Why does superstition work? You are more rational than you think!

There is a story that a visitor once asked the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Niels Bohr whether he really believed that the horseshoe he’d hung at his country home was lucky. “Of course not,” Bohr said. “But I understand it’s lucky whether you believe in it or not.”

Scientists, Rationalists, Theists and many others claim a bias to certain beliefs.

The Webster dictionary defines Superstition as a belief or way of behaving that is based on fear of the unknown and faith in magic or luck; a belief that certain events or things will bring good or bad luck.

Superstition then relies heavily on Luck.

What is Luck?

Referring back to the Webster dictionary, Luck is defined as things that happen to a person because of chance.

Combining the two definitions, you can then draw a conclusion that Superstition is a belief based on the fear of the unknown or faith in chance.

A further inference from the above definition means that if you are superstitious, efforts do not matter.

This is plain wrong. Your efforts do matter. Very obvious, isn’t it?

Why does superstition then seem to work?

Here are 3 reasons:

Expressing faith – Superstition invokes a subtle acceptance in things beyond our control which happen by chance. Because they happen by chance, you want some certainty. You gain a semblance of certainty by associating a probable factor to “chance”. The probable factor comes from attributing a thing, a person or an action to chance. “I wore my lucky yellow shirt today,” “Today is Friday, the 13th” are probable factors.

You are not sure why the yellow shirt brings you success, but associating with “chance”, gives you something tangible to satiate your mind.

Spiritually and Scientifically, when you express faith in anything, even chance, the likelihood of occurrence is higher. Superstition served you as a cause to express faith.

Channel Intent –  Superstition is a subtle way of giving life to a thought, an intent. By saying “I’ll be successful in the interview when I wear my yellow shirt,” you are expressing an intent of success -getting the job.

Where there is intent, there is action.

When such action is complete, the probably of gaining the desired outcome is higher and you feel your superstition is responsible for the outcome.

In reality, it was your thought and intent which led to subsequent set of events. Superstition was just a trigger.

In some cultures, a black cat crossing is considered a bad omen. This belief plants the seed of failure in your thought process. If your effort then is half-hearted, the chances of failure are of course much higher. However, with effort focused in the direction of your desired outcome, you can very well overcome this belief. A black or a white cat doesn’t matter then.

Sense of Control in Chaos – As researchers Lysann Damisch and others indicate in their paper “Keep your fingers crossed! How superstition improves performance”, Superstition can provide a sense of control in a chaotic situation. When the odds are stacked against or you are facing a challenge, having an anchor helps. This anchor can be a lucky charm, a colored object or anything, even a person. Knowing that you have an anchor drives an element of stability, which drives performance and brings a sense of control.

To put in oxymoronic terms, superstition is a loose form of mindfulness. The ingredients which bring the desired outcome are the same as mindfulness – faith, intent and direction.

What are some superstitions you have found beneficial?

4 replies on “Why does superstition work? You are more rational than you think!”

L Jayaram Haravusays:

Very nice Mahesh. Thought provoking.

Thanks Jayaram.

Yes superstition works but it is not stand alone. There is luck associated too.

But as it is rightly said Hard work always reaps a reward if not now but sometime or the other.

As a human being we are associated with many factors in our life. I think Superstition is one among it.

Keep going ahead the journey is long but we will reach our destination our goals if focused.

Thanks Mahesh for the wonderful sharing

Mahesh Harvusays:

Thanks Jayashree

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