Hogmanay 2012: Richard Wiseman on luck

Hogmanay 2012: Richard Wiseman on luck

Photo: Antje M Pohsegger

The well-known psychologist is appearing as part of Edinburgh Hogmanay's Be Lucky events

Professor Richard Wiseman believes lucky people have lucky things happen to them. That’s right. Don’t put your coat on to leave, sceptics and scientists, please stay. He can explain himself.

So, if you’re someone who thinks the number 13 is unlucky, and expect 2013 to be full of bungled job interviews, haemorrhaged finances, doomed relationships and lone magpies landing on broken mirrors indoors next to open umbrellas, chances are, Wiseman says, you may want to brace yourself for a terrible year.

Wiseman is a psychologist who writes books and runs oddball experiments to illustrate his findings. In the past, he’s examined speed dating, lying and the psychology of humour, and conducted interviews with the likes of Armando Iannucci, Derren Brown, Alan Davies and Ian Rankin to delve into the psychology behind their work.

To mark the beginning of 2013, Wiseman will be delivering a New Year’s Day masterclass on luck in Edinburgh. He’s spent ten years researching ‘lucky’ and ‘unlucky’ people, and compiled the results in his book The Luck Factor. But he’s not the sort to start his day with a scan of his horoscope or a stroke of a rabbit’s foot. Spitting on the Heart of Midlothian won’t turn anyone’s fortunes around, he’d be quick to point out.

‘Horoscopes? I’d say they’re pretty much mumbo jumbo,’ he shrugs. ‘I think all that is pretty daft. I don’t own any lucky charms. I ignore stuff like lucky lottery numbers, that just gets you locked into that dangerous mindset of never missing buying your tickets. I’m very much against the idea of destiny or fate, or signs and omens.’

But … aren’t those, all things considered, the superstitious touchstones of luck?

‘Put it this way,’ answers Wiseman.

‘I’m interested in things that work.’

‘I’m more a fan of people “making” their own luck. At New Year time, people often have that “New Year, New You” mentality. They want to rid themselves of bad habits, work out why they’re “unlucky in love”, they want amazing things to happen to them.’

First and foremost, in order for all the amazing things to miraculously swan into your life, Wiseman says you need to at least make sure you’re not scaring them off.

‘Unlucky people often think they don’t stand a chance, so they won’t prepare as well for job interviews, they’ll pass up opportunities, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.’

Shlemiels take note: control, says Wiseman, is the first step towards unearthing your inner clump of lucky white heather.

‘I’m not just delivering a “cheer-up” message’, he clarifies. ‘I’m asking people, “what are you going to do differently next year?” If behaviour patterns don’t change, 2013 will be just as bad as the last.’

Wiseman’s blog is loaded with video clips and anecdotes about New Year’s Resolutions – on how to make original ones, tailored just for you, as well as tips how to avoid the classic mid-January crash, where people tumble off the wagon, back into the pub/the fridge/the arms of a terrible girlfriend/the specialist tobacconist shop [insert personal weakness as appropriate].

As part of his albatross-throttling strategy, Wiseman suggests that before going to bed, people make a nightly note of any ‘good luck’ incidents that have happened to them over the past 24 hours. It’s an exercise he hopes will gradually weaken the ‘jinx’ factor that can hold some back. Once the focus has shifted away from ‘bad’ to ‘good’ luck, people may start noticing patterns emerging. The next phase is change, he explains; even something as simple as a new route on the way to work, a shake-up of after-work activities, or the people you spend time with can help.
‘I’m not talking about anything magical or paranormal,’ says Wiseman. ‘It’s simply about being open to change. Being optimistic can help though – I’ve conducted experiments that prove people prefer being around happy, positive people, and are more likely to spend time with them.’

Wiseman’s event on the 1st of January will build some practical crowd exercises around a talk on ‘The Luck Factor’. It’s part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay ‘Be Lucky’ campaign for 2013.

‘There’s nothing out there to suggest 2013 will be any different from any other year,’ pooh-poohs Wiseman, before adding his own disclaimer. ‘The year 2013 will be as lucky as you want to make it. It’s up to you to make it your lucky year. Remember, no one cares about your life as much as you do.’

His masterclass on luck will hopefully lure a few hungover revellers out from under the ladder they were hiding under last year, towards the National Museum of Scotland, and bright beginnings. Who knows? Maybe a seagull will deliver a dose of serendipity to the back of the head on the way. Fingers crossed.

An Audience with Richard Wiseman, Tue 1 Jan.

Your Lucky Day

Stumble across all manner of events and live music dotted around various venues in Edinburgh's Old Town. Highlights include music from Kin with Duncan Chisholm or Rachel Sermanni, a ceilidh with Sandy Brechin's Crafty Crofters, New Year play Galoshins or Words per Minute with author Alan Bisset and poet William Letford.

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