In need of a little light entertainment last Friday night, I sat down with my husband to watch the film 2012. It is an ‘epic science fiction disaster film’ in which massive earthquakes followed by enormous tsunamis change the face of the earth completely, wiping out most of humanity with them. The story follows the untimely demise of most normal people, as the world’s leaders and the wealthy scramble to board a huge arc (which, foreseeing this event, they had paid billions of dollars for a seat on), and is their only hope of survival. But it also followed the story of one normal family, who, on the morning of the end of the world, we’re sitting at home happily making pancakes. Probably the luckiest people on the planet, as by that evening had bagged themselves a spot on the arc, after having survived a variety of life threatening hurdles on the way. I love a disaster film, but the good fortune this family had was difficult to swallow. No one could be that lucky.
But then, I got thinking.
Yes, maybe this was a little far-fetched, but every step that took the family closer to the arc was an opportunity seen, and seized.
Attract luck to you
It may not be the end of the world for us, but is it possible to live a bigger, better life and see our dreams come true by improving our own luck? And if so, how can we make ourselves lucky?
The Law of Attraction is often linked to luck, and it turns out there is some science behind it. Firstly, the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging in London are compiling evidence that those of us who take the time to visualise what we want are far more likely to get it. Positive affirmations work too. Why is this? For one, thinking positively has been found to have lead to more satisfying lives. And in the field of neuroscience, it is suggested that our mirror neurons also play a part; when we send out positivity, openness, and belief in what we want, we attract people to act in a similar way back to us. This in turn can open up more opportunities, which in real terms, translate as luck. Equally, if we close down and send out negative signals, people pick up on these too and mirror them back at us, potentially shutting down opportunities.
So, how does this translate in your life? A positive attitude is great, but taking steps towards creating positive achievements which build on each other is also important. For example, making the change to go alcohol-free can be felt as a positive challenge where we feel proud of ourselves and can take on a more positive outlook on our lives and what we can achieve, which will in turn be mirrored back to us through others. It’s not uncommon for more positive opportunities to present themselves; running marathons, starting businesses, losing weight, which creates a reinforcing upwards spiral of positivity, opportunity, and luck!
Blind to luck
But what if we find ourselves locked into a state of negativity. Firstly, you are not to blame. Recent genetic studies have found that a negativity bias can be passed on through generations – if you’re parents had a negative experience, then this can in theory be passed on through your genes.
Negativity is rooted in the amygdala, a part of the brain which interprets fear and anxiety. Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and author of ‘The Luck Factor’ found in one study that when we are in a negative, anxious state, we are often focused on looking for threats that we often don't see anything unexpected, and so miss opportunities that stare them right in the face. Whereas, ‘lucky people' are found to be less anxious, more relaxed, open, and so more likely to see the opportunities around them. So, just like our family facing the end of the world, it’s true that being lucky isn't so much about fate, but about spotting and seizing opportunities.
Shifting the unlucky negative bias
So how can we make ourselves luckier? Based on Wiseman’s research, reducing anxiety will help us begin to see the opportunities around us.
Taking time to move from constant ‘doing mode’; work, chores, admin, to-do lists, and into ‘being mode’ – reading, walking in nature, watching TV, exercise like yoga which soothes the parasympathetic nervous system, and of course mindfulness, which trains our brain away from anxiety and into being in the moment with acceptance, can help us shift away from anxiety and this negative bias state.
It might be tempting to reach for a glass of wine or a pint after a long day to help us unwind, but it turns out that this is actually counterproductive and can lead to an anxiety cycle, especially if we use it regularly. Alcohol is a sedative, a depressant, and changes the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which might make us feel less anxious at first, but can actually leave us feeling more anxious later, leading to alcohol-induced anxiety and keeping us trapped in that negative bias. Not only do we feel worse but we also stop ourselves from seeing the positive opportunities we often associate with being lucky, because we’re so focused on what we’re worrying about, and other perceived threats.
There are some straightforward guidance’s to follow if we want to enhance our luck. Want to be a lucky person? Through his research, Wiseman has found four positive psychological traits that lucky people have:
1) Lucky people see the positive side of their bad luck
2) Lucky people are convinced that any poor fortune will, in the long run, work out in their favour
3) Lucky people do not dwell on their bad luck
4) Lucky people take constructive steps to prevent more bad luck.
And in case you were wondering, my positive affirmation is ‘Something wonderful is about to happen’. Feel free to use it yourself – and if luck will have it, I’ll see you on that arc at the end of the world!
Ali Roff is a Mindfulness and yoga teacher, Psychology BSc graduate and Editor-at-Large at Psychologies magazine.
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