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Columns : In My Sights

Make Your Own Luck

Why choose between lucky and good when you can be both?

October 11, 2013  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Illustration by Sequoia Blankenship.
Illustration by Sequoia Blankenship.
I know a lot of crime fighters who begin to wax philosophical after their fifth beer and one of the common axioms I hear is: "I would rather be lucky than good."

Deceased New York Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez almost never gets credit for making this refrain famous, but the real issue that has haunted me forever is: Does being good make you lucky? Well, leave it to a British scientist (those guys always sound so smart) to actually study luck. And his findings were pretty astonishing.

Dr. Richard Wiseman discovered people truly are lucky or unlucky, and we can actually change from unlucky to lucky. In his book, "The Luck Factor," he says we need to do four basic things that lucky people do in order to improve our luck. Now, I am a firm believer in people creating their own luck, so I found this short read a reaffirming piece of evidence that shows us how to be both good and lucky.

Law enforcement is a dangerous profession, and I will admit to being a little superstitious, but I am also a firm believer in constant learning, training, and practice. If I can get luck on my side with my own preparation and with my skills, I am all for it. So let's review the good doctor's steps to luck and see how to do it ourselves.

First, maximize your chance opportunities by taking risks, building a group of lucky people around you, being open to new things, and working hard. Ever notice that the officers who are so lucky recovering vehicles and making arrests are also very diligent at checking the parking lots around apartments and seem to always be checking on this or that vehicle? These "lucky" ones are also good interviewers and always seem to get a confession with almost no effort…or so it seems. Their hard work is invisible in retrospect, and we only remember the "luck" they had in making so many arrests.

Second, trust your gut and listen to your instincts. Lucky people don't ignore that creepy feeling or that sudden urge to run a plate or call for backup when things just don't "smell" right. How many times have you asked another officer what made him or her run a plate that turned out to have a warrant and the response was only, "It just seemed hinky"? Hinky? Explain that term to civilians and they will probably just shake their heads and say, "Cops." But you know that your gut speaks with feelings and that is why it is so hard to explain, but it is a feeling that's important to trust and act on.

Any book on scientific research into luck is likely to have some fortune cookie wisdom. And I read the last two of Wiseman's principles with a little skepticism, but he comes through with good explanations and examples that make the point.

Principle three is simple: Expect good fortune. Lucky people expect to be lucky and that things will turn out in their favor. They aren't going to give up because they believe they can achieve things others say are impossible without luck. How many times have you heard an expert say someone has two chances of succeeding with a goal—slim and none—and the next thing you know the goal has been achieved? Unlucky folks often actually create their bad luck by simply failing to follow through and then they blame their failure on that fickle finger of fate.

Principle four is also simple. When bad things happen to lucky people they turn them into lessons and go on. Too many of us experience a bad event and can't let it go. Fate seems against us and we might as well just give up. Lucky people know bad things happen and they learn from them, are improved by them, and are made stronger. I am not sure I would call German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche an optimist but his famous quote of "that which does not kill me, makes me stronger" seems to be dead right when it comes to being lucky. Bad things happen to us all, and it is up to you to learn, grow, and move on.

Wiseman has all kinds of exercises that you can do to help change your life from luckless to lucky, and if you're interested in learning about them buy the book or head to the library and read it for free.

But you don't need to read the book to start changing your luck. The first step is to think about the four steps and honestly ask yourself how you look at your life and the role of fate in your future. Believe me, in our profession it is best to be both lucky and good.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.


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