What do you need most right now? Money? Extra time? Better health? More recognition? Here's a weirdly powerful strategy that really works: Find a way to give away whatever you need the most. That advice comes from May McCarthy, serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and author of The Path to Wealth

I'd be skeptical, but I've seen this approach work many times in my own life. My husband believes the universe has an intelligence of its own and this makes things happen, as he puts it, for a reason. I think some of it can be attributed to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon--that odd phenomenon where your spouse buys a Land Rover Discovery and suddenly you start seeing hundreds of them on the road. (This actually happened to me.) My guess is that opportunity may work the same way.

Whatever the reason, McCarthy says that if you want more of anything in your business and/or personal life, give it away. It will come back to you and then some. Here are some real life examples of how this works:

1. Want recognition? Give recognition.

A friend of McCarthy's was feeling undervalued and thinking of leaving her job. McCarthy advised her to give recognition, so she contacted some of her family members and employees to tell them how much she appreciated them.

"Within a week, her boss came down the hall and dropped to his knees waving his arms in homage," McCarthy says. "He said for all to hear how grateful he was to her and her department for finding an accounting error that would have cost the company tens of thousands of dollars." Did this make McCarthy's friend feel more appreciated? You bet it did. Did it improve enthusiasm and engagement in her department? That too. 

2. Not enough time? Donate your time.

I'm willing to admit this one may be a hard sell. If you're tight on time, running from place to place, feel  you have no time for yourself and are always short of rest and sleep, it might seem that the last thing you need is to add volunteer work to your schedule. And yet. McCarthy reports that her colleagues who have tried this approach have found they have more time when they need it. One man she knew began volunteering for an organization and shortly thereafter, avoided being late to an appointment because an earlier accident caused the freeway to be cleared on his way. 

Maybe there was some mystical connection between those two things, or maybe the freeway accident was just a lucky event. But it's certain that  volunteering your time--and thus getting away from your work and work obsessions for a few hours--clears your mind and helps your brain work more efficiently when you return to your desk. Which could indeed result in more free time.

3. Need better health? Help others get healthier.

"Call a friend to take a walk or cook a healthy meal for you and others to enjoy," McCarthy suggests. Not only will you benefit from sharing these healthy habits, she says, "as we focus on helping others to become healthier, we stop focusing on our own health problems. Our bodies begin to heal without all of the stress--we become happier and live longer."

In a 1999 UC Berkeley study, elderly people who spent time volunteering were 44 percent less likely to die than those with similar age and health habits who did not volunteer, she notes. And volunteers have lower blood pressure than non-volunteers as well.

4. Want more money? Give some away on a regular basis.

This can be a tough sell, McCarthy acknowledges. When it seems like you can't pay your bills, the last thing you want to do is give money away. And yet, it really seems to work. McCarthy recalls telling a man she knew to donate part of any unexpected "found" money and see what happened. After he received an unexpected $50 payment, he donated $5 and waited. Soon after, while walking his dog, he found a roll of bills totaling $325 lying on the ground. After waiting for a couple of hours to see if anyone would come looking for it, he decided to keep it. He donated $32.50 and resolved to also make donations from his regular pay. A few months later, he got a 20 percent raise.

This might all sound dubious to you--it would to me too, except that I've seen a similar approach work in my own life. After a friend of mine told me that she regularly donated part of her income to the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, and that she'd seen her income grow dramatically after she started, I began making small donations to that charity and various others whenever payments arrive. And my own income has grown much healthier over the couple of years since I've been doing it. 

Is this Baader-Meinhof again, backed up by wishful thinking and confirmation bias? Could be. Or there could be an unconscious signal that if you are giving money away, you deserve to have more of it and so you make that come true. Or perhaps, if you believe deep down that only the wealthy can afford to make donations, the fact that you see yourself doing so causes cognitive dissonance that you attempt to relieve by making yourself more wealthy. Or perhaps, as my husband believes, this is simply the way the universe works. 

I don't know, and I'm not sure I want to know. The point is that it does work, and it's made me a believer in giving away what I want most, knowing that more of it will come back to me.

How about you?