Superstition and magical thinking

One way that some people deal with uncertainty is superstition. Superstition is the belief that two events are related to each other, even though there is no natural process linking them. This is a form of "magical thinking", because it relies upon magic to make the link between the two events.

Superstitious behaviors and trying to conceive

There are two roles that superstition can play when you are trying to conceive:

  1. Aimed at increasing the probability of conception. Here are some examples that I've come across:
    • spend time with other people's newborns
    • asking a psychic for advice on the best time to have sex
    • wearing a necklace with a rose quartz crystal during ovulation
    • placing good luck charms around the bedroom
  2. Aimed at decreasing the probability of a negative outcome. In this case, the superstitions involve avoiding "bad luck" that could prevent pregnancy. Here are a few examples:
    • Don't talk openly about being pregnant for fear of "jinxing" the result
    • No sex on Friday the 13th or full moons

What's the harm?

Many people view superstition as harmless fun. The truth is, if they are not taken too seriously, some superstitions can be harmless fun. However, there are some downsides to be aware of:

  • Superstitious behavior can create the illusion of control. As we've already seen in this program, this can lead to false hope and self-blame.
  • It is a waste of valuable time and money.
  • In some cases, the behaviors themselves can be unhelpful or even dangerous. Be very careful about following fertility-related advice that is not from a qualified doctor or medical professional.

Tackling superstition

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For people who suffer from anxiety it is important to reduce reliance on superstitions. This behavior can provide comfort in the short term, but is likely to cause problems in the long term. To tackle this form of thinking, use a strategy that should be familiar by now:

  1. Analyse your daily routine to identify superstitious thinking
  2. Determine unhelpful thoughts that are having a negative long term impact on your mental well being
  3. Use the techniques from our toolbox:
    • Critically examine and challenge the thought. For example, ask yourself "what evidence do I have for this?"
    • Run experiments. For example, do the opposite of a superstition and see if it makes a difference. Remember, you will have a strong confirmation bias, which is a tendency to focus on evidence that confirms your belief. Force yourself to take notice of contradictory evidence as well.