I never write on the first page of a notebook. And during football season, if my team is winning, I wear the same t-shirt and khakis during each of the games. I carry a smooth medallion in my pocket when I'm going to be separated from my family and I always pick up the pennies I find laying in the street. For good luck? Not really, mostly just because I want the cash. Though if I find a twenty lying around I would say "it was my lucky day."
These habits, are quirky, for sure. Yet I wouldn't call myself superstitious. After all, I live with two black cats constantly crossing my path, if I were superstitious, I'd be doomed to a lifetime of evil and darkness.
But the Big Wigs say those little superstitions, the irrational behaviors or habits most of us have, are actually good for us. They give us a sense of control and influence in situations where we have very little to begin with. And that can reduce our tension and make us feel better, according to Stuart A. Vyse, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Believing in Magic.
Many prominent athletes, a la Tiger Woods who wears red during the final round of a golf tournament, dress a certain way, carry good-luck charms, eat particular foods, or maintain specific routines and habits before game time to gain a slight edge during competition where complete control eludes them and a little luck never hurts.
Watch a batter tighten his gloves, kick the dirt, slap the bat, tap the tip on the base, spit and kick the dirt again before every pitch, and you'll know what I'm talking about.
But, this is the interesting part: those superstitious habits might actually improve performance.
In a study led by Lysann Damisch at the University of Cologne, researchers found that invoking luck by giving study participants a lucky charm or encouraging them with good-luck statement such as "break a leg" or "keep your fingers crossed" actually performed better in physical and mental challenges such as putting a golf ball or memory and puzzle-solving problems.
Researchers write in the journal Psychological Science, that "Activating a superstition boosts participants' confidence in mastering upcoming tasks, which in turn improves performance." The good-luck charms and phrases worked, then, because the participants themselves believed they would do better with some added luck. They had more confidence in themselves when shored up by a superstitious belief.
Sound silly? Maybe, but, I'll keep cracking open those fortune cookies and picking up pennies. With that kind of luck, I can only hope things will go my way. And,you can bet I'll wear the same yellow t-shirt each week to propel my team to victory. Course, that isn't irrational or superstitious at all. It just makes sense.