Magical thinking

Man practising magic, magical thinking

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Magical thinking is one of the many kinds of unhelpful thinking that can bring us undone and stop our growth and progression towards being the best version of ourselves, and it’s a style of thinking that I have been susceptible to for a long time.

But what is it?

Magical thinking.

When I was a kid, I believed that a fat man in a red suit brought me presents at Christmas Day by climbing in through our chimney and leaving them under our Christmas tree.

We didn’t even have a chimney.

I try really hard not to fly on the 13th of any month, I won’t sit in the 13th row on a plane, and as I board one – which I do (or at least used to do) a lot – I bless myself with the sign of the cross (seriously) and tap the fuselage three times as I step through the door.

I have been doing this for 30 years and have never been in a plane crash.

When I prepare for upcoming boxing matches, I wrap my hands in exactly the same way (which is different to how most boxers do it) and I take exactly the same number of steps between my car and the front door of the gym, even if it means I have to park illegally, or sit and wait for someone to move their car so I can park close enough.

When someone wrongs me, or I think they have wronged someone else or generally been a bit douchey, I often think to myself that the universe will sort them out eventually. Karma is a bitch.

And when things are going really well for me, I cling to the notion that someone upstairs is looking out for me.

These are all examples of my magical thinking.

Causation or correlation?

This kind of thinking can be defined as the belief that something happens even without a plausible link of causation between the two.

You know … magic.

What my magical thinking doesn’t take into account, and can’t by definition, is the rational explanation that doing something often enough will ‘make’ good luck.

My boxing improving, and my winning a fight, might be less about the number of steps it takes to get into the gym, and more about how many times I actually took those steps.

Routine breeds improvement.

Is magical thinking a positive or a negative thing?

Other parts of my magical thinking, like a belief in Santa Claus, have been passed down to me through generations as a way to comfort or entertain or brighten our lives. And nothing is wrong with that, right?

Well, actually, magical thinking can be a very negative thing.

One terrible example that I held on to for a long time, and honestly part of me still does, is that someone close to me got ill and died because of something I did many years ago as a child.

That sort of irrational torment is the dark side of thinking in fairy tales. (If you’re cursed at birth, you can’t do anything to escape it.)

But I try to restrict my magical thinking as much as I can for other reasons. 

Magical thinking has me asking, ‘why try’?

Firstly, magical thinking stops me trying hard.

If my fate is actually already pre-designed, trying harder or being more persistent at something really isn’t going to change it.

And magical thinking might not help me make the best choice. If I hold something completely irrational but ‘lucky’, a far better choice – that is based around working hard and being rewarded for it – might elude me.

This kind of thinking enables blame.

But the biggest reason I try not to think magically is that it gives me a chance to blame. 

And blaming stops change.

So, instead, I try to think logically. I try to use reason rather than emotional all the time. And I try to rely on science rather than rumour.

Of course, a big difference exists between magical thinking and positive thinking. 

Today, I am trying to be more positive.

What is your magical thinking?

Tell me in the comments which bits of magical thinking are your favourite ones to rely on, or to be distracted by.

Nick Bowditch - the best motivational speaker in Australia - best selling author of Reboot Your Thinking

This post is an excerpt from my best-selling book, Reboot Your Thinking. To get your own copy of the book in either paperback, ebook, or audiobook, click here.

Nick Bowditch

Nick Bowditch

Nick Bowditch is a motivational speaker, best-selling author, of 'Reboot Your Thinking' and 'Actually, it IS all about me', and therapist. He is also a successful (and unsuccessful) entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, inspirational storytelling expert, blogger, he makes podcasts, he's a mental health advocate, a sexual abuse victim, and someone who lives with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is also a survivor.

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