Being Superstitious Can Drive You Crazy

black cat
iStock / Yongyuan Dai

Two minutes were left in the football game when I felt a sharp twinge in my calf. A muscle spasm. I growled and clutched my leg. The game was equally intense. My team, the Washington Redskins, led the New York Giants by a touchdown, but the Giants had the ball and were threatening to score. So I clenched my jaw, took a deep breath and did what any true Redskins fan would have done. I stayed in my recliner and refused to uncross my legs. I refused because uncrossing them would have brought the Redskins bad luck. I had been staring at the TV set for 20 minutes with my legs crossed, and during that time the Skins had played great defense. How could I uncross them now? I couldn't. Despite the pain, I sat in the same position until we had secured the victory.

And then I felt like a dork.

I knew superstitions were silly. I realized that if extraterrestrials had knocked on my door and asked me to tell them about life on earth, I could not possibly have explained superstitions, any more than I could explain the rationale behind greeting cards for dogs or tassels on men's loafers. So if I understood that superstitions make no sense, have no basis in reality and cannot possibly influence the outcome of events, why did I insist on wearing lucky shoes? And lucky socks? Why did I think fruits were luckier than vegetables? When I went to basketball games at my alma mater, why did I always have to park in a lucky parking space?

The answer was simple. I acted superstitious because I really wasn't superstitious. When I wore lucky underwear, I knew those tattered old Jockeys weren't lucky, even though I did sort of hope they were. It was part denial, part delusion. Call it denusion, and it's why people who say they never watch television know every character on Melrose Place.

My own denusion ended with that muscle cramp. The logical side of my brain, which really needs to play a more prominent role in my life, declared that superstitions are stupidstitions. Michael Jordan never attributed his scoring ability to my socks. No coach ever held a press conference to talk about my shoes. Superstitions were also causing me stress. Sure, my crossed legs forced the Giants to punt, but what if I'd uncrossed them? They might have punted anyway.

It was driving me crazy. So I kicked the habit. Now whenever I feel a superstitious urge coming on, I ignore it. This hasn't been easy — I've had some weak moments at the sock drawer — but I finished the football season without experiencing another cramp. And here's the really weird part: after I swore off superstition, the Redskins won five of their next seven games, while my alma mater's basketball team had its first winning season in many years.

Now I understand how it works. Not being superstitious is what causes good luck. I think I can live with that — until my luck changes.

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