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The black cat dilemma

The black cat dilemma
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It is natural that a student gets stressed during exams irrespective of how much they prepare. High expectations of parents also add to the...

I am a student and had belief in fengshui, numerology and vaastu. I thought that following these will help me pass my exams. But day by day my confidence is only decreasing and I am beginning to feel fearful about my future. My mind is always preoccupied with these activities and rituals that I think will help me get what I desire. I want to divert my mind from all this. Please help me.

Fear is the main source of superstition. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom - Bertrand Russell

Science is a great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition - Adam Smith

It is natural that a student gets stressed during exams irrespective of how much they prepare. High expectations of parents also add to the pressure.Exam fever pushes many students to act in incredibly strange ways and turn towards rituals and superstitions to help themselves pass exams. Stuart Vyse, PhD, and the author of ‘Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition’, calls this as superstitious or magical thinking.

Vyse says our locus of control can be a factor contributing to whether or not we are superstitious. If we have an internal locus of control, we believe that we are in charge of everything; we are the master of our fate and we can make things happen. He says that people with external locus of control are more likely to be superstitious, possibly as a way of getting more power over their lives.

Superstitions are common in situations like exams where you are unsure about the outcome and feel that negative consequences of the event are unbearable. They give a false sense of satisfaction and only create doubts and confusion. However, no matter how silly and meaningless these superstitions may appear, they are wide spread and have significant impact on our lives.

Here I do not want to discuss the rationality and scientific evidence of the above practices which is not in the scope of psychology but rather want to discuss the psychological effects of over-dependence on such practices. A recent Gallup poll suggests that being superstitious is often imbibed by us as children. Childhood experiences have significant contributions in developing such attitude. Wanting more control or certainty is the driving force behind most superstitions. We tend to look for some kind of a rule or an explanation for why things happen.

Researchers identified three reasons for superstitious behavior:

  • control over uncertainty;
  • feelings of helplessness; and
  • Because it is easier to rely on superstition instead of coping strategies.

Effects of superstations on student life:

  • Loss of concentration: indulging in ritualistic and superstitious activities can certainly have negative effects on the studies. A mind which turns towards beliefs and rituals lacks concentration and gets easily distracted with the smallest stimuli. This may result in decreased performance in studies and may lead to failure.
  • Lack of interest in studies: students may become more excited about the new practices and find more interest in it that rather than in curriculum. This can lead to lack or total loss of interest in studies.
  • Mental disorders: when a person’s personal experience in superstition leads to a strong belief, it becomes a tough task to make the person realize the reality from truth. This can result in paranoia and other mental conditions (OCD). This may lead to even reality distortions.
  • Disturbs the development of the personality in student: developing over-dependence on superstitious practices distracts the child and makes them to lose focus on studies. The student fails to learn the necessary skills and virtues to live in this society. He/she may start seeking and searching for shortcuts.

Remedies to get rid of superstitious thinking:

  • Find ways to prove to yourself that these superstitions have no basis in reality.
  • Develop rational thinking and a positive attitude. Challenge your belief that the outcome of your exam depends on superstitious rituals or other such activities.
  • Develop self- reliance.
  • Overdependence on superstitions makes you less – confident about your control on your life. You start depending on rituals to control your life and this starts a vicious circle. Take responsibility for your actions and reduce the dependence on rituals.
  • Remove fear of failure
  • Each failure will make you yearn to relapse into your previous ritualistic tendencies. Do not give up if you encounter a few failures. Learn lessons from these setbacks and move on.
  • Exams are just to assess your preparation. It is not the end of the world if you do not fare well in them. Be confident of your preparation and learn to take control of your life. Avoid last – minute stressing.
  • Start preparation from the beginning of the session. Start your study and preparation from the beginning of the session, do not wait until the exam starts. If you are fully prepared for exam, you would have no fear during exam. So to avoid exam stress you should start your efforts from the first day of session.
  • Time out. To prevent mental fatigue, take a short break as soon as you notice your mind is losing concentration. Stick to activities that do not break your study continuum during these breaks. Avoid television and loud music. You will then be able to come back to your revision refreshed.
  • Allot sufficient time to sleep: According to experts, eight hours of sleep is sufficient as well as essential for a calm and healthy mind. But for students, it can be reduced to 6-7 hours. Since you cannot avoid late-night studies, try to balance your sleep hours and ensure you get sufficient sleep.
  • Visualize success instead of negative thoughts of failure. Have the hope of success. Never think of failure during the days of exam. If you are thinking about failure during the exam, it means you are inviting stress to overcome you.
  • Mental exercise: Mental exercises such as yoga and meditation are very useful in increasing concentration power, hence very useful if started before one month of exam. This is one of the most significant methods to get rid of tension during exam time.
  • Keep distance from junk foods: Try to avoid eating junk food such as burger, pizza etc. and also avoid meat, soft drinks, chocolates etc.Don't drink too much coffee, tea or fizzy drinks. Caffeine will keep you up and reduce the clarity of your thinking. Drink lots of water because it helps to make our body and mind cool and think better.
  • In today's scientific world, it is necessary that we do not blindly follow all the superstitions that were handed over to us by our ancestors. We are modern, both in our outlook and the age we are in. Therefore we should have a judicious outlook backed by some logical reason behind every superstition before accepting it. We would then be able to give up those superstitions which have no rationality and applications in today's life. It is only way that we can lead a normal life.

By:N Radhika Acharya

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