Michelle Haines Thomas | Happy new year, but don't jinx it

Do you believe in magic?

No? Then don’t make any new year’s resolutions. Because the belief that our intentions will be more resolute due to the tick of the clock (between one artificially imposed calendar event and another) is a prime example of magical thinking.

Magical thinking is what psychologists call the belief that one event happens as a result of another, without a plausible link of causation. For example, “I stepped on a crack in the pavement; that’s why my mother broke her back.”

It’s a bit like superstition only more important-sounding.

The funny thing is, we all do it. Human minds are primed to make connections between things – it’s how we survive – but sometimes our minds overdo it.

We all have hunches, habits and ways of thinking that defy logic. New parents develop meaningless rituals in the hope of invoking the sleep gods. Air travel can bring out the ‘good luck’ ceremonies in the best of us. Many of us believe – if only subconsciously – that saying something good will happen is to jinx it, and most of us would feel uncomfortable tearing up a photo of someone we love, as if that will bring bad luck. There are even studies to prove it.

Consider the value we place on objects – our wedding rings, our grandmother’s china, a lock of our children’s hair – as if they are imbued with the essence of that person or event. Things owned by famous people go for millions at auction and why? Because they have been touched by the great ones. How does this make them more precious? There’s no logical explanation.

And yet.

Many of these illogical ideas are really about bringing ourselves peace of mind, or what the psychologists call ‘the illusion of control’. 

In lives that might sometimes seem chaotic, maybe the illusion of control is better than no control at all.

So make those resolutions, but be daring – do them on December 30 or January 2. The days are just a number. It’s the resolution that counts.

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