Online Exclusive

Putting Luck on Your Side

How many times have you heard or said of an officer winning an armed confrontation that he or she was “lucky” to win?   How many times do you stop and say “I hope luck is on my side on this one?”  In fact, what do you believe about luck?  Is it a fickle finger of fate that toys with us, is it merely a statistical phenomenon, or a result of your attitude and actions in the long term?

I have interviewed so many winners of armed confrontations and other life and death situations who often say they were lucky and prepared.  Well, that would sure match much of what gets said about luck by champions and coaches of chances, that we create our own luck.  So are some lucky and other unlucky, and if you are unlucky can you change your luck?  Science would tell us yes and yes!

Dr. Richard Wiseman at the University of Herfordshire in Great Britain spent four years intensely researching luck and human behavior and sure enough he found that some people were luckier than others and even unlucky ones could be taught skills to make them luckier.  Now this article isn’t about making you better on your Vegas trips or at weekend poker parties but about making your odds of winning an armed confrontation even better; that’s what I am really concerned about.  Dr. Wiseman put his four essential principles of luck into a very readable little book called The Luck Factor, but I’ll save you some reading time by giving you his principles for review and I want you to think about how you handle each of these factors in your life.

First, lucky people maximize their chance opportunities by creating, noticing, and acting in a way to find “chances!”  Every agency has that cop who always seems to be transporting or asking for transportation for a subject with a warrant hit.  “She sure is lucky” is a common refrain, but those who work closely with her know she is always looking for odd or avoidance behavior and then running plates and subjects and suddenly she is “lucky!” 

The great thing about cops is they tend to be high sensation risk takers already; we just need to encourage these behaviors and reinforce the safety component as well.  We want to keep growing and learning, which is also a trait of lucky people.  So we want to keep reinforcing our good habits and eliminate the bad ones that make us vulnerable to “bad luck.”

In fact, we often see officers injured or killed in videos where they seem to be ignoring obvious symptoms of a threat that you and I would certainly act on, and that leads us to step two in being lucky:  Trust your gut!  What may be oldest maxim in law enforcement is also a key to success in all aspects of life and risk.  Since our limbic system, what Marc Shoen PhD calls our “mammal brain,” has tons of great receptors for sensing the outside world but no language to express itself, it uses feelings.  Does this traffic stop “feel” wrong, this guy “smell” wrong?  Police work has always had terms like “hinky” that express that vague but important concept of a gut feeling that is often hard to explain to civilians but a common word that transmits huge amounts of information between cops!

The whole idea of saying “Not Today” to yourself when you make a traffic stop, search a building, conduct a field interview, any “routine” activity is to constantly boost your intuition.  Routine activities tend to dull our senses to our gut feelings and it is important to refresh the need to attend to all aspects of police work, including the “sense” or “feel” of a situation; this is critical in increasing our luck factor!

This brings us to the third principle of creating good luck:  Expect good luck!  What do you expect for you, about you?  Are you a winner, a loser, someone who deserves to win or deserves to lose?  Being a Cubs fan I know the agony of losing over and over and tragically expecting my beloved Cubs to lose.  My other favorite team is whoever is playing the Yankees.  The thing about the Yanks is you expect them to win, love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are the gold standard of professional baseball and if you know any fans, read any articles, or watch ESPN you know everyone, including the players, expect to WIN!  I will still love my Cubbies but advise you to live like a Yankee.  Expect to win!

And when you don’t win or bad things happen to you, follow the final principle of creating a lucky life:  Turn bad luck into good fortune.  I can’t tell you how many winners I have interviewed who found out they were in a gunfight by getting shot.  They then kicked ass and won; they either healed and came all the way back, or they retired and moved on, but almost all were made stronger and happier even in their injury or disability.  Frankly, some of the most badly damaged bodies created the most vital joyous hearts I have ever met in my life.  Think about how you face adversity, failure, mistakes or injury.

This is a critical issue in the fortune of police officers since we have so much at stake.  We must look at bad events as something to learn from, not worry about.  Worry is negative mental rehearsal and we just don’t have time for that, we need to spend our time in the present, maximizing our chance opportunities, trusting our instincts, expecting to win and constantly growing.

I want you to do a self evaluation right now, think about these issues and make sure you always preload your mind by thinking “NOT TODAY!”