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Understanding Luck: What It Is and How to Control It

Understanding Luck: What It Is and How to Control It

Luck is quite an interesting concept. When we look at ancient man, and the cultural traditions that developed within ancient societies, we can easily understand why the concept of luck played such an important role in early societies. Early rains and an abundant harvest might be easily explained by today’s current meteorological understanding, but to ancient civilizations it was seen as good luck or fortune sent from the gods and goddesses on high. Likewise, a drought or other natural disaster often was attributed to bad luck.

Nowadays we have a better understanding of the science of luck beyond superstition, and can correctly equate what is and what isn’t affected by the hand of chance–but this hasn’t kept people from losing millions on roulette wheels in Las Vegas, or on video slot machines and other lotteries around the rest of the world. It also hasn’t stopped young dreamers from pursuing unlikely ambitions, even though, statistically, they don’t stand a chance of ever “breaking through” to a mainstream market or “making it” as a professional in their field.

The beauty of luck is that whether or not we believe in it, everybody generally understands it as a concept, and many can recount their own experiences with it, either positive or negative. So what exactly is luck, in scientific terms? And how (if at all) can somebody control it?

What is Luck?

    Roman Goddess Fortuna, also known as “Lady Luck”

    According to Wikipedia, the definition of luck “varies by the philosophical, religious, mystical, and emotional context of the one interpreting it.” What this means, basically, is that some people think luck refers to completely random circumstances, as seen in the Oxford Dictionary definition of the term: “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.”

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    This view of luck is more descriptive, used to explain events after they’ve happened, especially if they produce outcomes that are combination of favorable, unfavorable, or improbable. On the other hand, some people decide to view luck in more of a prescriptive way, where fortune is more of a supernatural force that can determine the outcome of events before they happen. Somebody who blows on a pair of dice before he or she rolls them might believe this heightens their odds of rolling a favorable number, especially if reinforced by a favorable outcome. This prescriptive belief, while amusing, holds no scientific weight–the laws of physics do not change simply because somebody blows on a pair of dice, and the outcome of a purely identical roll would not differ sans “blow.”

      A good example of this in action can be traced back to an episode at the Le Grande Casino in Monte Carlo, August 18, 1913. On this night, the roulette wheel produced the color black 29 times in a row, a feat that David J. Darling has calculated to be a 1 in 136,823,184 probability in his book, The Universal Book of Mathematics. This night lives in infamy because of the millions of francs casino go-ers lost betting on the false logic that because black had come up so many times before, it could simply not come up black again. Nevertheless, every time the wheel spun there was an 18 out of 37 chance that it would come up black, same as the time before it and same as the time after. While there was definitely no prescriptive reason that the casino-goers suffered bad luck that night, even people who “don’t believe in luck” can, in retrospect, descriptively ascribe the term “unlucky” gamblers in such an improbable scenario.

      Psychology and “Making Your Own Luck”

      The roll of the dice, the turn of the card, and the spin of the roulette wheel–this is just one way to portray luck. It works because it’s the most concrete example of how blind chance affects an outcome. But what about the idea of somebody or something being lucky or unlucky?

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      The interesting thing about luck is that it deals heavily with both perception and chance. Lou Holtz has a great quote stating that “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” As it turns out, people who consider themselves unlucky don’t tend to believe the above, and would rather blame external factors for their misfortunes in life. People who consider themselves lucky, on the other hand, generally look inward for the reasons things in life happen to them, and try to adapt positively to situations that might otherwise seem negative.

        Psychologists call this the locus of control. An external locus of control means that you believe the world around you controls you more than you control yourself. Alcoholics suffer this quite often, and it’s one of the reasons that A.A.’s first step is “admitting you have a problem.” By internalizing your locus of control, you grant yourself the agency to quit. It’s kind of like the old tale of the tortoise and the hare–the rabbit didn’t lose the race because he was unlucky and napped for too long, he lost the race because he decided to nap in the first place.

        So while those who may consider themselves “unlucky” generally have an external locus of control, those who consider themselves “lucky” have an internal locus of control. The perception of chance between these two generally reflects their view of luck, and even affect health. If you look at cancer survivor Paul Kraus, for example, who had to dramatically change his lifestyle, diet, and therapies to survive three types of cancers including meningioma (a type of brain cancer), mesothelioma, and metastatic prostate cancer, (on top of being born in a Nazi forced labor camp during WWII!) you might think the man unlucky. Kraus would disagree, insisting that his survival is related to his belief that “a diagnosis is not destiny” and that people can conquer cancer because “there is far more to this illness than just a doctor’s bad news.” Kraus is the type of man who made his own luck.

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        How to Be Lucky Yourself

        Even though we understand that luck is simply chance, it still plays heavily into our culture, even if not in a prescriptive way, but in a descriptive way. A great display of this can be found in the culture surrounding America’s favorite pastime: baseball. The 2016 World Series, for example, saw the Indians and the Cubs go head to head, where the highlight of the series was the nullification of either Cleveland’s or Chicago’s decades long curse. Now, while these types of “curses” might show up in other sports, they’re more pertinent in baseball because of both players’ and fans’ susceptibility to superstitions in almost every aspect of the game. Indeed, because the ball is so small and moving so fast, there’s no way to predict every curve it will take, or whether or not it will make an unlucky bounce, etc. Eric Garcia McKinley writing for BeyondTheBoxScore.com actually argues that luck plays an undeniable role in baseball. The minor variables make the game so complex that you have to take into account that some players are simply in the right place at the right time.

        This analysis is not only correct in baseball, but is useful when applied outside of the game as well. Jennifer Aniston, for example, was about ready to call it quits with her acting career in 1994–but a chance meeting with the then-president of NBC’s entertainment division at a gas pump landed her on the cast of Friends, solidifying her career as we all know it. If we’re to take this as an example, we have to realize ourselves that Jennifer Aniston wasn’t just at the right place at the right time–because if you or me were to run into the president of NBC at the gas pump, there’s almost no way we’d get a shot at a hit TV series.

          What Anniston had that most of us don’t, in that specific situation, was preparation. Another Lifehack article on luck quotes the Roman philosopher Seneca, who said: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Anniston had prepared by doing at least four other failed TV sitcoms before she was put on friends, and these sitcoms had made her well-known to the NBC executive she met.

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          You Already ARE Lucky! Now Maximize It!

          Half of luck is the right mindset, while the other half is being in the right place at the right time. If you’re always in the right place, you’re only depending on the right time.

          The first part of this is realizing that you already are lucky. Every day that you don’t get in a freak accident while driving or walking down the road, you’re lucky. To have made it this many years into your life, you’re lucky. To be born in a time when you can look up almost anything on the internet (like this article!), you’re lucky! If you start focusing on all of the reasons that you’re lucky, and stop believing that you’re unlucky (you’re not), you’ll already start recognizing how much good luck you have.

          The second half, about always being in the right place, means simply to be proactive and persistent. If Anniston would have given up after the first failed Sitcom, she would never have been known to the NBC executive. Even Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times before it was published.

          The point is that luck often happens to people who are dedicated to a field, which is why luck happens in that field. Adopting a positive mindset and believing in yourself enough to persist are all the ingredients it takes to be lucky.

          So get out there, and do whatever it is you feel you were meant to do–by simply doing with a positive mindset, you’ll find fortune is already smiling on you!

          Featured photo credit: AdinaVoicu via pixabay.com

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          Andrew Heikkila

          Owner-Operator of Earthlings Entertainmnet

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          Last Updated on January 21, 2020

          5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

          5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

          Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

          All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

          The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

          “Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

          The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

          “The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

          The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

          “The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

          So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

            Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

            1. Build a Memory Palace

              What is it?

              The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

              How to use it?

              Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

              “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

              Example

              An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

              • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
              • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
              • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
              • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
              • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

              You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

              2. Mnemonic

                What is it?

                A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

                How to use it?

                Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

                Example

                I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

                I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

                Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

                Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

                Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

                Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

                C

                J

                H

                D

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                P

                Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

                Cubs

                Just

                Hate

                Doing

                Push-ups

                Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

                3. Mnemonic Peg System

                  What is it?

                  According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

                  How to use it?

                  The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

                  Example

                  Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

                  0 = hero

                  1 = gun

                  2 = shoe

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                  3 = tree

                  4 = door

                  5 = hive

                  6 = sticks

                  7 = heaven

                  8 = gate

                  9 = line

                  Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

                  4. Chunking

                    What is it?

                    Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

                    How to use it?

                    In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

                    Example

                    Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

                    Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

                    081127882

                    Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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                    081 – 127 – 882

                    Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

                    “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

                    5. Transfer of Learning

                      What is it?

                      Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

                      “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

                      How to use it?

                      There are two specific ways to use it:

                      1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
                      2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

                      Example

                      I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

                      Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

                      The Bottom Line

                      The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

                      We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

                      Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

                      “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

                      More About Enhancing Memories

                      Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

                      Reference

                      [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
                      [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
                      [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
                      [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
                      [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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