The Hidden Benefits of Magical Thinking

Professor Bruce Hood (Bristol University) is an experimental psychologist specialising in developmental cognitive neuroscience. His major research projects focus on discovering what’s behind adult magical thinking.

According to Hood, we humans are hard-wired to develop beliefs as a way to make sense of our world and these beliefs carry with them manifest consequences. We’re also hard-wired to impose structure and order in our lives by developing rituals or practices around those beliefs (touch on wood). 


One of the most intriguing rituals involves what Hood calls sympathetic magic – or the belief in naturally occurring correspondences (or sympathies) between such diverse things as food, colours, animals, gem stones, fabrics, plants, and days of the week.

Imagine two violins. Sympathetic vibration occurs when two strings are tuned to the same pitch. When one is plucked, the other sings out ‘in sympathy’.


The implications of Hood’s work for coaching are intriguing:

  1. When someone believes that she cannot do XYZ, then at least until she changes her belief, she probably can’t do. Likewise, if she believes that she can do ABC, then, it’s a pretty good bet that she will. 
  2. One of the primary goals of coaching is to eliminate (or strengthen) such beliefs as needed and this is why a good coach focuses less on asking ‘why’ but instead on ‘what’. For example, if I ask my client ‘why’ she feels so terrible, then in answering she is only reinforcing her negative beliefs about herself. But in responding to the question ‘what’ situations make her feel terrible and what do they share in common, she achieves a genuine opportunity to examine the causes and triggers of her beliefs.
  3. Let’s face it, change is hard work. If it weren’t then New Year resolutions would stand a better chance of success. But if my client creates a ritual or talisman that can be relied upon in times of stress to remind her of what she’s chosen to change, then she’s in a stronger position. 
  4. Even better, if her rituals and talismans are in line with long-established sympathies and correspondences, they draw on strong energies already in existence.
  5. For example, if she has an important meeting or interview set for a Thursday, she might choose to tap into the ‘luck’ traditionally associated with Jupiter, the planetary ruler of Thursday. 

Who knows but that boost of confidence gained by wearing a royal blue dress or suit or maybe a piece of amethyst jewellery, (all associated with Jupiter), might be enough to secure her success.


Professor Hood would not be surprised if it did.

Would you?

If you’d like to find out more how ‘magical thinking’ can help you, book now for a 30 minute chat!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.