Giving your thoughts too much power? That’s called superstitious thinking. And you don’t need it.

Dr Gary
By Dr GaryCA Latest Reply 2014-06-03 22:29:44 -0500
Started 2014-06-01 19:19:30 -0500

“If I imagine the worst possible outcome, it won’t happen. (Or I won’t be disappointed if it does happen.)”

“If I hadn’t had that negative thought, I wouldn’t have attracted this bad day.”

“I’m not going to get too excited about this positive news. I might jinx it.”

What you just read are examples of what social scientists call superstitious thinking.

Pretty much everybody does some superstitious thinking from time to time. It’s just part of human nature. And let’s face it, isn’t anything worth a try when you’re facing all of that uncertainty? So indulging in some superstitious thinking can help us feel like there is something we can do to avoid the bad news that could be coming our way.

But superstitious thinking can have consequences that aren’t so helpful. Anticipating the worse may help you feel like you can prevent something really bad from happening, but can also make you feel more anxious while you wait for those test results. Trying to maintain absolute control over every thought that enters your mind is impossible, and only gives you a headache. And not letting yourself be happy when you have something to be happy about – as if your happiness will suddenly be snatched away – is kind of like punishing yourself, not to mention the people in your life who would like to share the good news with you.

I posted an article about this a couple of weeks ago: Here is a link:

What about you? Are you giving your thoughts too much power? And keeping yourself stuck in the process? I’d love to hear your experiences. And what you do to avoid superstitious thinking.

34 replies

Grandmama16 2014-06-02 14:28:25 -0500 Report

Yes, that's exactly how my thoughts go. Here's one you might not have heard of: if I don't included someone in a picture at a family get to gether, that person could die. I'm talking about candid shots here and there. I know, that's weird, but it happened a couple of times, my little nephew and my sister a long time ago. I don't really think about it much anymore but I never knew that others had the kind of thoughts you spoke of. M.A.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-02 15:39:19 -0500 Report

HI Grandmama,

Wow, thanks for jumping in. That's a very good example of superstitious thinking, the kind of thoughts that we use to hurt ourselves. Excellent example!


Stuart1966 2014-06-02 09:30:48 -0500 Report

While I like your article Dr. Gary, what is the difference between thoughts and events? Thinking can turn the boat in poor directions, what happens when the BOAT has hit the "icebergs" and IS going down?!?!? Eye stuff, kidney stuff, assorted complications take your pick will teach one entirely new thinking whether whispered or simply encountered as a whisper level,

What happens to thinking, when anyones zealous "best efforts" do not achieve the required/necessary results? Does that fall under superstitious thinking, or something else?

Does thinking, perception govern mental, emotional well bring? Or will events govern the outcomes too…???

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-02 15:37:47 -0500 Report

HI Stuart,

Good questions.

I think we can all benefit from having an optimistic attitude, to take care of ourselves, have a strong foundation, and be open to what life brings our way.

Where we trip ourselves up, I think, is having the assumption that we can control what happens in life based on our thoughts. For example, not letting ourselves enjoy something because we think that will make it go away, or thinking that having a negative thought is going to lead to something bad happening. We can't control the thoughts that pop into our minds but we don't have to give them a lot of power.

Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can but that we aren't in control of everything that happens in life. Then, we free ourselves up to focus on what we can control.

I hope this helps.


GabbyPA 2014-06-02 06:21:14 -0500 Report

I had never heard of this put this way. I do tend to disagree to a certain degree. I try hard to keep a positive outflow of thoughts. What I throw out there to the universe comes back. Call it Karma, call it superstition, but when I am in a positive mode, I can handle the bad stuff that comes anyway. When I am in a negative mode, the bad stuff will beat me up.

I don't deny myself the happiness of moment in fear of loosing it. I think that is more where I agree with what you are saying. Oh, and the sports fans who believe that they personally controlled the outcome of the game. Now, THAT is superstitious thinking for sure.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-02 15:31:54 -0500 Report

HI Gabby,

I totally agree with having a positive outlook and doing good at all times. Where I think we can trip ourselves up is in having expectations for the payback from doing good. Good deeds don't necessarily have the impact that we may be expecting. We do them in faith, and let life take it's course.

And I also agree that negative thinking and focusing on the worst case scenario, for whatever reason, is a lose-lose.

Thanks for checking in.


GabbyPA 2014-06-03 07:22:58 -0500 Report

Yeah, I guess I am of the thinking that what comes, comes. I cannot do more to change it and if I have my wits, I can just deal with it in what ever form it takes. I do get frustrated when good things come back at me all slimed up. But I can't change it. Hopefully I learn enough from it to cope better next time, because I still will try to do the good or right thing, even if it might bite me later.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-03 22:29:44 -0500 Report

I know what you mean by good things coming back all slimed up. I remind myself that at least I tried to push things in a positive direction, that my intentions were positive.

Trudie Ann
Trudie Ann 2014-06-02 04:03:34 -0500 Report

When I was young I was a screw up. Then I would think too much about things, and even worry about what other people thought. I woke up on day and realised that I was wrong. That what was right was more important for me than what other people thought. True I listen to others thinking and take mental notes, but if it does not fit my now life I don't let it worry me. When I wake up I am thankful I am alive. Sure I think about things I have done in the past that I wish I had done different, but that is the past and I can't undo it. I have forgiven myself and learned from my mistakes. I can only do my best to take each day as it comes and do my best in all things. If I did my best and failed, I still know I did my best. I know and except that I am not perfect, no one is. There was only one person who was. I believe that what is important is not what or who I, or anyone used to be, but who we are now, and who we can be if we allow our self to be.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-02 15:27:13 -0500 Report

HI Trudie Ann,

Thanks so much for sharing this! I hope you won't lab el yourself too harshly, kids are trying to figure life out and they make some mistakes along the way. Sounds like you figured things out pretty well.

It's human nature to get caught up in our thoughts and then start giving them lots of power, to the point that we can think ourselves into a corner while life goes on around us.

One day at a time, that's a great way to look at things. Be ready for what the day brings and do the best you can.


Just Joyce
Just Joyce 2014-06-02 12:07:35 -0500 Report

Trudie, I think a lot of kids got through periods where they feel they are screw ups and worry about what other people think. The problem is some people grow into adulthood still believing those things. I woke up and realized what other people think of me is not important at all. People are always going to judge me. I no longer care.

I think when a person worries about what other thinks of them, this can be more important to them because they want to be thought of in a positive manner. They will do things to please others rather than themselves. At the end of the day these people have spent so much time trying to impress others they lose sight of who they really are.

jayabee52 2014-06-01 22:53:03 -0500 Report

Sometimes my thought processes tends to run negative. And I sometimes think like that simply because if the worst happens (which it rarely does), I had prepared myself for it

If however things go well ( and they do, more otten than not), I can be pleasantly surprised.

God's best to all y'all

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-02 15:23:18 -0500 Report

James, a very good point here. I think there is a fine line between being prepared for any outcome and thinking that by focusing on the worst outcome we are actually creating a better one. Our thoughts are our thoughts.



Grandmama16 2014-06-02 14:42:40 -0500 Report

I'm really good at this stinkin thinking. But mostly I worry about what others think because I've been such an idiot in the past so that now I want to explain to someone why I've done something they've criticized to another even when driving. If I make a mistake I want to go back and explain why.

robertoj 2014-06-01 21:40:44 -0500 Report

In the big picture not everything is related but nothing is random. I went from near absence of superstitious thinking to the point that I was so driven by rituals that I felt I was close to OCD. It's hard to break out of. Three things occurred that broke me out of it. First I dealt with alcoholism and substance abuse. That required taking responsibility and a thorough moral inventory. Second I began getting diagnosed with a series of chronic illnesses. That was important because things were going well before several setbacks. At one point I began to feel frustrated but it occurred to me that they weren't related. Avoiding frustration was a huge step especially since I was in constant pain. The third thing was dealing with depression that took up half my childhood and my entire adult life. After I finally broke the cycle I realized that superstitious thinking could take me back.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-02 15:21:12 -0500 Report

HI Roberto,

Thanks for sharing this. You bring up a really good point. I understand what you mean about nothing being random. And as you said so well, our thoughts don't create what does or doesn't happen to us in life, we don't have that kind of control. Thanks for your insight into the harm that superstitious thinking can create in our lives.


Just Joyce
Just Joyce 2014-06-01 21:29:47 -0500 Report

Dr. Gary,

I think that superstitious thinking is a sense of talking yourself out of something positive if you are use to disappointments. For instance you buy a lottery ticket and rather than dream about what you would do if you win, your thoughts are why did I buy this ticket, I never win anything. I think it makes it easier to accept disappointment than it is to have hopes of winning. This kind of thinking is a safety net.

For some people, superstitious thoughts can be like an out of control freight train going down hill. They can't stop the thoughts because they don't think anything good is going to happen. I also think superstitious thinking can occur when a person over thinks every situation. This can make it hard to make cognitive decisions.

I find myself thinking like that at times and put a stop to it immediately. There are times when I think something didn't turn out correctly because my thoughts jinxed it. Then there are times I think myself into being disappointed about an out come. I have to refocus my thinking once I realize I cannot predict how something will turn out. Keeping my thoughts on a more positive level prevents having superstitious thoughts.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-02 13:44:33 -0500 Report

HI Joyce,

Thanks for adding your insights here. Superstitious thinking is like a freight train. You get caught up in what might or might not happen, then in how you can control what might or might not happen, followed by thoughts that counteract the thoughts you just had in case they were the wrong thoughts... and on and on. You end up giving yourself a headache and wasting a lot of time.

And that's a good technique for avoiding superstitious thinking. We can't predict, we can't control, and we don't need to waste our time trying.

Thanks a lot! You said it so well!


Just Joyce
Just Joyce 2014-06-02 14:06:37 -0500 Report

Dr. Gary, I agree. You can't control or predict what will happen. At the end of the day you have wasted time and given yourself a headache especially when things work out better than you imagined.

Sometimes you have to just sit back and wait to see the end results. I think when a person tries to control things that are not owned by them they tend to be disappointed in the out come. People have to learn that they can only control what they own and nothing else.

Grandmama16 2014-06-02 14:47:30 -0500 Report

Wanna hear something really stupid? Years ago when oldest son was in H.S. ,his soccer team went to State Champion competition and I didn't go because I was afraid I'd jinx it. They won but, really, what difference does it make? Why does a person think they can influence something completely out of their control? Hubby went tho as assistant coach.

Just Joyce
Just Joyce 2014-06-02 14:56:52 -0500 Report

Unless you have some kind of power no one knows about, how could you jinx anything. You should have gone to the game and enjoyed yourself.

Now if you are a Samantha Stevens and can twitch your nose to get things, I want a beach house with a separate studio so I can write and make jewelry, a nice SUV and enough money to live off for the rest of my life. I will also need a hot beach boy to get my drinks…LOLOLOLOL hope I wasn't asking for too much. .

camerashy 2014-06-01 19:43:33 -0500 Report

I have ADD - thoughts don't stay with me too long. But I'm not a negative Nellie, either. I'm mostly positive, except when I'm in one of my bi-polar downs. Thankfully, they don't last long any more.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-02 13:40:21 -0500 Report

That's great to hear. And being aware of what's going on with yourself is a good way not to be overcome.

neverlowbg 2014-06-01 19:39:08 -0500 Report

My wife and I used to stress over everything get into argument and fear the worst well over last couple years we have eliminated almost all stress factors from are life we spent every penny paying off debts we pay cash now or we really don't need it we have credit cards for emergencys and vacations I quit my job of 22 years and started my own bussiness doing what I like working hours I like but with almost zero debt were not dreading collectors are student loans were the worst people on face of earth to deal with but they are now paid off we enjoy each other and one biggie we did was learn not to get caught up in others problems we could do nothing about but dwell on them we are now truly happy and mostly stress free there are still moments of stress but not as bad or controlling over are life

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-02 13:39:22 -0500 Report

Hi neverlowbg,

Excellent! You said it so well. We don't need to walk around expecting the worst to protect ourselves from the worst. Our thoughts don't make things happen or not happen. Isn't that a relief?

Thanks for checking in.


Lentyl 2014-06-01 19:34:18 -0500 Report

I've worked hard to prevent too much of this kind of thinking because there have been too many negative happenings in my life. When asked "How are you?" I reply that I'm happy. It's surprising how people respond to that. Oftentimes at the check out at the grocery store the cashiers are tired but perk up and even laugh a bit when I tell them that I'm happy. If asked why I'm happy there's a list of very simple things such as: I woke up this morning, it's sunny/rainy depending, I had money for groceries, etc. Sure, I have some health issues but they don't get me down. There just isn't time for "stinky" thinking. :D

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2014-06-02 13:24:23 -0500 Report

Hi Lentyl,

Excellent! Enjoy the happiness and don't be afraid it might go away if you enjoy it too much. And yes, there is always a reason in the day to be happy.



camerashy 2014-06-01 19:46:34 -0500 Report

I laugh when someone asks me how I am. If it's a stranger, I say "fine". If it's someone I know, my response is "you want me to say "fine" or do you want the truth?" That gets them to laugh, too.

Grandmama16 2014-06-02 14:37:03 -0500 Report

That's a good response because I'm rarely fine physically, I'm 70 going on 100, but I can think myself Fine. Do people really want to know how we are? M.A.

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