In Praise of Magical Thinking

After going through a list in my mind of what to write to help people thrive in the New Year, I settled on an out-of-the-box subject – Magical Thinking.

Thank goodness for magical thinking. What would we do without the possibilities of miracles? For humans, hope springs eternal. We wish. We pray. We repeat affirmations. We hope. We have limitless and often nonsensical symbolic rituals to insure success. We cross our fingers, wait for the planets to align, wear the same piece of clothing to insure success and on it goes.

Our dreams of extraordinary possibilities are what keep many of us going through the darkest of times and the – often perceived – unfairness of life. Magical thinking is often the antidote for the fear of diminished expectations or the fragility of existence. We believe in mind-over-matter, evil, good, destiny, luck, superstitions, jinxes and more.

Everyone is susceptible. You and I are hard-wired, in our brains, for magical thinking. Magical thinking is the deeply primal, life-enhancing ‘rush’ that is triggered in your brain by words and images. You might look at magical thinking as believing in things more powerfully than either evidence or experience justifies. It elevates you to possibilities.

And, most of the time, we are not even aware when our imagination takes flight to this enchanted land. When it does, we enter the realm of living in positive illusions which, at its best, can lead to confidence and optimism. Positive mental states are linked with psychological and physical health as well as success.


Magical Thinking

You can look at magical thinking as believing in things more powerfully than either evidence or experience justifies.


Magical thinking can trigger what is called the ‘placebo effect’ – which, under the right circumstances can, sometimes, change your physiology, improve health and heal. The operative word here is – sometimes.


Is magical thinking always a good thing?

Does it always work? That depends on your expectations and your willingness to see reality, and your commitment to put in the hard work.

When I was a young boy, I ordered a crystal radio out of a comic book. I was excited and inspired by the picture in the comic showing a young boy with a big smile listening to his favorite radio programs. When the package arrived, I eagerly opened the box and was crushed when I saw hundreds of pieces that needed to be assembled. I had to work hard to make the radio the reality I had imagined.

In the film, “The Secret,” there’s a scene where, after visualizing a new bicycle, a young boy opens the door and, like magic, it is there. That bit of magical conjuring is not really representative as to how manifesting goals works.

It not only takes fervent belief and making friends with reality, it takes hard work. In fact, your magical thinking will only manifest into reality by a combination of planning, commitment, hard work and the awareness when your magical thinking is working against you.

Yes, there is a very dark side to magical thinking – and that emanates from the false beliefs we hold – including myths, superstitions, biases and negative thinking.

Please believe this: If you look for reasons not to even attempt to achieve your goals, the world will provide you with even more reasons. Fear, doubt and self-defeating habits contribute to negative expectations which, in turn, sap your creative energy. Blame, rationalization, procrastination, feelings of unworthiness and fear of failure or fear of success – lurk as potential barriers. Looking to the wrong people for permission, support or cheer-leading can also blind-side you.

Expecting your dream to magically manifest only because you say positive affirmations, visualize the ideal end-outcome, or pray – doesn’t, in itself, assure success.

  1. Do a reality check. Stop and ponder what part of your thinking is magical. This is not in any way meant to be about blame or doubt. Full disclosure: I pray in gratitude every day and employ focused imagination/visualization often. I do my best to be aware when fear is whispering in my ear; I re-frame my thinking – and I have pretty much overcome blaming anyone or anything for what happens in my life.
  2. Write down one single realistic, achievable goal that you want to work on right now.
  3. Take a moment, project in the future and visualize it as already achieved, as if a miracle happened and you have what you desire, mentally, physically, emotionally, socially or physically.
  4. Identify, specifically, what has to change for you to achieve your goal?
  5. Choose one small, simple action step you can take today to move toward your goal.
  6. Visualize your success outcome often and commit to taking one small action step at least five days a week to achieve your ideal end-outcome.
  7. Take 5-10 minutes a week to do a reality check of how you are moving forward. If there is a barrier, ask what negative belief you are holding that could be acting as a barrier.


Remember, your choices always come from within and you can choose, right now, to use the positive side of magical thinking to create an exceptional life.