Superstition has been defined as “a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief.” In common terms, superstition is a belief held by many without reason or fact behind it. For some, that can include magical influence; for others, it is a generational tradition. What many don’t know is that the brain has the power to make these superstitions real.
Neuroplasticity, or cortical plasticity, is a relatively new concept in neuroscience that refers to the fact that the brain can actually “re-wire” itself as a result of environmental inputs. What this means is that if a person repeats a new and previously unaccepted statement or an action over and over, the brain becomes “re-wired” to accept and eventually believe it is true, whether it is or not. As the brain believes it to be a fact, the manifestations of this new “truth” become apparent in the life of the person more and more, whether the individual simply becomes more aware of the manifestations or actually creates them.
In the case of superstitions, this re-wiring can create evidence to support the reality of the superstition. According to a team of psychologists at the University of Cologne in Germany, new research shows that believing in the power of a charm, phrase, number, or action can actually help improve performance in certain situations, even though the charm and event aren't logically linked. This has proved to be true with many of the most common superstitions.
Some of the most common superstitions revolve around numbers. The Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all had beliefs around both the numbers 7 and 13. While the Greeks believed 13 was a number to fear, both the Chinese and the Egyptians believed it brought good fortune. To this day, there is a fear around Friday the 13th so much so that there are actually fewer accidents on this date than any other day in the year as people tend to stay home where it is “safer.”
The number 7, on the other hand, is almost always considered a good fortune charm. This stems back to ancient times when only 7 planets were visible in the sky, representing 7 gods and goddesses. In most dice games, 7 is a winning number and people imagine they are blessed to roll the number 7 when in truth, 7 is merely the most common combination of two dice. Numbers have played a huge part in superstitions, from winning or losing games to what your address or birth date might mean. And once a person has wired themselves to believe in a number as good or bad, they will experience that number as such more and more.
Rituals are another common form of superstition that the brain can create into a reality. If you believe that spilling the salt is going to bring bad things your way, and you say this to yourself over and over, you will start attracting bad things to you. If you learn that tossing some over your shoulder reverses this “curse,” and you practice tossing salt over your shoulder at every opportunity, your fortune will change. Why? Because you have re-wired your brain to notice the good things and ignore the bad because you made the “counter-curse” your new ritual.
We all know that the brain is a powerful machine, but it is a machine nonetheless. Superstitions can influence your thoughts and behaviors, and unless you make a conscious choice to change the belief, your brain will be unable to reverse the irrational thinking on its own. Not only do you have to make a conscious choice, but you must also change your behavioral practices to reflect the new chosen belief. Once you re-wire the belief into the brain, manifestations “magically” appear to provide evidence that the new belief is real.
So, wish upon the first star, but do it every night to make it come true. Practice makes a reality. At least to your brain, it does!