Thursday, December 3, 2009

Magical Thinking

We humans are so drawn to what David Richo calls "magical thinking." We love those stories where a fairy godmother gives us a new life with beautiful clothes and servants and a handsome prince, or we can rub a lamp and a genie appears to offer us three wishes, or we step through some magic keyhole or mirror to a perfect life on the other side where it's always sunny and springtime.

The fact is -- life is challenging, and we're always looking for a way out, a way around the tricky stuff, a quick solution, or maybe just a promise that things will get better. Why do you think so many people keep buying lottery tickets?

But I do remember my husband reading a book or an article somewhere which described research that had been done on folks who had sudden windfalls or catastrophic losses. The study showed that those things do indeed affect us, but only for a short while; eventually, whether raised to joy or sunk to sorrow, people tend to return to whatever level of happiness they had before the event. The fact is -- as it says in Buckaroo Bonsai -- "wherever you go, there you are" -- external events ultimately have little or no effect on our basic life attitudes.

I was reading what Richo had to say about this, and nodding my head in a sort of self-congratulatory way, thinking, yes -- I get this, I'm on top of this -- and then I read his list of examples of magical thinking. Oops! Not immune after all! Here -- take a look:

"• Reality will become or remain the same as my mental picture of it.

• Dangerous forces will erupt if I do not adhere to very precise rules or rituals.

• Something has always been wrong with me and I cannot know or fix it -- though everyone else is aware of it.

• I have been guilty from early life and still have not been fully punished.

• We get what we deserve.

• I am eternally indebted. I always owe something to God or have to keep paying for something I have done that remains unfixably wrong.

• If it had not been for this one thing happening or if one special thing would happen, everything would be perfect now.

• Need fulfillment is scarce, so I must work hard and consider myself lucky to find some satisfaction.

• I have to grasp this opportunity right now or lose it. There is no time for a mindful pause.

• If people knew me as I really am, they would not love me or want me.

• "What goes around, comes around." This is a wish of the frustrated retaliatory ego, not a karmic certainty.

• If I do not remain in control, everything will fall apart.

• The spiritual realm does not exist since it cannot be confirmed by scientific methods, i.e., it cannot be controlled. (Disbelief is often a control issue.)

• If I bring an issue out into the open, it will become even more serious and dangerous. If I never mention it, it will go away.

• Happiness will not last if I enjoy it too much. Full-on exuberance is dangerous.

• Prosperity will be followed by catastrophe: "A bull market has a bear behind it" and vice versa.

• There is a by-and-by to come in history in which there will be no violence or evil and the human shadow will disappear.

Allied to magical thinking," says Richo, "is wishful thinking. For example, I expect everything to be better in the future, though I am doing nothing to make that happen."

I could tell you which ones I fail on and which ones I'm good at. But those could be delusional/magical/wishful statements, too. I will say, though, that a couple of these really hit home. Ouch: guilty as charged. Or, as Captain Hook says in Peter Pan when I tell him I've made him a "special dessert," -- "Oh, goody."

If you're like me, you'll notice this list gives us more than a couple of "special desserts" to munch on. Ah, but it's all grist for the mill, as my mom used to say: something else to ponder and learn from. And doesn't THAT seem to be a never-ending list!


Maureen said...

This is one list I have not seen Twittered.

Talking about any one of these items could be an hour on the couch.

Kimberly Mason said...

When in crisis it is really (really) hard to avoid magical thinking. Fear freezes me into inaction. You'd think (cuz that's what I would tell you *g*) that I am the calm one in a crisis, but in reality, I'm just standing there stunned. I'm really fighting that magical thinking right now. Thanks for the post!

Joyce Wycoff said...

Diane ... thanks for this list. I was happy to see some that I've put to bed but there were a lot of others that raised their hands and said, "We're still here." Isn't it great that our journey still stretches before us?