Luck seemed to run out for Karla Starr on a frigid day in Alaska when a car accident left her lying in a ditch with a fractured skull and a shattered wrist.
The aftermath was brutal: a difficult recovery, $200,000 in medical bills and the gnawing feeling life was passing her by.
“I kept thinking, I’m so unlucky: I had to declare bankruptcy, I had brain surgery,” Starr, 38, a writer based in New York, told TODAY. “Why did this happen to me?”
That 2003 crash and the Great Recession a few years later led her to try to “make sense of the word’s randomness” — or the many different trajectories people’s lives can take, how luck plays a role and whether we have influence over any of it. The result is her new book, “Can You Learn To Be Lucky? Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others.”
When asked to answer the question posed by the title, Starr was quick to reply.
“It is absolutely something that you can learn. You can put yourself in the right spot, you can be open to things that come along, you can re-frame what things mean,” she said.
“It’s actually very exciting to think about what is under our control. I think people sell themselves short and have a lot more power to impact their lives than they realize.”
To be clear, the strategies aren’t about what some sociologists call the gambling-and-horse racing view of luck — or trying to beat the mathematical odds of, say, winning the lottery. Rather, it’s cultivating certain behaviors and a receptive attitude that can maximize a lucky outcome.
When Richard Wiseman, author of “The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind,” studied people who reported lots of good fortune in their lives, he found they had a few psychological traits in common. They were relaxed and open to change; they listened to their intuition and acted quickly; and they were optimistic and resilient, he wrote in The Guardian.
Starr found similar results. She offered these tips based on her research:
1. Just keep showing up
Luck doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it grows when you leave the house. It’s easy to stick to a routine, but it’s precisely when you venture into new territory that you may stumble upon luck, Starr said. It goes back to the famous saying: You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.
“All it takes is one lucky encounter,” Starr noted. “What people should be doing is assigning a positive value to the unknown and just showing up for things.”
Say “yes” to invitations, try a new hobby and sign up for a class. You could make friends with someone who introduces you to your future spouse or the gatekeeper of your dream job three months later.
2. Realize that other people provide your luck
Winning a lottery is not what good fortune looks like for 99.9 percent of us in real life. Real luck is more about landing a job, getting a promotion, receiving funding for your start-up or being chosen for an opportunity you’ve always wanted. All of that depends on other people.
So make lots of friends — older, younger and people who look nothing like you — and bond with others constantly, Starr advised.
Maximizing luck depends on keeping diverse social connections, she said: “The more you can increase your social circle or the number of people who consider you an acquaintance, [the more people] to call upon you for a lucky opportunity.”
3. Relax your grip on your current life structure
Don’t cut yourself off from potential luck because you cling to one path in life, whether it’s a career or relationship, Starr wrote in her book. People don’t always realize they have self-defeating habits until they break them, she noted.
“Be open to the fact that you may be clutching on to a penny … without realizing that there’s a quarter on the ground right in front of you,” Starr said.
Be curious, flexible, engaged and keep an open mind. Change is scary, but it can bring better opportunities.
4. Spend an hour on your body every day
Starr received that memorable piece of advice from an image consultant who advocated exercising during that time. Staying in shape can boost your luck by reducing stress and keeping your body at its best, Starr said.
“I was amazed and impressed at how often this whole idea of minimizing stressors came up as an important factor in luck,” she noted. “When we minimize stress in our lives, we can think better, we’re more creative, we’re happier, it’s easier to get to know people… Your brain is a part of your body, so everything positive that you do for your body you also do for your brain.”
Remember, too, that luck can depend on assumptions people make about you, so a fit, healthy body will help you present the best image.
5. Give other people a chance to surprise you
To minimize potential danger, evolution has taught us to judge other people quickly. You may opt out of socializing with someone based on a quirky first impression even though it takes a long time to get to know people, Starr said. If you judge too quickly, you may end up missing out on having your world open up in an unexpected way. Luck is what catches us off guard, she noted.
“I really do try to give other people or other things the benefit of the doubt and open up a little bit,” Starr said.
6. Keep your lucky items
Research shows items that people consider lucky can actually boost performance because they decrease anxiety and increase confidence, Starr said. So go ahead, wear that (discreet) charm to a job interview — it may boost your luck.