Dealing with superstition

By Graham W Price …. Chartered Psychologist

Are you challenged by the arrival of Friday 13th.  Do you believe it’s an unlucky day … or are you a sensible doubter but still hedging your bets …. just in case it’s true.

Millions avoid making any arrangements on Friday 13th that could possibly go wrong. Planes fly relatively empty. Investments are deferred for another day. My clients avoid initiating weight loss programmes or smoking cessations on that day, despite these treatments being fully guaranteed.

Psychologists include superstitions among a wider range of human traits collectively called ‘magical thinking’, that includes other questionable beliefs ranging from a harmless belief in fairies through mildly disturbing beliefs in the paranormal to potentially more harmful beliefs such as fanatical religion.

Magical thinking perhaps demonstrates the gullibility of humans, particularly in light of the fact that many such beliefs can be disproved. Track events on Friday 13th and compare the results with any other day and, unsurprisingly, there’s no difference. One might imagine the superstitious belief itself could impact the results. Couldn’t a belief that accidents will happen so distract believers that they become more prone to accidents? The studies suggest that even this doesn’t happen.

What to do if you have a superstitious belief, or perhaps many such beliefs, that are limiting you in some way? Perhaps you can’t venture out of the house on Friday 13th
and that’s costing you a day’s vacation, on average twice a year.

Hypnotherapy can sometimes help. It works for some, but on its own success is far from certain and relapse rates are high. Cognitive Behavioural Techniques (CBT) are generally more effective and sustainable for most mind-related issues, particularly if they’re combined with modern acceptance-based approaches such as Acceptance-Action Therapy (AAT).

A combined CBT-AAT treatment might involve challenging beliefs using an evidence-based approach, learning to accept any feelings such as anxiety and confronting the superstition by changing your behaviour.

When we act in ways that are consistent with an unproductive belief, we always reinforce the belief. Our mind gets a message that the belief must be true …. otherwise why are we behaving in that way. Conversely, if we repeatedly act in the opposite way, we’ll undermine the belief.

Try the following steps to help you move past the superstition and stop it holding you back:

1. Create a habit of noticing whenever you “buy into” the superstition and limit yourself.  Accept that this is the way you are right now. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t get annoyed or frustrated with yourself.
2. Recognise that the superstition is irrational. Remind yourself that studies have shown there’s no evidence to support it.
3. Drop the thought (surprisingly easy once we’ve carried out the first two steps)
4. Take the action you were hesitating over while accepting any anxious feelings this may generate.

Do this repeatedly and the limiting belief, and any anxious feelings it may be generating, will soon disappear.
About Graham:
Graham W Price is a chartered psychologist, CBT specialist, hypnotherapist, coach, trainer and professional speaker. For more information see You can download an extract from his book at

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