We’ve all known that person who seems to score every lucky break, every golden opportunity. Whatever life throws their way, they always somehow seem to land on their feet or come out on top.
Maybe you have even hit the casino floor with that person a few times. It can sure be frustrating to watch as they seem to win time and again while you watch your bankroll bleeding away.
You ask them what their secret is, and they shrug and say, “I don’t know. I’ve just always been lucky.”
You keep hoping that maybe some of that person’s seemingly magical quality will rub off on you, and you will pick up a bit of their luck but it never seems to happen!
Have you ever wondered if there is a secret? What makes some people just seem to naturally get lucky time and again while others cannot seem to get a break?
In this post, we are going to delve into those questions. We will present some explanations for why some people appear to be luckier than others, and offer up suggestions for how you can turn your luck around.
What is Luck?
Before we dive deeper into this topic, we do want to take a second to briefly define luck.
An outcome that results from chance, not through individual actions.
Well, if we are going to be super literal in this discussion, by definition, there is nothing we can do to make ourselves “luckier.” Chance and chance alone will determine our luck.
But here is the thing – a lot of what we call luck may not actually be luck at all. It could just be a misperception on our part that something is based on chance when it isn’t!
There is a concept in psychology called “locus of control.” Your locus of control can be internal, external, or somewhere in between.
If you have an internal locus of control, you tend to believe that events in your life are largely under your control.
If you have an external locus of control, you tend to believe that events in your life are dictated mostly through sheer chance/luck.
Someone with an external locus of control might perceive that they are unlucky and that others are lucky, even if there are other explanations for the differences in their fortunes.
So, these are the questions you need to ask yourself:
Is it possible that something I am doing is accounting for some of what I call my bad luck?
Is it possible that some actions others are taking are accounting for some of what I call their good luck?
Keep in mind that you might not be observing the actions of other people that are contributing to their “luck”, or if you are, you might not recognize them.
It is also entirely possible that some people you know who appear to be lucky are unconscious of the actions they take that impact their outcomes in a positive way. Even they might perceive their fortunes as pure fortuitous chance.
The 10-Year Luck Study
A psychologist named Richard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire became interested in the phenomenon of “lucky” people, and decided to study it. He published the results of his 10-year research project in the Skeptical Inquirer in 2003 in an article called “The Luck Factor.”
Explaining his approach to this research, Wiseman wrote, “I placed advertisements in national newspapers and magazines, asking for people who considered themselves exceptionally lucky or unlucky to contact me. Over the years, 400 extraordinary men and women have volunteered to participate in my research; the youngest eighteen, a student, the oldest eighty-four, a retired accountant. They were drawn from all walks of life – businessmen, factory workers, teachers, housewives, doctors, secretaries, and salespeople. All were kind enough to let me put their lives and minds under the microscope.”
What approach did Wiseman take in the research?
Subjects were asked to take intelligence tests and personality questionnaires. The participants recorded journals and Wiseman conducted lab experiments with the subjects.
What Wiseman discovered was that most of his subjects, whether they considered themselves to be lucky or otherwise, did not themselves consciously know why they were such. But as he explains, “their thoughts and behavior are responsible for much of their fortune.”
Here were his key findings:
“My research revealed that lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.”
What is even more astonishing is that Wiseman was not content simply to sit on these findings without doing anything about them. He wanted to find out if by training his “unlucky” participants to put these principles into effect, he could get them to become “luckier.” Lo and behold, it worked!
Wiseman wrote, “The results were dramatic. Eighty percent of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives, and, perhaps most important of all, luckier.”
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Making the “Luck Factor” Work For You in Gambling
Reading all this should give you good reason to feel hopeful. Perhaps you can become “that person” who always seems to be catching a lucky break. After all, you just need to make some adjustments to how you think and behave.
Let’s go over how you can make the four principles Wiseman identified in his research work for you as a gambler.
Before we do though, we just want to remind you that even though there is a lot you can control, there is also still plenty you cannot.
You cannot erase the house edge by changing your behavior. It is hard-backed into each casino game.
You cannot beat probabilities when playing a game with random outcomes, at least not in any long-term sense.
With those caveats in mind, let’s proceed.
Creating And Noticing Chance Opportunities
Based on Wiseman’s experiments and observations, he discovered the following about lucky versus unlucky people:
Unlucky people often are anxious. This causes them to hyperfocus on the type of opportunity they are desperate for, while failing to notice other types of opportunities that might serve them well.
Lucky people, by contrast, are usually more relaxed. Their focus is broader, and they may catch opportunities as a result that they were not looking for.
Performance anxiety may play a role in what makes some unlucky people hyperfocused.
People who appear to be lucky tend to deliberately “shake things” up more often. They regularly push past their comfort zones and put themselves in new situations. By doing so, they expose themselves to more opportunities.
You can see how we are still talking about lucky people having genuine chance encounters that change their lives. But the decisions they make as well as their mindsets do three things:
Put them in situations where more chance opportunities might be available (i.e. new situations).
Help them notice chance opportunities.
Make the most of the chance opportunities that show up.
How Does This Apply When Gambling?
As a gambler, here are some things you can do that might help you create and notice chance opportunities more frequently:
Address your anxiety and tension.
This may be difficult to do at first, because by this point, you may have a pile of experiences telling you that you are an “unlucky gambler.” But with what you have learned in this post, you can start to question that narrative. Try and open your mind to the possibility that maybe you are (or can become) lucky. In doing so, you may start to release some of that anxiety, and in turn, spot more opportunities.
Try and “go with the flow” more.
Maybe you have been hell-bent on trying to find a successful technique for one poker variant, for example, and have actually missed learning several techniques for other variants that would have worked out for you. Try and open yourself to opportunities you aren’t looking for, rather than hyper focusing on those you are looking for.
Step outside your comfort zone.
Play different casino games than you usually do. Strike up more conversations with strangers about gambling. Join some new casino sites. Break your routines, and do so consciously on a frequent basis.
Listening To Your Intuition
Wiseman did not spend much time talking about the next finding about lucky people, which is that they tend to listen to their intuitions. But this is something we can certainly dive into.
Most of us can remember moments in our lives when that little voice in our heads was telling us, “Don’t!” We then proceeded to do whatever it was anyway, and then things went horribly awry. We then thought to ourselves, “If only I had listened to my gut…”
Of course, the little voice in the back of the mind is not always right. And following your instinct all the time can be disastrous.
Nonetheless, intuition can be more observant and rational than many of us give it credit for.
There is a famous book from 2011 by psychologist Daniel Kahneman called Thinking, Fast and Slow. The book presents a model that breaks down our thinking into two categories:
System 1: This is “fast” thinking. It is automatic, unconscious, emotional, and reflexive.
System 2: This is “slow” thinking. It involves conscious effort, logic, and reasoning.
When we experience a burst of intuition, we are getting an insight through System 1 thinking. It has an emotional quality, and it can be hard for us to understand where the feeling is coming from, as the thinking involved is unconscious. Nevertheless, it is informed by data.
That means that sometimes what our intuition is telling us is surprisingly rational, even if we do not understand it at the time.
Think about moments when you have suddenly hit the ignition or the brakes on the road without knowing why, only to realize half a second later that you just avoided an accident.
When we pay attention to our intuition rather than dismiss it, doing so can sometimes open us up to opportunities we missed with our conscious brains, or help us to avoid mistakes.
How Does This Apply When Gambling?
Let’s take the example that you are playing Texas Hold’em. Your conscious brain has what seems like a pretty good idea what everyone at the table is holding, and you have been making your decisions accordingly.
But partway through the hand, you suddenly get a gut feeling that one of the players is bluffing. Even though your rational brain is convinced he has a straight, your unconscious mind is shouting at you that he has nothing better than a high card.
At this point, if you are someone who ignores your intuition, you might decide to fold after he raises. But if you honor your intuition, you will at least consider staying in the hand.
Let’s say you do fold, and he does turn out to only be holding a high card, and you would have beaten him. You would probably feel pretty unlucky, right?
But let’s say instead you stay in the hand, he does indeed turn out to only have a high card, and you beat him. At that point, you will be feeling quite lucky indeed, especially if what you were holding yourself wasn’t too amazing.
This is not to say that this sort of thing works out every time. Intuition is not a scientific instrument; it does not always take accurate measurements. Following your gut every time will not make you rich.
But over time, with lots of observation and practice, you may get a better and better feel for when your intuition is likely to be pointing in the right direction versus when it is not.
Maintaining Positive Expectations
Generally speaking, lucky people tend to be optimists. They tend to believe that their lives can and will work out, and that tomorrow will bring solutions to today’s problems.
This is another facet of how lucky people operate that the article does not spend a lot of time on, though it does touch on it a bit when discussing the role anxiety can play in holding people back.
Are you familiar with the confirmation bias? This cognitive bias causes us to pay more attention to information that supports what we already believe.
If your expectations about the future are negative, the confirmation bias suggests that you are more likely to notice data that supports that view.
That means that your brain may filter out what it sees as extraneous information. That information could take the form of opportunities that would have resulted in more positive outcomes, if only you had noticed them.
But if you maintain positive expectations for the future, the confirmation bias will result in you seeking out information that supports those beliefs. That means your brain will be more attuned to favorable opportunities that reinforce your belief in your own luck.
How Does This Apply When Gambling?
Previously, we gave an example of how listening to your intuition selectively while playing poker could lead to winning a lucky hand.
We can also use this scenario as an example of how positive expectations versus negative expectations influence luck.
If you were playing this hand of poker as a pessimist, you would expect by default that the other player is holding the superior hand, and that if you stay in, you will necessarily lose. So, you would be more likely to fold and miss out on the opportunity. But if you have positive expectations, you would be more likely to detect the subtle signs that the other player is bluffing. You would be open to the possibility that you might have the superior hand, and that a positive outcome is possible. So, you would be more likely to stay in the hand and get the lucky win.
Positive expectations also play a role in a more “macro” way with gambling.
Imagine it is your goal to become a professional poker player. If you approach that pursuit with negative expectations, you are going to have a really hard time persevering through difficult situations.
But if you have positive expectations, you are more likely to stay focused on your goal and committed to doing what you have to in order to succeed. That brings us to the next ingredient in luck: resilience.
No matter how lucky you manage to be, there are going to be times in your life when things do not go your way.
It is not that people who appear to be lucky never have misfortunes. It is just that they are better at bouncing back from them efficiently.
Wiseman found through his study that one of the ways in which lucky people maintain their resilience is by reframing certain situations in a more favorable way.
The example he gave was that he told the participants to imagine they were shot in the arm during a bank robbery while they were waiting in line for the teller.
The people who perceived themselves as unlucky felt that the situation itself was unlucky. But those who perceived themselves as lucky also framed the situation as lucky. They felt that the outcome could have been much worse (like being shot in the head), and that perhaps they could profit by telling their story to reporters. So, they also identified a possible opportunity.
The ability to simply bounce back from our misfortunes or to weather the damage is what we call resilience.
Wiseman didn’t talk about this, but it is possible to go a step further than resilience. In his book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb explained his concept of antifragility: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
The participants in the study who thought of selling their story about being shot in the arm to the papers were exhibiting an anti-fragile quality. They asked themselves, “How can I come out of this ahead?” and came up with an idea.
How Does This Apply When Gambling?
What makes a gambler resilient or antifragile comes down to how they react in the face of failures and losses.
Let’s return to the example of the would-be poker pro who still has a lot to learn. That person is going to lose plenty of hands, and will often bust out.
If they are not resilient, they will react badly. They might sometimes go on tilt, or they could give up on their prospective poker career entirely.
In part, this may be due to their negative expectations, as well as an unhealthy set of beliefs surrounding failures (i.e. that failures are bad, rather than that they are necessary stepping stones on the road to success).
But if they are antifragile, they will instead perceive their failures as opportunities. When they lose hands, they will ask themselves, “What can I learn from this experience? How can I use what I am learning today to avoid losing a hand tomorrow?”
This is also applicable to gamblers who are playing games of chance. Even though there is nothing you can do to remove the house edge on games like slots or roulette, there are mistakes you can learn to avoid.
As an example, let’s just take something simple, like a novice slots player who has no money management plan. Maybe this person is varying bet sizes somewhat randomly, and getting frustrated.
If they have a fragile disposition, they may give up on gambling for periods of time, thinking, “I always lose my bankroll so fast; I am just so unlucky.”
But if they have a more antifragile approach, they will ask, “Why do I keep blowing my bankroll so quickly?” They may then do some research, learn about money management, and start calculating suitable stake sizes. They will then be able to extend their bankroll for longer. Since they are taking more spins as a result, they are also giving themselves more chances to get lucky.
Put These Principles in Play to Turn Your Luck Around
Let’s summarize what we have learned.
You might perceive yourself as being a lucky or unlucky gambler. But it could be that your perception itself is influencing your outcomes.
Even though we cannot overcome randomness or the house edge of casino games, we can choose mindsets and behaviors that help us maximize our perceived luck. Some things are out of your control, but there may be things in your control you are not recognizing as such.
Maintaining positive expectations, staying resilient, listening to our intuition, and creating and noticing chance opportunities are some of the keys to making ourselves into luckier people.
If you have a limiting belief that you are an unlucky person, it is time to challenge that narrative. Try applying what you have learned in this post. You may soon discover that you are a much “luckier” person than you imagined possible, both in the casino and in all other aspects of your life.
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