Have you manifested your 2023 goals yet? Are you vigorously looking at your vision board, but nothing is happening? If you believe that things just come true only because you think about them, you might be engaging in magical thinking.
Magical thinking refers to the belief that one's thoughts, words, or actions can bring about real-life consequences, even when there is no rational or scientific explanation for a connection. It means you're trying to create or prevent a specific outcome by doing things that are not related to the outcome.
This includes superstitions, like 'knocking on wood', 'keeping your fingers crossed', not walking underneath a ladder, or making a wish when you blow out candles. There is no scientific explanation that any of those actions lead to a specific outcome, but many people believe that doing so will. Or they don't believe it, but do it anyway.
Topics like manifestation are sitting somewhere in the middle. Our thoughts have an impact on our lives, the question is just to which degree. Merely thinking about something might not manifest it in your life, but your thinking might lead you to feel and act different, and then it can create the desired outcome. That would not be magical thinking, since the thinking actually led you to do things differently.
Magical thinking is common in kids, but it can prevail into adulthood. Children believe that their thoughts have a direct impact on the world, and they sometimes blame themselves for bad things that happened to other people, for instance, because they were mad at them.
The reason we hold on to magical thinking even as adults is because it can provide a level of comfort and a sense of control. When dealing with uncertainty or potential danger, magical thinking can help us feel in control of our lives and gives us something to do so we feel like we have influence over the outcome of situations. It can lessen anxiety and get us through stressful situations.
Now you might be thinking "how is this different from believing in a religion, and performing certain rituals"? Actually, it's not much different. In my opinion, religion is a form of magical thinking. You believe in things without any scientific evidence, and expect that your beliefs alone (or doing certain unrelated actions) will cause a specific outcome.
Is Magical Thinking good or bad?
As with everything we're writing about on this platform, it's nuanced. Magical thinking can be both harmful and beneficial, depending on when and how it is being utilized. While it is important to be critical of beliefs that are not supported by evidence, it is also important to recognize that some forms of magical thinking can serve a positive role in people's lives.
Critics of magical thinking argue that it is a form of superstition that leads to irrational beliefs and can interfere with critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In some cases, it can also lead to disappointment and a lack of personal agency when things do not go as desired. And it can be part of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, when you feel forced to perform certain actions to avoid negative outcomes.
On the other hand, proponents of magical thinking argue that it can have psychological benefits, such as reducing anxiety and increasing hope. For some people, magical thinking can serve as a way to cope with stress and uncertainty, and to find meaning and purpose in life. Additionally, magical thinking can foster a sense of connection with the spiritual or supernatural, which can be comforting to many people.
It's important to reflect on your beliefs and evaluate whether they are a form of magical thinking or not. For instance, I believe that our mindset has an impact on our life, even though there is not much scientific evidence. If you think about sports, it's obvious that the mindset of an athlete impacts their athletic performance in a match or competition. On a bad day, they can lose a match because they just couldn't get into the right mindspace. Whether it's self-doubt, a lack of focus, or grief, their mind state has a direct impact on their body and performance. So I don't think we should discount all of our beliefs and attitudes to magical thinking. Sometimes only your thoughts can have a real impact on your life.
And looking at behaviors: if a certain ritual (like doing a specific move, or tapping on an item before a match) increases an athlete's confidence in themselves and makes them feel more assured, this form of magical thinking can lead to better athletic performance, even though the ritual or action was unrelated. It had an impact on the person's mental state, which resulted in different behavior afterwards.
When is Magical Thinking bad?
Our advice is to be critical of your own magical thinking. You can use it if it helps you and doesn't have the potential to cause harm (to yourself or others). For instance, you can still engage in rituals that are meaningful to you, or wear lucky charms, as long as it does not become obsessive or harmful.
However, if you notice a negative impact of your magical thinking on you or your life, ask yourself the following questions:
how strongly do you hold those beliefs?
what degree of distress is this belief bringing you?
how strong are your urges to take action based on your belief?
Make sure to reflect on the beliefs, where they might be coming from and how they are impacting your daily life. If your irrational beliefs are causing distress or preventing you from dealing with your daily life, you might want to consider talking to a therapist to work out those beliefs.
I am not an expert, I just researched this topic from a place of personal interest. If I used incorrect terminology or expressed something incorrectly, please feel free to let me know.