Many believe luck is a lightning bolt that strikes when you least expect it. It's a right-place-right-time kinda thing.

Stanford entrepreneurship professor Dr. Tina Seelig would like you to strike that perception of luck from your brain entirely. In 20 years of observing what makes some people luckier than others, she can definitively say this: The luckiest people tend to be those who create that luck for themselves.

In a recent TED Salon talk, Seelig uses a wind analogy to describe luck. Sometimes it's a light breeze. Sometimes it's a windstorm. But you never really know when--or from which direction--it will come.

Her advice is to build your sail. Bit by bit, you'll be more equipped to catch luck when it breezes by. Here's how she coaches her students to improve the probability that luck will blow their way.

Embrace your inner kid to take baby-step-size risks.

Take risks.

Step outside your comfort zone.

We've heard this advice before. Seelig gets more tactical. She challenges her students to think strategically about the risks they need to take to open themselves up to luck. They will be different for you than the person sitting next to you.

These risks can be baby steps, something we used to do all the time as kids. Take riding a bike: Going from training wheels to a two-wheeler requires a risk and discomfort. It takes quite a few tries to finally gain your balance and ride in a straight line. But each try gets you closer.

In her class, Seelig has her students do a riskometer exercise. She challenges them to rate their comfort level with the following types of risk:

  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Financial
  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Political
  • Ethical

Students compare their riskometers and realize no two look the same. She encourages them to push themselves toward the risks that feel most uncomfortable. For example, if you're more introverted and shy, you might challenge yourself to talk to someone you don't know.

Taking all these micro-risks will not guarantee your success. But the direction some risks might take you in could be surprising.

Seelig ultimately landed her first book deal by striking up a conversation with a stranger next to her on a plane. It seems like she got a lucky break--but it would have never happened if she had just put her headphones on and ignored her seatmate.

Show appreciation, even in rejection.

Like many happiness researchers, Seelig fully embraces gratitude. Showing appreciation can take you quite far--even when you're disappointed in the outcome.

Maybe you weren't offered your dream job. Perhaps you were flat-out rejected from what you thought was a perfect-fit opportunity. Swallow your pride. Take a moment to reflect on what you learned from the experience. Then thank the people who helped along the way.

"When someone does something for you, they're taking that time that they could be spending on themselves or someone else," Seelig says.

Expressing gratitude even when it's tough is a huge step many fail to take, but Seelig says it's critical making your own luck.

She runs a few highly competitive fellowship programs at Stanford. When people don't get in, Seelig often receives notes. Some complain. Others ask for feedback so they might have more luck next time. One note stood out above them all. A student named Brian, who had been rejected twice, wrote: "I want to thank you for the opportunity. I learned so much through the process of applying."

Seelig ended up meeting with Brian. They developed a custom independent study program together. He didn't end up getting into her program, but perhaps got something even better. All from a thank-you note after being rejected.

Find the good stuff in bad ideas.

Got an idea but you're worried it sucks? It might. But there's probably something good in there that you can mine.

Seelig doesn't believe ideas are either good or bad. "In fact, the seeds of terrible ideas are often something truly remarkable," she says. She encourages student to look at bad ideas with a lens of possibility.

What ultimately turns out to be a good, workable idea might never come to you in a sudden light-bulb moment. It's kind of like luck. Both luck and remarkable ideas are multidimensional and multi-layered.

"We rarely see all the levers that come into play to make people lucky," explains Seelig. It's the same with successful companies and million-dollar ideas. There likely were many bad ideas along the way, taking several twists and turns.

Each of these steps contributes something different to your future lucky self. Take small risks. Say thank you more often. Mine bad ideas for good ones. Over time, they all stitch together to build your sail. When luck blows your way, you'll be ready to catch it.

Published on: Aug 27, 2018