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Superstitions can play a difficult role in your life when they start interfering with your choices.
The truth is that all superstitions are only partially grounded in reality. Most superstitions have some thread of truth to them that’s been blown up out of proportion over time.
Unfortunately, the real reason may get buried under Magical Thinking, gossip, and people just embellishing the story.
But sometimes, superstitions are greater than that. Sometimes a person’s choices are driven by superstition, fear, and Magical Thinking because they are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness.
That could be something like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, where the person feels like they need to perform a certain action or something will go wrong. It may also be mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder that can cause a person to have delusional beliefs.
Of course, these are but a few examples. There are several other mental health problems that severe superstitions can point to. Suppose you find that your beliefs are getting in the way of your life or causing you distress. In that case, it is a good idea to seek out a mental health professional to see if there is a bigger issue at work.
But, if it’s not that severe or you want to try to unwind the thoughts, we can look at some steps to dissect and try to rob those superstitions of some of their power.
1. Learn more about the superstition.
Most superstitions have some grain of truth to them. Once you find the grain of truth, you can try to strip Magical Thinking away from the superstition.
Walking under a ladder will bring bad luck. The origins of this superstition are rooted in the bad idea of walking under ladders when someone is working on one. You can end up with a paint can, or a hammer dropped on your head. It could also be that the person passing under bumps into the ladder and may cause an accident.
Black cats are bad luck. This superstition is rooted in the fear of witches in the Middle Ages and on. The idea was that witches would turn themselves into black cats to hide and evade arrest. In reality, these poor cats are just cats. And even today, they suffer from the stigma of this superstition by being targeted by “occultists” around Halloween or killed because they are bad luck.
There’s a good chance that any classic superstition you may believe in does have some thread of truth to it. However, that thread of truth may not be what you think it is. So explore. Do some more research on your superstition and see what you can find.
2. Look for evidence of your superstition being correct.
Rationalizing and seeking evidence of the superstitious belief is one way to break free from its hold. If this belief is true, there must be evidence that supports the belief somewhere. Right?
But, if you struggle with these ideas, the evidence can become murky. So what constitutes evidence?
The best way to look for evidence is to look into research papers, documents written by authorities such as universities and doctors, or some other peer-reviewed and verified source. If there is ample evidence of a true belief, you will likely find multiple examples of that thing.
What doesn’t count as evidence are opinions without any factual evidence to support them. You can think that the moon is made of cheese, but no one will accept that opinion is valid. A mountain of evidence shows that the moon isn’t made of cheese. Moon rocks are being returned to the Earth, scientific studies of the mineral composition of the moon, and the moon landings.
Yes, that’s kind of a silly example, but it illustrates why an opinion may not be valid. Is the belief and opinion that should you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back valid? No. There is no evidence to support it aside from a misguided opinion here and there.
3. Avoid using superstitions to guide your choices.
Perhaps you have a problem with letting superstitions guide your choices. Perhaps you don’t want to fly on the 13th day of a month because you believe that the number 13 is unlucky. Well, why? Why is 13 an unlucky number?
Well, look at the history of superstition. You’ll find that one reason is that Judas was the 13th disciple and was supposedly the 13th to sit at the Last Supper. Thirteen is associated with Judas and his betrayal. Therefore 13 is an unlucky number. But that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?
Consider the following. If 13 is so unlucky that you might be considering taking a different plane trip to avoid it, where should all the mayhem and carnage be there? Millions of people fly daily with no negative repercussions, except for possibly jet lag. There would be newscast after newscast of all the plane crashes and problems that occurred on the 13th if that superstition had any basis in reality.
But it doesn’t.
Challenge the way you make these decisions. Test it out. Go ahead and act counter to this superstition and see what happens. You’re not going to have bad luck if a black cat crosses your path, if you break a mirror, or if your flight is on the 13th. Nothing is going to happen as a direct result of these actions.
4. Luck is not something created by superstitions.
Many people have different practices to try to generate luck. They may have a lucky rabbit’s foot (which wasn’t so lucky for the rabbit), lucky numbers, or some kind of lucky ritual that they think will help give them an edge. For example, maybe a football player won’t shave his beard because he feels it gives him good luck on the field.
Luck is not something that is created by abstract circumstances. But, really, luck isn’t so much a tangible thing if you consider the overall arc of life. Sometimes good things happen, and people attribute that to good luck. Other times bad things happen, and people attribute that to bad luck.
The truth is that it’s neither. Sometimes good things happen in life, sometimes they don’t. That’s just kind of the way life is.
Of course, there are other ways you can try to set yourself up for greater success. For example, there’s a common saying: “Luck = Work + Opportunity.” But what does that mean, exactly? If you want to be lucky, you need to work to put yourself in a position to embrace an opportunity when it comes your way.
For example, maybe you’ve been putting in a lot of effort at work and noticed by management and offered a raise because of it. That’s not some intangible luck floating around the universe. That’s the result of your hard work meeting with the opportunity of a raise.
The best way to improve your luck is to put more effort into the areas of your life you want to improve. For example, do you want to find a relationship partner? Put more effort into developing yourself and dating. Do you want a better job? Put more effort into education, training, or applying for better jobs. Do you want a happier life? Do more things that make you happy.
These things can occur by random happenstance, but they’ll be far more likely if you’re doing the work and creating opportunities for them to happen.
5. Superstition is often rooted in fear. Counter the fear.
Ask yourself, “What do I hope to gain from my superstition?” Maybe it’s something positive like luck. However, many superstitious beliefs come down to taking action to avoid a negative outcome. A black cat crossing your path, breaking a mirror, walking under a ladder, throwing salt over your shoulder if you spill it, or opening an umbrella indoors are all about avoiding bad luck.
What is it that you’re afraid of? And why are you afraid of it?
You can help counter these negative beliefs by replacing them with more positive ones. Instead of thinking about everything that can go wrong, focus your thoughts on what can go right. Try to keep a positive outlook, create plans, and set goals to work toward. Once you start accomplishing some small goals, it’s easier to see that superstitions are not helping you avoid bad luck.
They’re usually just getting in the way of creating meaningful things in your life.
6. Belief gives superstitions power.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the placebo effect? That is, a person who strongly believes in a thing may experience positive effects through the strength of their beliefs.
One example of a placebo effect is patients who are given sugar pills as part of a control group and told that they are actually a medication. Sometimes those people may show marked improvement for no identifiable reason other than their belief in the “medication” they’re taking.
However, there isn’t any quantifiable evidence that there is some mystical force causing it to happen. Instead, it’s more tied to the brain and how certain beliefs can cause the body to adjust and perform. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting effect that can spill into superstitious beliefs.
Let’s better illustrate this idea with an example.
William is an athlete who is preparing for a game. Like many athletes, William has a pregame ritual that he believes helps him on the field. When he can perform his ritual, he feels more in the zone, more mentally focused, and definitely plays better. So, he attributes his success to his ritual.
But is that true? Well, sort of. The other possibility is the disruption in William’s focus on the game. If William’s pregame ritual is interrupted, he may plague himself with thoughts of being unlucky, not able to perform as well, and being otherwise distracted while trying to play. And what happens?
The result is that he plays worse. And because he plays worse, he assumes that the outcome is tied to his pregame ritual, which it sort of is. Even so, it’s not due to some mystical, magical force of luck in the universe. It’s just because his head wasn’t in the game because he was disturbing himself by not performing his ritual.
You may have a good luck item or ritual that helps put you in the right mindset to succeed. There’s nothing wrong with that! However, it becomes a problem when you assign some magical belief to the item or experience distress because you forgot your item or can’t perform your ritual.
And the opposite is true for bad luck. If you think you’re going to have bad luck, your mind will be focused on all the bad things that happen instead of the good things. Then your bad luck just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
7. Distance yourself from cultural superstitions.
Many cultures have a variety of superstitions to them. For example, the Japanese have had many cultural superstitions that have come and gone; unlucky numbers, not hanging laundry at night, and seeing spiders as either good or bad luck.
Deep-rooted cultural superstitions can be difficult to move away from because many people around you may genuinely believe in them. It’s much harder to break yourself of Magical Thinking habits if you are surrounded by people immersed in them. Thus, it is helpful to quietly withdraw from participating in those cultural superstitions if you feel it is safe. Unfortunately, for some people, it won’t be.
There’s nothing wrong with participating in these cultural beliefs so long as you don’t believe they are true or have any real bearing on your life.
Superstitions play various roles in our personal and cultural lives. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a little superstitious. However, it becomes a problem when it interferes with your ability to conduct your life.
Persistent superstitions and fears may point to something beyond self-help. If you feel distressed or like something terrible will happen if you don’t perform a particular ritual, that is best explored with a mental health professional because it may point to an undiagnosed mental illness.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.
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