11/01/2011 08:49 am ET | Updated Jan 01, 2012

5 Ways to Become Luckier

Diligence is the mother of good luck.
-- Benjamin Franklin

It's so easy to be superstitious, especially around Halloween. Break a mirror, have a cat (especially a black one) cross your path, spill salt... all of these can -- if we let them -- make us believe that we're embarking on seven years (give or take) of bad luck. Thinking you are unlucky, in fact, can actually contribute to feelings of defeat and resignation that even carrying a rabbit's foot cannot fix.

The truth is, though, we can make our own good luck, and it's a lot easier and less messy than throwing salt over our left (or is it right?) shoulder.

British psychologist Richard Wiseman has studied hundreds of people who describe themselves as lucky or unlucky, wanting to better understand how people can control their destinies and their luck. His many years of research shows that some people are, indeed, "luckier." It's not because they've had fewer black cats cross their paths, but they've worked on the skills that are essential to good luck... and therefore success in life.

I was first introduced to Dr. Wiseman's research when I interviewed Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig for The Best of Everything After 50. Jason is a firm believer in creating your own luck, and tells this story in his best-selling book, "Your Money and Your Brain":

By breaking your routine and embracing new experiences, you can unleash your curiosity and open yourself to new ideas. The more often you can throw yourself in serendipity's path, the better the odds that you will get a lucky break in your investing or business life. Try a new place for lunch once a week. Go out for coffee with a person from another department. Strike up a conversation with a stranger. If you usually take a bus to work, walk part of the way.

Case in point: In 1998, out of idle curiosity, I bought a copy of Scientific American in an airport bookstore and read an article on neuroscience, purely because it opened with a pretty picture. To my amazement, I learned that people whose brains have been snipped in half calculate probabilities in a radically different way from the rest of us. That ultimately led to insights about investing I could never have found in my usual sources. If I had not ventured beyond my usual reading list that day, this book would never have come into being.

A story that Dr. Wiseman often tells is the time when a man heard a woman shout "Hey, Mr. Buffet" on a busy New York City street. The man turned to see the woman walk up to Warren Buffet and start chatting. When it was appropriate to do so, the man approached Buffet and told him, "I'm Barnett Helzberg of Helzberg Diamonds in Kansas City. I'm a shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway. I really enjoy your annual meetings, and I believe my company fits your criteria for investments."

Within weeks, Buffet bought the company from Helzberg, making Helzberg feel pretty lucky indeed. But, had Helzberg not gone out of his comfort zone to talk with Buffet, the chances are slim that the sale would have ever taken place.

One woman whom Dr. Wiseman studied makes a point of thinking about a color before she goes to any party. Then, she systematically talks to everyone in the room wearing that color, without fail. By forcing herself to move out of her comfort zone and approach people she never would have spoken with otherwise, she has expanded her opportunities for good luck (and more dates).

These are the five essential skills to getting lucky at business, love and life:

  • Move out of your comfort zone: I wrote an article recently about living your life without fear. Taking risks -- as Barnett Helzberg did -- will present many more opportunities than if you live your life in fear of rejection or embarrassment. In addition to asking yourself "What's the worst that could happen?" ask, "What's the best that could happen?"
  • Be curious about the world around you: I tell my daughters at every opportunity: "An interested person is an interesting person." Lucky people are curious and observant, eager to explore the world around them. As Jason Zweig wrote in his book, "Lucky people do not just tunnel in one place with blinders on; they open their eyes to everything and throw themselves into serendipity's path whenever possible."
  • Believe you are lucky and you will be: The power of positive thinking is quite real. Before you go to a party or business meeting, tell yourself you are lucky and you will have more confidence to reach out to others, engage with the world in new ways, and seize opportunities when they are presented. If you continue to tell yourself that you have no luck, this, too, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Don't give up: "Unlucky people collapse under bad luck," says Dr. Wiseman. "Lucky people treat bad luck as a learning experience." An example he frequently uses is when Thomas Edison tested thousands of materials before he discovered the right one for his incandescent lamp. There are many such stories and the point is always the same: Don't allow fear of failure to stop you. Don't give up.
  • Look at the bright side: Unlucky people, according to Dr. Wiseman's research, tend to be more tense, anxious and negative than those who consider themselves lucky. When things happen to them -- a car accident, for example -- they focus on all the things that went wrong, as opposed to those that went right. Some dents in the car vs. not having been harmed. Those who focus on the negatives that happen to them can often believe they are not only unlucky, but cursed. Which person do you think will have the greatest success in life?

I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.
-- Thomas Jefferson

For more information about living your best life after 50, visit Staying connected is a powerful tool. "Friend" me on Facebook and "Tweet" me on Twitter (BGrufferman).

2011 New York City Marathon Weekly Training Countdown (1 week to go!)

I'm running in the NYC Marathon in November to celebrate my 55th birthday and raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Here's an update on my training schedule for this week:
Monday: 10 miles using a run/walk ratio of 3 minutes/30 seconds
Wednesday: 6 miles using a run/walk ratio of 3 minutes/30 seconds
Friday: 6 miles using a run/walk ratio of 2 minutes/30 seconds

Sunday, November 6th: MARATHON! (Wish me LUCK!)

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