Rediscovering our luck




I’ve always been lucky. It started when my family had to flee my native country and start all over dirt-poor. My dad was forty and I was five. I was even luckier when the first company to employ my dad closed. I ended up moving away from my only friend at 10 years old. The luckiest thing to happen to me occurred at age 22. After months of working up the nerve to ask this girl I liked out on a date, she stood me up.

Immigrating to America allowed me an education. Had we stayed, I would be doing back-breaking labor in a country where the average annual salary is $3000 US/year. My dad getting laid off forced us to move to a city with activities that held my interest, activities unavailable in a town of 2000 people. So instead of drinking at the lake on weekends during my high school years, I was competing in fencing at the local university. Moving to a big city kept me out of trouble and out of jail.

Because the girl didn’t show, I decided to dance for the first time. I was too disappointed to be self-conscious. So that night, I discovered my love for dancing. Four years later, my future wife noticed me on the dance floor at a club. We started taking ballroom, swing and tango classes together. Those dance lessons taught us to work together to excel in a cooperative activity. They taught us about our differing learning styles and the ways we dealt with frustration and conflict. I attribute part of the success of our marriage to what we learned about each other in those early dance lessons.

The Nature of Luck

Psychologist Richard Wiseman did a ten year study into the nature of luck. In 2003, Wisemen published a book called The Luck Factor. His site contains a brief article about his study.

In one experiment, Wiseman placed an advert asking for people who intended to buy lottery tickets. Out of 700 people, Wiseman discovered, not surprisingly, that the lucky ones didn’t win more than the unlucky ones. Our perception of our own luck doesn’t affect pure chance.

What about activities that aren’t pure chance? Wiseman asked a group of participants to count the number of photographs in a sample newspaper. The unlucky people averaged two minutes to count the photos. The lucky people took seconds. The second page held a message that took up half the page. The message read, “Stop counting — There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

What Wiseman concluded was that people who perceive themselves to be lucky generate their own good fortune. That luck consisted of four principles.

Four Principles of Luck and INFPs

1. Creating and noticing chance opportunities

Noticing opportunities requires overcoming selective attention. Watch the video below.

When I first saw this video on Techdirt, I didn’t see the gorilla. For INFPs, counting the ball being passed is our focus on our idealized version of how our lives should be. The gorilla is opportunities we miss because we so doggedly focus on creating this singular vision of our lives.

INFPs agonize over finding that job that makes us feel fulfilled. We struggle finding that right person to share our lives. All the while, that perfect person or perfect job could have already passed us by. Those ideals make INFPs specifically focused instead of generally focused. Everything gets filtered by our ideals. If we don’t see the situation as ideal then it’s no good to us so we dismiss it.

INFPs need to account for change. Situations and people who may not be ideal now could be ideal later.

Perfection is easy to find, but hard to recognize.

2. Following our Intuition

Opportunities rarely hold up signs saying, I’m an opportunity. It’s a friend a who wants you to meet someone. It’s a feeling that nudges us to do something we otherwise wouldn’t do.

About a decade ago, an college crush came back into my life briefly through a few emails. She recommended some books by Robert Kiyosaki. I rarely read non-fiction, but something told me to read these. Kiyosaki’s books changed my views about work and money. I recommended those books to my ENTJ brother who runs with ideas that compel him. He’s five years younger than I am, but because of those books, he got into real estate and is now less than a decade from retiring.

Although INFPs have a good intuition, that intution can lead us into trouble when we project. We make more of an opportunity than it really is. This becomes apparent in our interactions with others. INFPs don’t often meet people with whom we strongly connect. With new people we like, we have a tendency to project our values onto them. We try to explain to ourselves why we like them by making stuff up in our head based on how we feel. Then we feel betrayed when their actions don’t match up to values we projected on them.

After enough let downs, we think our intuition is suspect but it’s really our interpretation of our intuition that’s faulty.

3. Having Positive Expectation

Lucky people expect good things to happen to them. It’s the Reticular Activation System (RAS) part of our brain not wishful thinking. What car do you drive? How often do you notice other people driving that same car?

Among the RAS’s functions is its “ability to consciously focus attention on something. In addition, the RAS acts as a filter, dampening down the effect of repeated stimuli such as loud noises, helping to prevent the senses from being overloaded.” Our RAS controls what we pay attention to and what we filter out.

Lucky people don’t filter out opportunities because they have the positive expectation that good things will happen to them. It’s self-fulling prophecy. Because they expect good things to happen, they are more open to notice the opportunities to make good things happen in their lives.

Positive expectation requires INFPs to be open which isn’t something we learn naturally. Over years of being hurt from misunderstanding, we don’t let ourselves out, but instead we let people in. INFPs develop an us versus them mentality. We put people through exhaustive hoop-jumping before we let them into our inner world. Keeping the world at arms length keeps us from opportunity.

4. Seeing the Good from the Bad

A zen proverb states, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”

If we get hit by a car and lose the use of our legs, that is pain. Pain is random and beyond your control. Whether we decided to to mope or play Murderball (quad rugby) is entirely up to us.

Interpretation controls attitude. Attitude affects how we act. When bad things happen, attitude determines how quickly we move on and try again. Lucky people are glass-half-full people. A glass half-empty is also half-full so either view is right. But which is more useful? People who see lack operate from an attitude of lack. People who see abundance act from a place of abundance. Like attracts like.

Interpretation stems from belief and INFPs hold onto beliefs dearly. However, multiple beliefs about the same situation may be valid. INFPs adopt beliefs that feel most right without ever questioning which beliefs are the most useful.

For example, say an INFP gets dumped. We can interpret it two ways. Our ex was either right or wrong in dumping us. If we believe they were wrong then we start looking for signs we missed of why our ex was a bad person. On the other hand, if we believe our ex was right then we look to ourselves to figure out how to not make the same mistakes. Which belief is more useful?

Practical Luck

Luck is nothing more than increasing the probability of a desired outcome. We do that by increasing the odds of finding opportunities that help us and making the most of out opportunities we notice.

Let say I blindfolded and stuck you twice as far a normal from a dart board. If you threw enough darts, you’ll eventually hit the bulls-eye by pure chance. Now, I take off the blindfold. I send you back to the right starting position. I give you a darts expert to teach you proper technique and to make corrections. You’re chances of hitting the bulls-eye have greatly improved.

Lucky people unconsciously use the principles of luck to increase their probability. What lucky people do unconsciously, anyone can learn to do consciously.

Go out.

Sitting at home isn’t increasing our odds of good things happening.

Wiseman’s study found that lucky people are more social. Lucky people are pleasant so more people like them. Because others like them, they will do things for them. Those things can include recommending people for jobs that haven’t been advertised yet, introducing people who would later become friends or significant others.

By ourselves, we can’t notice everything and be everywhere. A strong social network gives us more eyes and ears that are looking out for us.

Do something different.

Different opportunities originate from different places.

Drive down a different street on the way home. Go to a different grocery store. Any activity that varies from our routine increases probability. The new is uncomfortable but being uncomfortable makes us more aware. That heightened awareness leads to the recognizing opportunities that we otherwise would have missed.

Also, opportunities are not infinite from a single source. Your friends will run out of potential relationship material to introduce you to. After time, your current activities will give you fewer chances to grow.

Be ready.

Imagine you’ve met someone who could be the one. If you’re thirty, living in your parent’s basement without a job, that’s a huge turn off to overcome. How would afford to go on dates? You’re not ready to date even though you may want to.

Everyone has that vision of their perfect job. All jobs have minimum qualifications to even be considered. If a friend says, hey I have a job that fits everything you ever wanted, would you even qualify? What good is an opportunity if you aren’t ready to do anything about it?

Being ready means focusing on personal growth. To have more, we first have to be more. To have a perfect job, we need to be someone that qualifies for that perfect job. To have good relationships, we ned to become someone worth knowing.

Act immediately.

Opportunities have a short window in which to act. The world is full of people that could use that opportunity also. Even though we see it first doesn’t mean someone else won’t see it moments later.

What if we’re wrong and that opportunity turns out badly? Then we’re wrong. Admit we made a mistake and do something else instead of continuing to do the wrong thing. Find the good from the bad and move on.

I never wait for parking space because I park at the first one I see even if it’s a farther walk. People spend two years of their lives waiting in line which includes parking. If parking can’t be found and I don’t have to be there, I’ll leave. It’s the glass-half-full mentality. I believe the universe is telling me that I have better things to do.

The most interesting thing that came from Wiseman’s study is the results from the standardized “life satisfaction” scale. Participants ranked themselves on how satisfied they felt with family and personal life, finances, health and career. The people who believed themselves lucky rated themselves far happier then those who felt unlucky.

Maybe the universe doesn’t say anything and I’m only fooling myself. Does it matter if I’m fooling myself into being happier?

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7 Responses to “Rediscovering our luck”

  1. Rob

    Dec 17, 2010

    9:26 am

    Great article. 🙂

    I definitely agree with the bit about being ready. … and the bit about acting immediately. Looking back, I think those two things made the most difference to my life.


  2. Heather

    Oct 13, 2012

    7:30 pm

    I read there was a gorilla and still missed it. I think I miss a lot of gorillas in life.
    Thanks for providing such an instructive tool


  3. Erika

    May 11, 2013

    1:17 pm

    Thank you! You are right. This is helpful. I’ll get up and out. This is something useful to all of us, not just INFPs.


  4. Caitlin

    May 9, 2014

    2:40 pm

    Poignant. Thank you for this. It inspired a lot of gratitude during a “rough” time that in perspective, could be much worse.

    Heartfelt thanks.


  5. Goutham

    Jul 5, 2014

    8:30 am

    Though I always have known my introverted nature, it was only until recently I genuinely took an interest in delving deeper into analyzing my personality preference and found myself to be an INFP. No surprises there…

    I agree with ‘most’ of everything from your blog. The notions of entitlement and belonging were something I always held on to but learned my lessons the hard way, again recently, after repeated episodes of failure leading to disappointment.

    But then I encountered a certain section (Seeing the Good from the Bad) in this post that really got me quite unsettled. It is the argument of trying to be optimistic in the face of ever mounting adversity I find it really hard to understand!

    More so, from my own experience, life can never be anymore of a bully with a ‘holier than thou’ attitude of a preacher. I seldom like to compare myself with the lives of others or would want to play the victim card either.

    But what better choice, other than to pick ourselves up and move on, do we have? Just a comment to share!


  6. Will

    Jun 7, 2018

    7:51 am

    Interpretation of the intuition what’s is it mean


    Corin Nguyen Reply:

    Wiseman asked a group of participants to count the number of photographs in a sample newspaper. The unlucky people averaged two minutes to count the photos. The lucky people took seconds. The second page held a message that took up half the page. The message read, “Stop counting — There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

    Being able to see opportunity right in front of you isn’t just intuition.

    INFP intuition is basically pattern recognition from Ne (Extroverted Intuition). Ne sees ideal possibilities. That’s not the same as recognizing opportunities.


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