Science Behind The Salt: The Unexpected Connection Between Success And Superstitions

by Lauren Martin

There’s a difference between your average “knock-on-wood” guy and your superstitious guy. To superstitious people, the “knock-on-wood” guy is a joke, a poser, a band-wagoner.

The “knock-on-wood” guy doesn’t know what it means to follow a set of ridiculous rules laid out without proof or existence. He doesn’t know what it means to believe in something beyond his control and follow it purposefully throughout his life. He doesn't know what it means to believe in magic.

The "knock-on-wood" guy doesn’t place jade and crystal in corners of the house or walk by hundreds of pennies because of their undesirable placement. He doesn’t know what it’s like to stress over the misplacement of a hat or a missing rabbit's foot.

He doesn’t have to spend his life constantly on the lookout for numbers and patterns or make sure he blows out all the candles on a cake of 40. He doesn’t step over cracks and throw salt, eat certain foods and refuse to go out because Venus is in retrograde.

He doesn't live his life believing in something bigger than himself, something out of his control.

Whether they are derived from family tradition or they come about on their own, the superstitious follow their beliefs the way many follow religion: blindly, and with complete faith.

Maybe your Italian mother taught you to avoid touching your feet with a broom for fear of never getting married or being “swept off your feet.”

Maybe it was your feng-shui aunt who taught you never to face the bed towards the door because it’s the way coffins are placed in church. Maybe your business-savvy godfather told you never to whistle indoors to avoid whistling your money away.

Superstars and athletes also rely on them with an unhealthy and sometimes noteworthy passion. The famous chest bumping scene in "Wolf Of Wall Street" was derived from a superstitious ritual Matthew McConaughey performs before his scenes, turning the awkward and personal superstition into a hilarious character quirk.

Wherever your obsessive, implausible and all-consuming superstitious nature comes from, it’s something that affects more than your psychiatrist's bill and favorite movie scenes.

According to a study published in the “Journal Of The Association For Psychological Science,” superstitions are directly proven to make you more successful.

Or, as researchers Lysann Damisch, Barbara Stoberock and Thomas Mussweiler argue, they enhance your performance in stressful and chaotic situations.

In one experiment, researchers handed over golf balls to 28 college students, and each was told to make 10 putts into a hole. The researchers deemed the balls either “lucky” or one that had already “been used” (the control agent).

As predicted, the students who thought they received a “lucky” ball made more shots than the group without the superstition-laden ball.

While we can’t prove that superstitions work and luck is real, it’s been proven that there is a link between performance ability and the psychological mechanisms attached to those who hold superstitions.

It boils down to the idea that people who think they are lucky work harder to make that luck real.

Like religion, superstition works under the basic principle that when you believe in something, you will do anything to make sense of it.

Additionally, Jane L. Risen, and her colleagues Yan Zhang and Christine Hosey reported in their study from "Journal of Experimental Psychology" that superstitious rituals reduced their likelihood of a bad or negative event happening to them due to sheer anticipation and avoidance of actions.

People spend their lives trying to purge the misfortune they think they've picked up or prove the luck they know they have is real. It's a psychological testament to human nature and our ability to manifest dreams, goals and desires.

While we can't prove that wishing your life would be the way you want it to be really works, it has been proven that believing in it hard enough, long enough and superstitiously enough will get you closer to those dreams.

So, why are superstitious people more successful?

They work harder than you

Luck is fickle and must be backed up with actual work. The superstitious do not believe that their luck should do all the work for them, but rather, they must work hard to make sure it does. It's the idea of gambling… You can only be so lucky before skill and practice come in.

According to Don Saucier of Kansas State University, "People believe in superstitions to try to restore some prediction and control to their world.”

It’s those who are determined to give meaning and direction to their lives that usually end up being more superstitious and, in turn, harder workers.

We predict the things we want to happen and superstitious people understand that luck isn’t going to get them the full way, but comfort and cheer them on the way there. Their luck is just the starting point. Making that luck work for them is on their own merit.

They've learned to expect for the worst

Because they are superstitious, they don’t leave anything up to chance. The superstitious may believe in the unproved powers of karma and the universe, but that doesn’t mean they will let the universe take whatever it wants.

Because of their obsessive tendencies, they are always prepared. According to Reuters article, “Small Business Find Comfort In Superstition," superstitions lead people to account for minute details and secondary plans that wouldn’t arise had they not believed in swaying the energy towards the goal set in mind.

In attempt to make sure their superstitions come true (or don't come true), they unconsciously do everything in their power to make it that way.

Everything is accounted for because everything must be working in your favor for your dreams to become a reality. It’s not just the lucky pennies you collect, but how you spend those pennies.

They know to trust their gut feelings

Your gut is one of the most reliable tools you have, yet few refuse to listen to it. Superstitious people believe in their guts the same way sailors believe in the changing tides. When there’s something pulling at you, tugging you from the inside out, attention must be paid.

According to Jane Risen and David Nussbaum of “Sense and Superstition,” “people’s beliefs are often influenced by bodily feelings and movements."

The same way we agree with people who are shaking their heads "yes," the superstitious are overtly aware of what's going on around them.

Those who attend ritual practices force themselves to listen to their innermost urges and desires. They are keenly aware of the external and internal forces that provoke them and try to direct them.

They take into account the fleeting thoughts and feelings that momentarily overtake them. They're attuned with the rhythm of their own blood, the innermost desires of their heart and all the outside forces trying to distract them from it.

In a corny way, they believe in magic

Magic is only for children the same way love is only for adults. There is no set time period that one must stop believing in magic and start being practical.

In The New York Time's article "Do You Believe In Magic," Benedict Carey explains that the belief in magic is what helps people get through life, usually giving them the extra courage and reason to keep going.

Beyond the psychological and scientific reasonings behind magic and superstition, there's an endearing quality about those who haven't yet lost their childhood sense of enchantment.

Those who believe in any sort of magic haven't given up on their whimsical view of the world. They have yet to lose the ability to see beyond the ordinary and create something better. Because magic isn't about believing in the unreal, but trusting in things you can't see.

Photo Courtesy: Paramount Pictures/Wolf of Wall Street