Life

Start believing in yourself and luck will follow

Those who think they're unlucky should change their outlook and discover how to generate good fortune. That is the message of Belfast-bound psychologist Richard Wiseman. Jenny Lee finds out more

Is it a case of fingers crossed or can we make our own luck?
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WHETHER you are a parent hoping your baby will sleep through the night, a young person trying to land your first job or are struggling to pay the bills – at most points in our life we want our luck to change.

We have all heard of the saying 'the luck of the Irish', but sometimes even to us Irish it may seem that other people have all the luck – landing the perfect partner, the perfect job and the perfect children, who willingly sit down and do their homework and never get into trouble at school.

Leading English psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman believes we can all make our own luck. It doesn't mean we are going to win the lottery overnight, but we can take control of our lives.

A former teenage magician who worked the crowds in London's Covent Garden, after travelling to Las Vegas with his magic, he decided to delve deeper and turn to academia becoming Britain's first professor of public understanding of psychology.

Richard’s research has examined a range of topics, including illusion, deception, humour, sleep, and the paranormal. He has made numerous appearances on television show The Real Hustle, explaining the psychology behind many scams and confidence tricks. He has also worked as a consultant for illusionist Derren Brown.

"I have known Derren for years and worked with him on his very first special, and on a couple since – including his séance work and investigations into psychics."

But it's his large-scale studies into luck which first brought him to prominence two decades ago. Wiseman will be sharing his research on The Luck Factor at this month's Northern Ireland Science Festival.

It was through numerous experiments, interviews and intelligence tests involving 400 volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life over a period of years Wiseman discovered that it is possible to become luckier.

So what is the best advice he would give someone about turning around their fortune? "There are four main principles involved and it depends which one they need to build on. The key ideas are to take opportunities, trust your intuition, be optimistic and be resilient."

Rather than being in the right place at the right time, Wiseman believes that lucky people consistently spot opportunities. His research also showed that anxiety disrupts people's ability to notice the unexpected.

"Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain types of job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for."

Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine, who talk to the same type of people, take the same routes to and from work and holiday in the same place every year. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives and thus create chance opportunities.

When it comes to parenting, one of the key areas in bringing up a happy, rounded teenager is teaching them resilience and the ability to cope with rejection and failure. Wiseman believes that taking the positives out of ill fortune is another key way of transforming bad luck into good.

So would he advise people to go with their 'hunch' – whether it's a love interest or a bet at the bookies? "Not at all. Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell – a reason to consider a decision carefully."

Although he's carried out some research over recent years, Wiseman believes the findings, as found in his 2004 book, The Luck Factor, "has stood the test of time" and has changed the lives of millions. "Often it is a case of them finding a job that makes them happier, a partner with whom they can have a meaningful relationship or getting them to realise the value of giving to others."

So does he consider himself to be a lucky person or has he just followed his own advice?

"Both. I am lucky in all sorts of ways, but I also think it important to realise that we all create much of the good and bad luck in our lives. I spent years working with lucky people and it is hard for some of that not to rub off on you a bit."

So what is next for this experimental psychologist? "Right now I am looking at the psychology of magic, studying the mechanisms used by magicians to fool their audiences," adds Wiseman.

:: Hosted by the British Psychological Society NI Branch and Queen's University Belfast, The Luck Factor takes place on Monday February 22 at 5.30pm at the Whitla Hall in Queen's University Belfast. Suitable for 14+ For tickets visit nisciencefestival.com

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