Have you ever played the game, ‘Fortunately, unfortunately’? You take it in turn to tell a story, prefacing each twist and turn with either ‘fortunately,’ or ‘unfortunately’.

I made a trip to London not long ago which felt just like that: Unfortunately there were engineering works, and all the trains to Marylebone were cancelled. Fortunately there was an alternative station to travel to. Unfortunately, my train was late. Fortunately it caught up time so I didn’t miss my connection after all. Unfortunately the Jubilee line on the underground was closed. Fortunately I made the correct split second decision to stay on the Bakerloo line and change at Waterloo…. You get the point.

Was I lucky or unlucky?

It all depends how you look at it. Many people consider themselves to be lucky or unlucky, but there’s no factual basis for this. What does seem to happen, however, is that, to a surprising extent, we create our own luck.


In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shaun Achor tells the story of an experiment where volunteers were asked to look through a newspaper and count the number of photos. On the second page was a large announcement telling people to stop counting and giving the total number of photos. Almost all the people who noticed this and stopped counting had self identified as ‘lucky’ people. But were they luckier? Everyone had the same opportunity to notice the announcement. But those who considered themselves to be lucky were primed to notice opportunities that the ‘unlucky’ ones missed.

Just after I first read about this experiment I was at a conference where there was a raffle. ‘I never win raffles’ I said to my neighbour- and guess whose name was the first out of the hat! I vowed then to stop priming my brain to expect to be unlucky. I don’t think my negative priming could really affect the results of a raffle, but it can definitely lead to shutting down and not noticing opportunities, or, where outcomes are more under our control than in a raffle, an unnecessary negative outcome.

Creating our own reality

In these ways we can indeed create our reality. This isn’t about ‘cosmic ordering’, or informing the universe that we expect to get a Mercedes, but about being open to opportunities and not subconsciously sabotaging ourselves, or causing people to react negatively to us because that’s what we expect and unknowingly project onto them. For example, the person who tells themselves that no-one likes them, and then sees criticism and rejection where it doesn’t really exist.

Being open to opportunities means showing up, taking chances, not worrying too much when things don’t work out or telling yourself stories about why something didn’t happen, and being ready to seize opportunities when they do arise. That’s how to be lucky.