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13 Techniques to Get Luckier

This article is made of quotes from the book How to Get Lucky: 13 techniques for discovering and taking advantage of life's good breaks by Max Gunther.

Why do people deny the role of luck? For one thing, we hate to think we are at the mercy of random happenings. Another reason why we prefer not to discuss luck’s role is that it diminishes us and steals our dignity.

All successful people avoid diminishment in the same way. Business executives do it in explaining how they got to be chairman of the board. Luck isn’t “meaningful” enough. We yearn for life to have meaning. Acknowledging luck’s role takes half the meaning out of it.

There are thirteen principal ways in which the lucky do this. Not all of them practice the techniques consciously, and very few practice all thirteen. With most it’s six or eight techniques.

1. Making the Luck/Planning Distinction

If you want to be a winner, you must stay keenly aware of the role luck plays in your life. When a desired outcome is brought about by luck, you must acknowledge that fact. Don’t try to tell yourself the outcome came about because you were smart.

The point to be appreciated is that every run of luck must end sooner or later. This is sad but not necessarily dangerous. When you enjoy a winning streak, you are safe as long as you see clearly what part of it was brought about by planning and what part by luck.

The one thing you cannot expect is the very thing the loser does expect: continuity, a repetition of yesterday’s events.

The unlucky mental process is the same. The process begins when a good result occurs once or a few times. The loser studies it, ascribes it to planning, and concludes that the same planning will produce the same result in the future. And the loser loses again.

The lucky personality, entering a situation and perceiving it to be ruled or heavily influenced by luck, deliberately stays light-footed, ready to jump this way or that as events unfold.

The lucky personality looks outside as well as inside. Admittedly that isn’t always easy to do, for it argues with some of our most cherished old Work Ethic preachments. We are told in school, in church, and in management-training seminars that we are the shapers of our own lives and the authors of our own outcomes. But you should not believe it. It is nonsense. The first step in controlling your luck is to recognize that it exists.

2. Finding the Fast Flow

Men and women find good luck by positioning themselves where events are flowing fastest.

The commandment of the Second Technique is: Go where events flow fastest. Surround yourself with a churning mass of people and things happening.

The lucky personality gets to know everybody in sight: the rich and the poor, the famous the humble, the sociable and even the friendless and the cranky.

The worst thing you can do is withdraw from the network of friendships and acquaintanceships at home and at work. If you aren’t in the network, nobody is ever going to steer anything your way.”

But why is she in the right places at the right times? Because she has made the effort to be in many places at many times. Fate has given her a lucky break, but she has earned it. She has positioned herself for it.

Go where events flow fastest. Specifically what does that mean? It means, simply, make contact with people. Get involved. Don’t be a sideliner, watching events flow past. Plunge into the events yourself.

3. Risk Spooning

Lucky people characteristically avoid both extremes. They cultivate the technique of taking risks in carefully measured spoonfuls.

The straight-line plodder, shunning risk, also avoids the possibility of lucky breaks. On the whole, plodders are unlucky. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say many of them are luck neutral. Neither good nor bad luck strikes them to any notable degree. Their lives hardly change. Nothing happens.

Luck: events that influence your life but are not of your making. To secure the best chance that such events will happen to you, you have to invite them to happen; in other words, stick your neck out.

Many people, especially of the plodder breed, hate a successful gambler. They hate him largely because they hate themselves for not having had the guts to take their own risks. He stands there rich, happy and having a world of fun; a living advertisement for what they might have been. Seeking acceptable reasons to dislike him, they cultivate the notion that gambling is, in some way, impure.

Thus, antirisk mentality keeps its dominance. Even the very biggest risk takers and the very luckiest gamblers are determined to show they are nothing of the kind.

It is essential to take risks. Examine the life of any lucky man or woman, and you are all but certain to find that he or she was willing, at some point, to take a risk. Without that willingness, hardly anything interesting is likely to happen to you.

It is essential to study risk-reward ratios. When a given risk is small and a potential reward large, you might as well take the risk and so position yourself to become a winner.

You don’t have to be a shrink to guess at the motives of a risk avoider. The risk-shunning syndrome stems from excessive fear of getting hurt, often as the result of being burned in the past or seeing a loved one burned. It’s usually that simple.

What really seems to drive such a risk craver is not a desire to lose but just the opposite: a desperate yearning for the experience of a big win. It must be a big win: a twenty-to-one shot at the track, a stock market gamble that pays off in six figures. Modest successes aren’t enough for the risk craver.

Two of these common threads are worth looking at:

  1. The risk accepted as a positive experience. The youngster went to the racetrack with Dad or heard a favorite aunt talk about the fun to be had in Las Vegas. 
  2. The risk craver had a big win early in his or her gambling or speculating career. Thus, perhaps, an exaggerated urge to gamble becomes established.

If you feel good luck has been avoiding you, it is far more likely that you lean in the direction of too little risk taking rather than too much. What you must do is learn the technique of risk spooning.

From now on, seek out risks. Start small.

No matter how you define success, risk is a necessary ingredient of every successful life. Risk puts you in position to win.

4. Run Cutting

As nearly all lucky people realize instinctively or learn through experience, runs of luck always end sooner than you wish. Sometimes they are long runs; much more often they are short. Since you can never tell in advance when a given run is going to end, the only sensible thing to do is preserve your gains by jumping off early in the game.

Always assume the run is going to be short. Never try to ride a run to its very peak. 

A peculiar characteristic of the genuinely lucky – at least it seems peculiar until you analyze it – is that they so often appear pessimistic. But it isn’t pessimism; it is only run cutting. It is a rational approach to a world of unpredictable, uncontrollable events.

One thing you can know, however, is that short runs are very much more common than long ones. The sensible thing to do is ride the run until you have a good but not enormous gain, avoid greed, and get out early.

And don’t fret if the run continues without you. Sometimes it will, and when it does, a few people will end up with very big gains; but in all likelihood they will turn around and lose those gains in short order, for they are not the kind of people who enjoy consistent good luck. The consistently lucky are the run cutters.

5. Luck Selection

The lucky reaction is to wait a short time and see if the problems can be fixed or will go away, and then, if the answer is no, bail out. Cut losses short. This is what lucky people habitually do. To put it another way, they have the ability to select their own luck. Hit with bad luck, they discard it, freeing themselves to seek better luck in another venture.

The unlucky receive no more bad hands, but that usually isn’t the problem. The difference is that the unlucky don’t have the knack of selecting luck. Incapable of discarding a bad hand, they can only sit and suffer while bad luck becomes worse luck.

In a souring situation, with no compelling reason to think things will get better, you are always right to cut your loss and go. You are right even when, in retrospect, you turn out to have been wrong.

6. The Zigzag Path

It turns out that lucky men and women, on the whole are not straight-line strugglers. They not only permit themselves to be distracted, they invite distraction. Their lives are not straight lines but zigzags.

Goal orientation, as they call it in Psychology 101, is undoubtedly a good thing in moderate doses. But the lives of the lucky seem to say you should be wary of overdoing it.

The lucky, alert to the luck/planning distinction, are aware that life is always going to be a turbulent sea of opportunities drifting randomly past in all directions. If you put blinders on yourself so that you can see only straight ahead, you will miss nearly everything.

A plan can be used as a kind of guide into the future but should never be allowed to harden into a law. If something better comes along, you should be ready to abandon your old plan immediately and without regret.

If a piece of potential good luck drifts your way, you should not summarily reject it simply because it doesn’t fit some predesigned plan.

Never take long-range plans seriously. Use them for general guidance as long as they seem to be taking you where you want to go, but whatever you do, don’t get stuck with them. Throw them in the trash heap as soon as something better comes along.

7. Constructive Supernaturalism

Supernaturalism is defined as any belief in an unseen spirit, force, or agency whose existence hasn’t been proved to everybody’s satisfaction.

As a breed, lucky people tend to be supernaturalists. Some are devoutly religious, while others harbor the most peculiar superstitions.

What is the connection? The connection in my opinion is that a supernatural belief helps people get lucky by helping them make otherwise impossible choices.

Whether the outcome is affected by God, the ‘stars’, or a lucky charm is irrelevant. What counts is that the supernatural belief has enabled the player to get into a potentially winning position.

So find yourself a supernatural guidance system. It can be serious or humorous, a profoundly held belief or a game. None of that matters. Nor does it matter whether the system, in terms of its pronouncements about itself, is “true” or is pure poppycock. As long as it isn’t malevolent or occultic, all that matters is that you hold it and can use it to help you make choices and take risks.

8. Worst-Case Analysis

Good luck involves knowing how you will handle the worst.

Professional gamblers win because they reject optimism. They apply the Fifth Technique: the trick of selecting luck, of abandoning any venture rapidly when it turns sour. And they apply the Eighth Technique: the trick of worst-case analysis.

9. The Closed Mouth

The trouble with too much talk is that it can constrict the valuable freedom and flexibility. Talk can tie you up, lock you into positions that seem right today but may be wrong tomorrow.

The lesson of this Ninth Technique is that the luckiest people guard against unnecessary talk. They are particularly careful when talking of subjects that have great personal importance to them.

They reveal no more of their thinking than they have to. They don’t lock themselves into positions where there is no good reason to do so.

You don’t have to have your mouth going all the time to establish a circle of good friends and a widespread acquaintanceship network. As a matter of fact, in a talky time such as the present, people often find silence pleasantly surprising and refreshing. You can make friends as easily by listening, really listening, as you can by generating great heaps of words.

By avoiding excessive communication, lucky men and women are freed of the need to explain and justify actions to other people.

Since life is ruled by luck and you can never predict what actions you will need to take, it is best to say as little as possible about what you are doing and thinking. Then, when action is required, the only person you must argue with is yourself. That is often tough enough.

When there is no good reason to say something, say nothing.

10. Recognizing a Nonlesson

A noteworthy trait of the lucky is that they know what they can’t learn anything from. The habit of deriving false lessons from life’s random happenings is a trait of the unlucky.

History simply does not repeat itself. Why should it? History is the product of what billions of men and women are doing, thinking, and feeling at a given time. It is in constant flux. It is entirely unpredictable. 

11. Accepting an Unfair Universe

The fact is that fairness is a human concept. The rest of the universe knows nothing of it.

Our lives are filled with random events. If you contract a fatal disease or win a million-dollar lottery prize, therefore, don’t look for the hand of God in the event. God didn’t cause it. Nothing caused it. It just happened.

The universe isn’t fair and never has been in all the time men and women have been grappling with it. By accepting that truth instead of arguing with it, you take one more step on the road to becoming consistently lucky. Conversely, by arguing with it you buy bad luck.

You should recognize chaos when you see it. Chaos is not dangerous until it begins to look orderly.

Never go into a venture thinking it will come out right for you because you “deserve” it. That is a common expectation of the unlucky. The universe has no interest in what you deserve.

12. The Juggling Act

The luckier are the busier. Lucky people always seem to have many ventures going on at the same time.

You never know what seemingly unpromising activity is going to be the one that catches fire for you. All you can know is that the more activities you have going on, the greater is the likelihood that something good will happen.

This Twelfth Technique is closely allied with the Second: Fast-flow orientation; and the Sixth: the zigzag path. Taken together, they can keep you busy.

The lucky life is indeed characterized by a degree of hustle and bustle that seems frantic at times especially to the chronically unlucky.

13. Destiny Pairing

What differentiates those who stay sober? There are many factors, but one of the most important – perhaps the most important – is the question of who else happens to be at the newcomer’s first one or two meetings.

How do you meet your destiny partner? It usually happens by blind luck, as it did in the case of Procter and Gamble.

That being so, the best way to boost your chances of meeting the person who will change your luck is to practice the Second Technique: Put yourself out in the fast flow.

Getting Lucky: Putting the Thirteen Techniques Together

If there is any single truth that a luck-seeker should comprehend above all others, it is that life is disorderly and cannot be lived successfully according to a plan.

One good way to get started on luck improvement is to ask yourself which technique has been most notably lacking in your approach to life.

No matter how well you practice the thirteen techniques, you can still be brought to your knees by cancer, shot by a burglar, or barbecued by a nuclear bomb.

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