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If you want to be a lucky person, it helps to know what luck looks like.
According to Northwestern University neuroscientist Moran Cerf, the way to become a luckier person is to keep a running list of times luck was (and was not) on your side. More often than not, Cerf has found, the times you got lucky will outnumber the unlucky moments.
Cerf has studied decision-making for over a decade, and he’s learned, among other things, that free choice is a terrible predictor for happiness. Humans fall victim to all sorts of cognitive biases that cloud their impression of their lives for the worse.
When it comes to luck, the worst offender is the negativity bias, or the tendency to recall negative events more easily and often than positive ones. Think about how much easier it is to remember turbulent plane rides over smooth ones or poor interactions with police officers over uneventful ones.
“Because our brains are geared toward thinking about negativity and scary things, because that’s how the brain kind of learns,” we tend to remember the bad stuff more often than the good, Cerf said.
As Cerf tells his students, keeping a log of when luck goes your way can help you overcome that negativity bias. Consider people who think they get a lot of parking tickets. Cerf advises them to write down every time they park somewhere they could get a ticket. Each time they don’t get a ticket, Cerf says, they should add a checkmark. Then, at the end of the week, month, or year, divide the checks by the number of cases.
“You see that you were lucky,” Cerf told Business Insider. “Most of us are lucky. That’s the point.”
Seeing the data, in other words, can show people that their train may not experience as many delays as they think, rush-hour traffic might not be so bad, and they don’t actually forget their umbrella on rainy days as often as they may think.
Of course, constantly tracking your luck could produce the opposite effect, Cerf said.
You may notice, for example, that your train is late far more often than you thought. Or maybe you hadn’t noticed it was late at all, since you were busy reading. Actively tracking cases in which it runs late might ruin any bliss you experienced from being ignorant.
Regardless, Cerf said, the upside to his strategy is that it provides you with more information, which you can use to shape your perspective about your life. Rather than relying on faulty memories and decision-making, you can have peace of mind that you are, in fact, making sound decisions that turn out in your favor.
And if you find you’re less lucky in certain respects than you thought, you can try to make decisions designed to turn things around. If you find out you get an overabundance of parking tickets, you can find a new place to park, perhaps increasing your luck.
“It’s simple advice,” Cerf said, “but my students come back to me and say, ‘This is really helpful.'”