Superstitions are part of every day life; from the lack of a 13th floor in the office where you go to work to the rituals around Halloween and Christmas, beliefs in luck, fortune, spirits and ancestors form a large part of almost every culture around the world. They’re ingrained into our lives.
Although, on the face of it, they appear to be innocent festivals or just a gesture such as avoiding walking under a ladder or touching wood, superstitious behaviour has a real cost to our mental health. Here’s why.
First, understand that key to our mental health is the concept of Locus of Control. This categorises your thoughts and beliefs about yourself into two main categories: external and internal.
Broadly, someone with an internal locus of control is confident and self-sufficient; able to cope well in adverse situations, generally relaxed about life and easy to get along with.
They process life events as being a product of their actions; a promotion at work or fun night out is down to them being a competent, productive and fun person to be around. They don’t need praise to feel satisfied with their work or compliments to know they’re looking smart.
Someone with an external locus of control would process the same two events as being down to luck, fortune or maybe their friends feeling sorry for them and inviting then out. The derive their confidence and self-esteem from external sources, such as praise from a colleague or the attentions of their partner.
Having an external locus of control is often associated with poor mental health and there is also a strong association with superstitious belief systems. For example, someone may believe that their propensity to be depressed is down to pure luck and there’s nothing they can do about it, or their likelihood of meeting a partner is influenced by their horoscope.
They don’t feel in control – despite having a strong desire for control – and believe that life happens to them, including poor mental health, and there’s not a lot they can do about it.
And if there’s not a lot they can do about it and they believe they’re stuck with life’s lot, why try to overcome your anxiety or depression in the first place? We all know someone like this – maybe that person is you?
Halloween is a rather jokey example but it’s rooted in some deeply old-fashioned celebrations of sprints, ancestors and the dead – none of which actually exist. So asking your ancestors for good fortune or guidance is big waste of your time and energy, plus it’s feeding that cycle of external beliefs and poor mental health.
So we’ve established that a strong belief in superstitions is often associated with having an external locus of control and poor mental health – how can we go about changing this?
Something we emphasise in The Thrive Programme is to take an analytical look at our belief systems and consider: are they working for us? Or against us?
If the answer is the former, we need to think about how we can eliminate or change this belief so it has a positive impact on our mental health. Some beliefs may only have a very small impact on our mental health, but combine a dozen or so together and you’ll soon see how anxieties about situations or events can be developed.
Let’s take a strong belief in luck or fortune as an example. If you give credit for your achievements in life over to luck, you’re taking away from the positives that you should instead be adding to your self-esteem and general mental wellness.
Say you close a big sale at work: is it down to your talent, hard work and perseverance? Or is it luck? If you take the external thinking style option and give some of your achievement over to luck, then you’re basically screwing yourself over. Luck is probability taken personally.
If, however, you process something like this success at work in an internal manner, you’ll be maximising its benefit to your mental wellness and recognising that it was wholly down to your hard work and talent. This will give you confidence and add to your self-esteem hugely – both crucial budding blocks for good mental health, and success in life.
Next time you catch yourself falling into a superstition trap, pause and consider: is this a rational belief that is going to help my mental health? If the answer is no, think broadly how someone with a very internal locus of control might approach the situation and you have your new belief system.