Superstitions – What are they and are they helpful?

There are many superstitions in everyday life, but what are they, where did they come from and why are they still around?

First of all let’s look at the definition of a superstition. Essentially it is a belief that one event, object, thought or circumstance can lead to, or be related to, another outcome with no logical, natural or scientific link. Superstitions are driven by a fear of the unknown and a belief in luck (good or bad) as a consequence.

Superstitions can be fitted into two different types. Possibly the most common known superstitions are things like touching wood, crossing your fingers, saluting a single magpie, not walking under a ladder, avoiding black cats crossing your path and avoiding the number 13. The first known recordings of superstitions came to light in the 15th century. It is thought that these ‘beliefs’ were originally created to make people feel like they had some sort of control over their lives, at a time before science and logic had explained many events in life.

There are also self-imposed superstitions. This is common in obsessional disorders including some types of OCD, where the person believes that if they don’t carry out things in a certain order or ritual then something bad will happen to them, a loved one or a pet.

Let’s have a look at a superstition from a belief point of view; how they are formed, reinforced and maintained.

1 Someone has a belief in superstitions, luck and fate, created during childhood

2 They are walking to work, engrossed in their phone and when they look up they realise that they have just walked under a ladder

3 Believing that this will bring ‘bad luck’ they are now looking out for anything that goes ‘wrong’ in their day and expecting something bad to happen

4 Climbing up the steps to work they trip and fall over

5 They process and interpret this experience, putting it down to the fact that they walked underneath a ladder earlier and fitting it into their existing belief about superstitions

6 Their belief in superstitions is confirmed and reinforced to them, thus strengthening the belief and maintaining it

You may be surprised to know that there are certain people who are more likely to have superstitious type beliefs. A 2003 survey conducted by Prof Richard Wiseman showed just this:

“…People who tend to worry about life are far more superstitious than others – 50% of worriers were very/somewhat superstitious, compared to just 24% of non-worriers. People who have a strong need for control in their lives are far more superstitious than others – 42% of people indicating high need for control were very/somewhat superstitious, compared to just 22% of people indicating low need for control. People who have a low tolerance for ambiguity are far more superstitious than those with high tolerance – 38% of those with low tolerance were very/somewhat superstitious compared to just 30% of those with high tolerance”

Are superstitious beliefs helpful to have? If you would like to feel more in control of your life then no, they are not particularly helpful to have! The reason for this is that they encourage you to think that external things or events are in control of your life rather than you.

If you would like to find out more about how your beliefs affect how in control you feel in life, get in touch with one of our Thrive Consultants.

Clare Waterer
Thrive Consultant