Look 'luck' up in the dictionary and you'll see this definition: "the things that happen to a person because of chance, the accidental way things happen without being planned." Things, in other words, that don't happen because of your effort or skill but just because the universe seems to smile on you.

But it seems Webster's might have got it wrong on this one. According to experts luck isn't something that just happens, it's something you can learn.

That's the contention of a classic article in the UK's Telegraph newspaper (hat tip to VC Fred Wilson for the reminder that it's still very much worth a read) by University of Hertfordshire psychologist Richard Wiseman. The article lays out Wiseman's research into the impact of luck on people's lives. To conduct his experiments he found and interviewed hundreds of people who either considered themselves abnormally lucky or unlucky.

The difference between the two groups, he found, wasn't the wrath of the gods or simple statistical variation, but rather their actions and attitudes. When it comes to the consistently unlucky, "thoughts and behaviour are responsible for much of their fortune," Wiseman writes. The converse is also true--there are ways of thinking and acting that increase luck and these can be learned.

The Curriculum for Learning to Be Lucky

In one startling experiment Wiseman asked both the lucky and unlucky to count the number of photographs in a newspaper. The lucky took seconds to complete the task, the unlucky, minutes. "Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: 'Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.' This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it," Wiseman reports.

The unlucky it seems aren't cursed, they're simply missing opportunities. So if you suspect you're one of those who tends to feel ill-fated, how can you learn to spot chances when theyarise and increase your luck? To find out Wiseman created a 'luck school' to teach the unlucky to improve their fortune. What was on the curriculum? Three keylessons:

  • Listen to you gut. The lucky folks Wiseman studied were more likely to take account of their intuition and listen to their hunches than the unlucky ones. "I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell--a reason to consider a decision carefully," Wiseman reports. Here are some tips to help you tune in to your gut instincts.
  • Get out of your rut."Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives," Wiseman reports. One lucky guy, for example, randomly chose a color before attending parties and then introduced himself to those wearing that color, increasing his odds of a serendipitous encounter.
  • Look on the bright side. This might be a hard one if you already feel unlucky, but if you want you fortunes to improve it pays to inject a bit of optimism into your life--luck is partly a matter of perspective, after all. "Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse," says Wiseman. There are ways you can train yourself to be more positive.