Does Murphy's Law rule your world? Is it always raining on your side of the street? But good fortune isn't down to chance - it's all about adopting the right attitude. Julia Stuart reports

John Woods, a senior partner in a large legal firm, was scheduled to be on the Pan-Am flight that exploded above Lockerbie in 1988 killing all 259 people on board. He cancelled at the last moment and went to an office party instead. Five years later, he was on the 39th floor of the World Trade Centre when it was hit. Yet he escaped without injury. On September 11, 2001, John left his office in one of the twin towers seconds before the building was struck by a hijacked aircraft.

John Woods, a senior partner in a large legal firm, was scheduled to be on the Pan-Am flight that exploded above Lockerbie in 1988 killing all 259 people on board. He cancelled at the last moment and went to an office party instead. Five years later, he was on the 39th floor of the World Trade Centre when it was hit. Yet he escaped without injury. On September 11, 2001, John left his office in one of the twin towers seconds before the building was struck by a hijacked aircraft.

Why do some of us seem to be blessed with an extraordinary amount of good luck, while others suffer misfortune after misfortune? According to Anne Watson, co-author of The Book of Luck, published this week, luck doesn't even exist. "I believe that what we commonly consider to be luck is something that lies within our control," she says. Watson, who runs her own executive search business, and co-author Heather Summers, who runs her own management consultancy, interviewed thousands of people either running successful companies or whose businesses had failed. They discovered that those who were thriving all seemed to have seven common traits.

Firstly, the lucky people accepted responsibility for their lives and didn't blame others. "When we were talking to people in businesses which had gone under and asked them whether it was down to them or external circumstances, they were all grateful to grasp at external circumstances. Whereas I think that one of the key factors of luck is saying 'How much of this is my responsibility? I am where I am because of the decisions I have made and it's down to me to change it'," says Watson.

The second trait was perseverance. Lucky people carried on when others had long given up. They also discovered that people who were cautious often let opportunities slip through their fingers, whereas lucky people took risks in their careers and social lives. Crucially, lucky people had an optimistic outlook. "Some people have the ability, when something happens which is not what they wanted, to turn it on its head and see the positive aspects," says Watson.

"To continue being unlucky, just continue with the same mindset, continue with the same set of friends and continue accepting that it's not your responsibility - it's someone else's. Anyone can be lucky. I know people who have had tremendous ill fortune that they couldn't do anything about, and they have still pursued another route and created a lucky or successful life."

For more than 10 years, Professor Richard Wiseman has been examining the behaviour of 1,000 volunteers who considered themselves lucky or unlucky. "I think that people who think they are lucky are living happier and more successful lives than those who think they're unlucky, so in a sense luck exists," says the psychologist, who published his findings in his book, The Luck Factor. "But when you are up against something that is purely chance, like some sort of accidents and the lottery, I don't think any group of people would do any better than another. I'm arguing for a psychological definition of luck."

According to Wiseman, there are four behavioural techniques that are scientifically proven to help people attract good fortune. The first is to maximise your chances for opportunities. "We found that lucky people were relaxed about life and had a more global view of things. Lots of unlucky people were very anxious and had a narrow focus of attention. Because lucky people tended to be quite relaxed, they were seeing opportunities that other people were missing." One example of such behaviour was when the scientist asked volunteers to go to a certain coffee shop. The lucky people tended to spot the £10 note which had been left on the pavement outside, whereas the unlucky people were too focused on the coffee shop to see opportunities.

Like Watson and Summers, Wiseman recommends listening to your intuition. "Lots of unlucky people say they never get those gut feelings about a relationship or business deal being right or wrong. Lucky people say: 'Yes, I get that and I trust it.' Often the feeling of intuition is based on expertise that we have built up over time and we ignore it at our peril," he says.

The third principle is to expect good fortune. Expectations play a vital role in explaining why lucky people's dreams often become a reality, whereas unlucky people's rarely do, because they have the power to become self-fulfiling prophecies. And those who expect to do well, as lucky people do, try harder in the face of failure.

The fourth principle is to turn bad luck into good fortune. "Lucky people are very resilient, so when bad things happen they say it will be different tomorrow, and put it behind them. Unlucky people are trapped in the past and are continually thinking about what had gone wrong."

In another experiment, Wiseman put 120 people who considered themselves to be unlucky through a "luck school" in an attempt to get them to think and behave like a lucky person. As well as following his principles, they were given positive affirmations and asked to fill in a diary recording the lucky things that had happened to them, to focus their attention on the positive.

In total, 80 per cent of people who took part said their luck had increased a month later. "We have followed them up two years later and there were long-term changes. They are as lucky now as when they left the process," says Wiseman. "The reason that it works is that it feeds on itself. Once people change how they see themselves and a few good things happen, that feeds into more change."

So how does one explain the good luck of John Woods? Wiseman believes it was just chance. "I think there are some people who, just because there are so many of us in the world, will genuinely experience a run of good luck and bad luck," he says. "When people are always having bad luck or always good luck on a daily basis, it is more to do with psychology than chance."

'The Book of Luck' by Heather Summers and Anne Watson is published by Capstone, £12.99. 'The Luck Factor' and 'The Little Book of Luck' by Richard Wiseman, Arrow, £6.99 and £3.99

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