather than outcomes like a specific body. Focus on the journey, not just the destination. Visualize steps like working out daily to build belief you can stick to goals.

  • Coincidences and serendipity seem random but may have explanations. Serendipity involves improbable occurrences feeling positively. It can be influenced by variability, trying new things with different people to create opportunities.

  • Coincidences encompass all improbable events, some positive like serendipity and some negative. While some see deep meanings in coincidences, others view them as understandable given statistical probabilities. Improbable events are common due to the high number of possibilities in any given situation.

  • We are not very good at calculating probabilities intuitively due to limitations in our brain processing. This makes improbable or coincidental events seem more significant than they statistically are.

  • With billions of people in the world, unlikely events are bound to happen frequently just based on the law of truly large numbers. Something improbable for one individual may be probable when considering the whole population.

  • Coincidences and luck are often overemphasized when they happen to us personally, but we don’t think twice about the much more common outcome of nothing remarkable occurring.

  • Seeing coincidences as low-probability events rather than signs of fate makes them seem inevitable based on the sheer number of interactions and connections between people.

  • Personality traits like being extroverted, open, and less neurotic are correlated with experiencing more opportunities and positive outcomes that seem lucky. Extroverts are more assertive in seeking opportunities.

  • The key to luck is creating conditions where opportunity meets preparation - putting yourself in more situations where chance meetings and discoveries can occur through one’s actions and outlook. Luck is achievable rather than innate.

Here is a summary of the key points about personality traits and luck from the provided text:

  • Extroverts tend to be luckier as they seek out social interactions, exposing themselves to more opportunities. Their enthusiasm and energy make them noticed.

  • Openness involves being relaxed, curious about new experiences and not risk-averse. Open people are more receptive to opportunities that come their way.

  • Low neuroticism/anxiety allows one to be calmly aware of surroundings without being overly focused on perceived threats. This helps one notice chances for good luck.

  • Optimism and viewing life positively improves fortune by influencing how one prepares for and reacts to situations.

  • Developing humility and being okay with embarrassment makes one more willing to try new things where luck could play a role.

  • Engaging actively with life by seeking opportunities, instead of passively waiting for them, increases luck. Having a “seize the day” attitude helps recognize random chances.

  • Wiseman’s experiments found some literally missed opportunities right in front of them due to being too focused on a task or closed off due to fear/anxiety. Staying relaxed and aware improves luck.

In summary, personality traits like extroversion, openness, low anxiety and an engaged, optimistic outlook can expose one to more fortunate randomness and better position one to recognize and act on serendipitous occasions according to the text.

  • Wiseman conducted experiments showing that people’s perceptions of their own luck correlated with behaviors that affected outcomes, not inherent luckiness.

  • One experiment had volunteers find money on the ground or meet a connected businessman by chance. The “lucky” volunteer was open, noticed opportunities, and acted on them.

  • Four factors determine luck according to Wiseman:

  1. Be open to new experiences and relaxed about possibilities. Unlucky people stick to routines.

  2. Listen to gut instincts. Lucky people act on hunches while unlucky overthink. Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class on a whim that proved useful later.

  3. Have positive expectations that things will work out. This gives “grit” to persevere through challenges.

  4. Transform bad luck into good by seeking silver linings, like survival is better than death.

  • Mindset is key - how you perceive events determines if you feel lucky. Optimism, perseverance and being relaxed create more opportunities to notice and act on chance events. In other words, you can make your own luck through behaviors.

  • The passage discusses Richard Wiseman’s research on luck and the traits of lucky people. It identifies four main factors - maximizing chance opportunities, creating and noticing more luck-relevant information, increasing intuitive thinking, and maintaining a resilient mindset.

  • It then discusses Max Gunther’s perspective on developing a “strategic luck planning” approach. Gunther outlines 13 techniques for discovering opportunities and capitalizing on breaks.

  • Some of Gunther’s techniques include finding areas where opportunities are abundant, taking calculated risks, knowing when to cut losses and move on, being open to changing plans and following unexpected opportunities, and maintaining an open mindset towards chance occurrences.

  • The overall message is that while some luck is out of our control, much of it can be influenced by our mindset, behaviors, willingness to seize opportunities, and ability to adapt to changing circumstances rather than rigidly sticking to plans. Strategic thinking and an open, resilient attitude can help cultivate more luck over time.

  • Belief in supernatural forces like luck, omens, etc. can help people make difficult decisions by giving them a “leap of faith” even when there is no rational choice. Using superstition can boost confidence to take action.

  • Lucky people tend to be a bit pessimistic - they hope for the best but prepare for the worst. This helps them avoid bad luck by considering contingency plans.

  • It’s important to be careful about what you say to avoid locking yourself into positions you may later regret. Leaving options open is key.

  • Recognize “non-lessons” - experiences that seem like lessons but aren’t. Don’t generalize from random events or you may avoid good opportunities out of fear.

  • Accept that life is unfair - good and bad luck happen randomly. Don’t expect fairness or that hard work will protect you from bad luck.

  • Increase opportunities for luck by keeping busy with hobbies, activities, relationships. Luck favors the active.

  • Having a “destiny partner” - someone who improves your luck long-term through joint efforts. Meeting them is chance but chemistry is intuition.

  • Bad luck comes from focused negative thinking and expectations. Shift attention away from negatives to avoid self-fulfilling prophecies. Preparation helps avoid worst fears.

In summary, it suggests belief in luck can boost confidence, pessimism helps avoid risks, leaving options open, recognizing randomness, accepting unfairness, maintaining an active lifestyle, and focusing positively rather than dwelling on potential negatives.

  • Believing that everything negative that happens is due to “bad luck” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy where you start to notice and focus on only the bad things. This fatalistic viewpoint prevents you from trying to improve your situation.

  • Negative thoughts and beliefs about luck can influence your behavior in ways that actually cause negative outcomes, fulfilling what you believed originally. This is known as the self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • Having unreasonable expectations for only positive outcomes sets you up for perceiving anything negative as “bad luck.” Managing expectations by preparing for various possibilities and not seeing patterns can help control how outcomes affect you.

  • Many outcomes that seem like bad luck are actually just normal probabilities or coincidences rather than anything to do with luck. Maintaining reasonable expectations based on probabilities rather than assuming results means luck is less likely to influence your perceptions.

  • In summary, the power of beliefs and expectations about luck can significantly impact perceptions and behavior in ways that create either positive or negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Managing thoughts and having controlled expectations is important to avoid believing in “luck.”

The passage discusses supernatural thinking and how it relates to superstitions and belief in magic. Some key points:

  • Most people engage in some form of superstitious behavior even if they don’t openly admit it, like having a lucky game day charm. This is due to humans’ desire to feel in control.

  • Superstitions arise from classical conditioning - when a behavior is repeated before an outcome, we associate the two even if there’s no causal link. This gives us an illusion of control over uncertain events.

  • Sports fans in particular resort to superstitions due to the uncertainty of match outcomes and desire for control. Positive superstitions can boost confidence by making us feel prepared.

  • Belief in magic also persists subconsciously in adults even if consciously rejected. As children we readily accept magic due to limited understanding of the world.

  • Superstitions are generally harmless unless they replace actual effort, but can distort reality. They provide psychological comfort by satisfying our need to explain unpredictable events.

So in summary, the passage argues that supernatural thinking like superstitions and magical beliefs arise from humans’ innate wish to feel in control, and the comfort of having explanations, even if they give an illusion of understanding.

  • The passage discusses how magical thinking serves a psychological purpose for humans by giving us a sense of control and hope in uncertain situations. It can act as a defense mechanism against stress.

  • Research found that people with higher levels of stress and those in dangerous situations like military conflict were more likely to engage in magical thinking. It allows them to feel like outcomes may be positive through supernatural means.

  • Magical thinking comes in different levels for different people. Some strongly believe in things like astrology while others are more skeptical. Studies linked greater magical thinking to a more intuitive cognitive style versus a reflective one.

  • Magical thinking can be seen as both a flaw because it distorts reality, but also as an adaptive feature because it supports mental well-being and confidence through the perception of supernatural forces.

  • The chapter then discusses how magical thinking and aspects of luck have played a role in scientific discoveries. Many breakthroughs came from following intuitions or noticing chance observations rather than planned experiments.

  • The story of Albert Hoffman’s discovery of LSD is used as a case study, showing how openness and curiosity allowed him to pursue an unexpected compound that sat dormant for years before its psychedelic properties were discovered.

  • Hoffman was studying ergot compounds and created LSD-25 in 1943 while working to develop medicines.

  • Animals exposed to LSD-25 acted strangely, licking everything and walking oddly. This piqued Hoffman’s curiosity but didn’t relate to his work goals.

  • One day in 1943, Hoffman accidentally ingested a small amount of LSD-25 through his fingertips at work. He experienced intense hallucinations and had to go home early.

  • This inadvertent self-experimentation was the first documented LSD trip. Hoffman realized LSD-25 must have caused it.

  • Intrigued, Hoffman purposefully self-experimented with LSD-25 to investigate its effects. He had intense visuals and distortions but made it home safely with his assistant’s help.

  • Hoffman then tested LSD-25 on animals and observed reactions like the mice’s curious behaviors. Other animals also displayed uncharacteristic anxious behaviors.

  • Hoffman’s accidental discovery of LSD’s psychedelic effects exemplified the role of luck and openness in scientific discovery. His curiosity, low neuroticism, and ability to see potential led to a major finding.

So in summary, Hoffman’s initial observations in animals and accidental self-dosing sparked his curiosity about LSD-25’s unusual properties, leading to the targeted experiments that documented LSD’s powerful effects. His open and intuitive approach enabled a lucky breakthrough.

The former has been shown to work, while the latter has not.

The passage is discussing two different approaches to increasing luck:

  1. Richard Wiseman’s identification of personality traits (low neuroticism, high openness, high extroversion) and factors (openness, trusting intuition, positive expectations, positive perspective) that are generally shown to be conducive to luck.

  2. Max Gunther’s “strategic luck planning” approach consisting of 13 factors.

It states that Wiseman’s traits and factors (the former) have been shown to work in increasing luck, while Gunther’s 13 factors of strategic luck planning (the latter) have not been shown to work.

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About Matheus Puppe