11/01/2013 08:26 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Superstitious? You're Lucky

I never write on the first page of a notebook. And during football season, if my team is winning, I wear the same T-shirt and khakis for every game. Don't want to mess with the mojo.

I've been known to wish upon a star, and I always pick up pennies I find laying in the street. For good luck? Not really, mostly just because I'm cheap. But if I find 20 bucks on the ground I'm picking it up and calling it "my lucky day."

Oh, and I knock on wood as often as possible.

These habits are quirky, sure, but not uncommon. Nearly half of us are at least a little superstitious, and many of our modern-day beliefs spring out of ancient tradition. Take knocking on wood for good luck. Ancient druids thought that spirits lived in wood, and knocking on wood was one way to wake them up for our protection.

But, modern-day research suggests that some of our superstitious behavior and lucky charms may actually pack some real-world benefit.

In an study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, researchers found that people who took avoidant action -- like knocking on wood by pushing down and away from the body, throwing salt away, over the shoulder, as opposed to up and toward -- felt as though they had nullified bad luck. And people who took some action to push the bad luck away were less likely to think that they would be unlucky.

In another study led by Lysann Damisch at the University of Cologne, researchers found that people actually performed better when they were given a lucky charm or encouraged with luck-invoking statements such as "break a leg" or "keep your fingers crossed" before taking on a physical or mental challenge such as putting a golf ball or memory and puzzle-solving problems.

The good luck charms and phrases worked to boost the participant's confidence, researchers say, which was enough to improve their performance.

Believe You Are Lucky

In much the same way, psychologist and author Richard Wiseman found that people who believe they are lucky tend to have better luck because they actually take on the behaviors and habits that draw good things to them.

For example, lucky people often believe themselves resilient and therefore approach challenges with more of a growth mindset, and optimistic attitude often leads to better outcomes. They turn bad luck into good.

We know the beliefs and ideas we hold go a long way toward shaping our reality. Though they are merely thoughts, our behavior springs from them creating tangible results. If we think ourselves lucky, we will take on behaviors that create luck.

So, go ahead and drop that lucky charm in your pocket, and be sure to knock on wood, but here are some other habits you can take on to boost your good fortune and positive beliefs.

1. Expect the good stuff. If you believe good things will happen, they will. If you believe they won't, well, you'll be right on that too. So, go looking for the good stuff. Know it's out there and allow it in. You might just get lucky.

2. Be open and curious, relaxed and engaged. Lucky people, and not coincidentally, happy people, according to Wiseman and others like Michael Steger and Todd Kashdan, who study happiness and meaning in life, are active, engaged, curious. They participate in life, and open to new experiences and possibilities. This primes them for good luck. Because the more things we do, the more people we meet, the greater the likelihood that we'll encounter those with possibilities rich in positive benefit.

3. Prepare for the possibility. I studied and practiced writing for years before ever writing a book proposal. And I imagined myself as a person who writes books. So when I sold my first book, I felt "lucky" that all the pieces had come together. But, I also knew that I had done everything in my power to give myself the best shot at a sale. Examine your beliefs, your talents, your abilities and make sure that you are learning and growing and preparing yourself for all that you want to achieve in this life. Imagine yourself in the role you want to be in. When luck dawns with a great opportunity, you'll be ready.

4. Live with awareness. So often good things are happening right in front of us and we don't notice. Case in point: I put a piece of candy on the counter for my daughter when she arrived home from school. Instead, she walked into the house, went to the cupboard where we have nuts and granola and other healthy snacks, and pulled out a banana without ever noticing her favorite candy on the counter. Lift your head up. Look at the familiar in a new way. Be open and you'll see the sweetness all around and invite luck in.

Portions of this piece appeared in the blogs Imperfect Spirituality and Psychology Today.

For more by Polly Campbell, click here.

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