When Seifert awoke the next morning, everything felt different, as though a weight had been lifted. "I don't have to go to work today," she thought. Drinking coffee in her breakfast nook, she asked herself: "Now what? How do I want my life to go? How do I make something good happen?" She told herself that her future started today, and that there had to be something better. She promised herself that in 10 years, she wasn't going to be alone like this. From now on, she would celebrate important occasions with a crowd of friends, not just one colleague. All of a sudden, she had new goals, and she recognized that she would need to take specific steps to reach them. An introvert by nature, she decided to interact more with people. She would shake their hands, look them in the eye, engage in livelier conversation.
For Seifert, these weren't just idle thoughts. Through her research, she had come up with a concept she called "predictive encoding"—the anticipation of when a particular piece of knowledge is going to be useful—and it described exactly what she was doing as she sat at her kitchen table. Research has shown that most people aren't very good at recalling information—or intentions—when they need to. For instance, you know you're out of toilet paper, you go to the store to pick some up, and somehow you manage to come home without it. Or you know you want to meet someone and fall in love, but when you're out and about interacting with people, you somehow manage to come home without having connected with anyone. Though you know what you want, Seifert says, that knowledge doesn't always come to mind at the right time to guide your behavior. But if, when you're thinking about what you want, you imagine the situations in which you'll need to remember it, you're more likely to succeed. Preparing your mind for a certain behavior increases (by as much as 50 percent) the chance that you'll pull that behavior off. And that's what Seifert was attempting: to prepare—or encode into memory—her plans to change her behavior in a way that might change her future. By imagining a new role as a "people person," she was giving herself a better chance of behaving like one whenever the opportunity arose.
Of course, if anyone had told her she would go on a date that night with a man who worked at the dry cleaner, she would have thought it preposterous. Still, even if she wasn't expecting to meet Mr. Right when she pulled up to the drive-through window, she did know she wanted to engage the world differently. And she believes she met her husband because she had mentally prepared for a chance encounter. By seeding her mind with the vision of more connected and fulfilling relationships, Seifert says, she gave her mind instant access to this information when she ran into someone new. And that, in turn, helped her change her behavior and take action.
Seifert isn't alone in believing that if you prepare yourself to make the most of chance encounters, good things are waiting to happen all around you. Other experts agree that with a few simple steps, you can significantly increase the chances of meeting your soul mate, finding the right business partner, or steering your life in a new direction. That might sound unlikely or even naive, but there's real science to prove that while you can't control the randomness of life, you can definitely create your own luck.
We Hear You!