Summary of Can You Learn to be Lucky? by Karla Starr

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Can You Learn to be Lucky? by Karla Starr

What is luck? Well, officially the definition is “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions,”. But is this correct? Do our actions really have nothing to do with our luck?

To be honest, seemingly lucky events have totally predictable causes. Take sociability, for example, it is a definite predictor of opportunity. If you were not sociable, you would be less likely to speak to people and find out information that could be beneficial to you. It’s the same with proximity, it’s a great predictor of acquaintanceship because you are more likely to befriend someone to who you are in close proximity. So, there are some factors that can influence your luck, you just have to learn to be lucky yourself.

In this summary readers will discover:

  • Why last is lucky
  • Familiarity and attractiveness – how do they influence your luck
  • Confidence and hard work is not enough on their own
  • Self-discipline and curiosity is key to generating lucky outcomes
  • Connecting with others increases your luck

Key lesson one: Why last is lucky

Everyone’s heard the words “I was just at the right place at the right time,”. It turns out, the right time is actually last. As strange as it may seem, luck is often dependent on coming last. Obviously not in terms of winning, but more so when people, objects and places are being judged. Your chances of success are higher if are among the last being judged. 

To prove this, figure-skating championships between 1994 and 2004 were analyzed and it revealed that the skater who performed first had an approximately 3 per cent shot at winning. In contrast, the skater that performed last had a 14 per cent chance at winning. This statistic has been found in various other competitions. And it is not surprising, at least it shouldn’t be because this is how the human brain works. It needs context in order to judge.

It happens time and time again. When you buy a new house, judge a competition, even when you are waiting to pitch an idea, going last is lucky. So if you have an opportunity to choose a time slot, opt for the last one and get lucky.

Key lesson two: Familiarity and attractiveness – how do they influence your luck

Have you heard about the exposure effect? It predicts that a person will like things that they are familiar with. People are most familiar with whatever they come into contact with frequently. This effect is commonly seen in schools where kids who sit in the middle of the classroom are more likely to make friends than those who sit at the edges. This is because their central location makes it possible for them to talk to those that surround them easily. It’s also the same effect seen when people start training for a new job at the same time, they are more likely to become friends as they are in close proximity during training. So, you have to stop hanging around the edges of a room and get into the thick of it if you want to start making connections. 

But proximity is not the only factor, you also have to look the part. People naturally use first impressions as a guide to decision making. It’s why your Linkedin profile and what you wear to an interview are so important. Studies have even shown that doctors seem more trustworthy to people when they are wearing a white coat over their clothes. It’s instinctual for humans to assess their surroundings. Familiarity combined with what is perceived as acceptable presentation makes people feel relaxed and more inclined to have a good first impression.

To take this one step further, it has been proven time and time again that humans are predisposed to favour attractive people. Quite simply, beautiful people have more luck thrown their way than those who are not. As much as you may argue that beauty is a cultural construction, the facts have shown that those who are perceived as beautiful tend to find success easily. Consider the good-looking quarterback at college who always gets the girl and then went on to become a successful businessman. Didn’t it always seem like they had easy access to help around them? That they were always ‘lucky’ enough to know someone who could get them into the hottest clubs or big-name companies? Attractive people are favoured by others which in turn, really does make them luckier. 

But there’s no need to despair for those of us who are not as physically blessed as others. We have control over the way we dress and present ourselves to the world. We just have to ensure that our luck is generated by our other approaches.

Key lesson three: Hard work and confidence are not enough on their own

Confidence is key in most situations. It revolves around focusing more on reward than risk and our brains have the special ability to either activate or inhibit our confidence. If activated, it focuses on the reward and if inhibited, it focuses on the risk. People who are able to push activation over inhibition are more likely to have more opportunities to get lucky. 

However, this is often not as simple as it sounds as many barriers to confidence exist. One of them being the hierarchies that exist in the world. Those who have grown up in rich, successful families are more likely to grow up into confident and outspoken adults. In contrast, working-class kids or kids born into a family on welfare could exhibit lower confidence because of less exposure to encouragements growing up. If you are not naturally confident, you have to work at it. Remind yourself of your strengths often and build your confidence. The more you remind yourself of your strengths, the more you will start believing in them. 

Besides your confidence, the hard work you put in, as well, is not always enough. There is a combination of factors that need to come together if you need to be successful. You have to consider your resources, location, how hard you have worked and your natural abilities. Just take a look at swimmers. Yes, they put in the hard work and practice but top swimmers tend to come from families with decent income and who live in places like southern California where there are enough pools and sun to practise. Their genes also contribute to their athleticism. 

Hard work can easily be mistaken as the sole reason for someone’s success but it’s just because it’s easier to speak about. It’s also easy to forget the other factors if you are not necessarily aware of them.

Key lesson four: Self-discipline and curiosity are key to generating lucky outcomes

As much as hard work on its own is not enough to generate luck, the more self-discipline and curiosity you have, the more successful you will become. Self-discipline comes from dedicating time and effort to activities that will contribute to your success and not distract you from it. Curiosity will lead you to step out of your comfort zone in many situations. It is important to get curious about new situations and what could come from them. If you lack curiosity, you will never experience anything new. 

Take, for example, Derek Sivers. In the 1990s, Sivers created a credit card account to sell CDs of his own music. Then a friend asked him for help to set up a website for independent bands to sell their CDs. That’s when a company called CD Baby was created, in one weekend. The company eventually sold for $22 million and it all began with a simple conversation. Now was this luck? Not really. Sivers was known amongst his friends as ‘the robot’. If he was curious about something and wanted to master a new skill, he could block out the world and focus on it. When he first heard of the internet, he didn’t just explore it, he taught himself HTML so he could make his own websites. Sivers had self-discipline and the willpower to master this new skill and his friends knew it.

Building self-discipline is not easy which is why learning new skills can be quite difficult for adults. We are used to doing familiar things on autopilot, new stuff takes a bit more brainpower which we don’t want to sacrifice. It’s much easier to watch TV than read a book. But there are tricks to get around this. Start by moving short-term temptations away – hide your phone when you need to learn something and start thinking about long-term rewards. Get curious about the rewards of these activities. In doing so, you are cultivating your self-discipline and when an opportunity presents itself, it will be your luck that you can capitalize on it.

Key lesson five: Connecting with others increases your luck

As mentioned earlier, sociability is a predictor of opportunities. Additionally, the people you know can be important in your lucky breaks. The larger your network, the better your opportunities.

Growing your network can sometimes being a daunting process, especially if you are not particularly a social butterfly. But with all things, it takes a bit of work. You need to work on striking up positive and engaging conversations. The easiest way to do this is to express interest in others. Be genuine and ensure that your body language is friendly and welcoming. If you are pleasant to be around, people will be comfortable around you and others will also be drawn to your presence.

The key takeaway from Can You Learn to Be Lucky? is:

Lucky situations are not always what they seem. Yes, some people are luckier than others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work at it too. There are factors involved that can determine luck. The good news is that if you are aware of these factors you can actually increase your chances of finding yourself in lucky situations. You have to work on building your connections, confidence, self-discipline and curiosity. Combine this with the resources you already have at your disposal and you will find yourself in more lucky situations than ever before!

How can I implement the lessons learned in Can You Learn to Be Lucky?

Confidence is something that everyone can benefit from. Ensure that you work on building confidence by improving the way you present yourself in every situation. Dress like the person you want to be, it will help you look and feel more confident. Push yourself to engage in conversations and exhibit confident body language. You have to get out of your comfort zone and do this more often. The more you put it into practice, the more likely it is to become your reality.

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