The Paradox of Belief: What We're Doing When We Say, "Don't Jinx it"

Scott Leonardi

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Before we get into trying to untangle what belief means and the real detriment behind a “jinx”, let’s take a walk first.

Bear with me.

Picture this:

You don’t remember how you got there, but you find yourself walking down a street you don’t recognize. As you absentmindedly take in the unfamiliar surroundings, you start to notice how smooth your movements are, almost as if you’re gliding along the sidewalk. Looking down, you see yourself doing just that. Your feet aren’t moving and yet you seem to be floating along as if it’s completely normal. You don’t think much of it, instead, you allow yourself to rise off the ground higher until you can see the tops of houses and trees. Higher still, until the city starts to shrink more and more underneath you. This all feels relatively mundane and commonplace to you as you fly across the landscape making dips and twirls and willing yourself in any direction you choose as you simply enjoy the feeling of weightlessness as you cut through the clouds.

All of a sudden, things seem strange. You think to yourself, wait, what’s happening right now? You try to think about where you were and how you got where you are now. I remember reading…I must have fallen asleep… I think I’m dreaming right now! This is amazing! I’m flying! Unfortunately, as soon as that awareness enters your mind, your body starts to get heavy. You can feel the false gravity of your dream world pulling you down as you struggle to maintain your altitude. No, no, no. Stay up! Keep going! Damnit! You strain and focus as hard as you can on staying airborne, but alas, you divebomb towards the ground below, and just before you splatter onto the astral grass — you wake up. Man, that was crazy. I almost had it!

For anyone that’s experienced flying dreams before, this might sound familiar. For anyone that’s experimented with lucid dreaming, this is par for the course. It’s common knowledge in the world of lucid dreamers that the more you think about what’s happening to you in your dream, the easier it is to lose control and eventually wake up from your personal wonderland. Although I haven’t had the privilege of experiencing quality lucid dreams for awhile now, I used to be able to do it pretty frequently. I wouldn’t consider myself a sage on the subject, but I had my own techniques and knew how to spot when I was dreaming fairly easily. As soon as I recognized my surroundings as a dream, I knew a handful of things to do to keep myself in that world. One was to stay calm (as elevating your heartrate was a surefire way to wake yourself up), another was to not think about what was really happening. Basically, to not focus too intently on the details and nuances. If I let myself become overly aware of what was going on, my reality would start to blur and what once felt utterly real would begin to fade again into thought and back into the cozy but real world of pillows and blankets. I’ve come to realize that this technique for remaining in the dream world, not allowing myself to become too aware of my surroundings lest I fall from the sky, is an exact parallel for the real world and the potential power behind belief.

You see, the only way I was ever able to stay airborne in the Land of the Lucid wasn’t to focus intensely on wanting to fly, it was already knowing that I could. I don’t mean that I had done it before and that’s how I knew, I mean that I had to convince myself deeply, on a fundamental level, that what was happening was absolutely normal and always had been. It might be a bit enjoyable, but that was no reason to get too excited about it. It was just flying, after all. A common stroll for the imagination.

As the best Guide for hitchhiking across the galaxy helpfully puts it,

There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. … Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that presents the difficulties.” — The Guide — Life, the Universe, and Everything — Douglas Adams

For something that relates a bit more to what we’re talking about, Adams, the genius author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, goes on about the subject in his fourth installment of the series, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish,

"The Guide advises not to listen to what others may say, as they could say something such as: “Good God, man, you can’t possibly be flying!” It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right, and you will find yourself failing to miss the ground once again.

How familiar AND relevant.

A million galactic Thank You’s, Douglas.

Moving on.

Now, what does all of this flying dream-talk have to do with jinxing something?

I’m not talking about the kind of jinx you hear when two kids say the same word at the same time and call out Jinx! And whoever says it last has to buy the other a coke, or can’t talk until the first kid un-jinxes them, or whatever other silly rule they come up with. That’s a harmless game for kids and doesn’t really have anything to do with what I’m talking about, despite using the same terminology.

Instead, I’m talking about what we really mean when use the phrase, “Don’t jinx it,” and the potential of belief.

To me, despite knowing about its etymological roots and its associations with curses and spells, we all understand the phrase to mean something akin to “don’t ruin it.” Different wording, same effect. Don’t curse it. Don’t hinder it. Don’t cast counteractive thoughts about it.

Don’t jinx it.

We say this because, I think deep down we know the damning effects of becoming overly aware of ourselves. We feel on a fundamental level that if we open our eyes too wide to the situation and feel as if we have complete control over the best of outcomes, we will damn ourselves to failure.

It may seem like a superstition, but let’s think about the placebo effect for a quick second.

Physicians have known about the power of the placebo effect for as long as healing practices have existed. We know now that under the right circumstances, the placebo effect can have just as much of a benefit for a patient as traditional treatment. In fact, even patients that know they have taken a placebo experience around 50% of the same benefits as the real drug regardless of knowing it’s a fake.

In an article published in Harvard Health Publishing called The Power of the Placebo Effect, Professor Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center attributes this to the ritualistic nature of taking medicine. Our brains associate things like drinking a tonic or taking a pill with health and healing, and so our bodies follow suit and begin to feel better despite the lack of actual medicine present.

“People associate the ritual of taking medicine as a positive healing effect,” says Kaptchuk. “Even if they know it’s not medicine, the action itself can stimulate the brain into thinking the body is being healed.”

Knowing this, is it any wonder that we seem to instinctively know to avoid becoming too aware of the fact that the medicine isn’t real? If we not only know, but believe the medicine won’t help, it most likely won’t. Again, Kaptchuk says,

“The placebo effect is more than positive thinking — believing a treatment or procedure will work. It’s about creating a stronger connection between the brain and body and how they work together.”

I bring all of this up because, when it comes to belief, I believe that there is a strong correlation between the positive healing power of the placebo effect and the ability to shape our realities and perspective through belief alone.

I should make it clear though, just as the placebo effect can potentially lessen symptoms to make you feel better, but doesn’t actually cure your disease or ailment, using the power of belief and magnetizing pull of intention isn’t going to have a literal affect on your physical environment, only on how you operate within it.

Back to the word that sounds like the name to some kind of meddling cosmic trickster, the Jinx.

What exactly is it about “jinxing” something that we seem to inherently resonate with?

You might think the word is silly, childish even, and you’re not wrong, but think about your own life.

Maybe you’re hoping to get a promotion at work and you have an upcoming presentation. You know that this presentation will either make or break your chances for sealing the deal and being the one your boss chooses to promote. You may have prepared and done everything you can to get yourself in the right state of mind, but somewhere deep down, whether you call it a jinx or not, you know that you shouldn’t overthink it. There’s something in you that knows not to become overly aware of how important your situation is because the more hyper-aware you become, the more likely you are to mess it up.

The same goes for athletes and video games, artists and musicians. There’s something in us that knows that when the moment comes to stay in the “zone,” allowing too much awareness to breach the surface will only cause us to overthink and fumble the ball, miss the shot, lose the match, botch your painting, mess up your solo, or any number of moments that are meant to elevate us from ordinary to extraordinary and instead are ruined by the encroachment of an overly aware and speculative mind.

Here’s the thing about cynicism.

I’m all for a healthy amount of speculation when it comes to someone spouting what they claim to be “truth.” After all, as Socrates put it,

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing”.

When dealing with arrogant know-it-alls, or snake oil salesmen, or voodoo practitioners, or crystal witches, or religious fanatics that can’t seem to understand that the only reason they believe what they believe is because they were born where they were born, I think the best way to approach any of it is with intelligence and a dash of cynicism. After all, if they themselves don’t even know the answers to the questions you may have about the origins of their own beliefs, how can they believe it in the first place? On what is their belief founded besides the blind adherence of those who came before them? It all feels very cyclical.

However, I understand the human need for guidance when it comes to figuring out how best to exist in the world, and I also understand that the more spiritual sort from the brief list I just mentioned are much more aware of the power behind belief and results you see when you will yourself into blocking out objective reality to focus solely on your subjective experience.

Now, understanding how there exists a healthy amount of cynicism when it comes to making blanket claims about the nature of reality and the forces behind it, there comes a point when the cynicism overwhelms the potential benefits of belief itself.

You see, if you were somehow able to become the Ultimate Cynic, as in, never believing anything as truth outside of your own mind and experience, then you’ll find yourself unable to harness the power behind true belief. You won’t be capable of completely believing something to be true, and therefore benefiting from its effects, because you’ll never be able to fully immerse yourself in the experience without the cynic in you screaming in the background, “We’re flying! I can’t believe this isn’t real! Wait, wait, why can’t I keep going? Why am I falling? Shit!”

Jinxed yourself.

Why’d you have to pick it apart? Why couldn’t you just exist in that moment without acknowledging it?

The trick, like I mentioned in the beginning regarding my lucid life, is in being able to forget about what you want or wish to happen, to strip away every single desire or sense of reward, and simply know that you can. Not know as in believe, I mean you know it at your core, as much as you know you’re alive, as in your thought about whether you can or can’t do it do even exist. You just are. In the same way you don’t think about breathing or not breathing, you just breathe. It’s only when you think about breathing that all of a sudden it becomes this weird wind-blowing exercise that we can’t seem to do like a normal person.

Guys, maybe this has happened to you. I know I’ve unfortunately been there before.

You’re with a partner and you’re in the middle of some good old-fashioned ugly-bumpin’. Maybe things are going on for longer than you’re used to and you can’t help but think, Holy shit, this is amazing! I can’t believe I’m still going! Everything feels so perfect and they’re loving it! I could do this all night! Oh, wait…no, no, not yet! Shit! I think…I’m…gonna…!!

I’ll let you fill in the blank. Why couldn’t you just hold on to that moment without poking your head out of the bubble of such an authentic experience just to see everything in such an objective and analytical manner?

Again, jinxed yourself.

Situations like that can be especially disheartening because you would assume that you would want to be as aware as possible of every single detail, but in allowing yourself to become hyper-aware, you pull yourself out of the hypnotizing magic of that moment and into a reality where you’re never really in control of anything. Reminds me of a flying dream I was having earlier…

So, what does this all mean?

To me, it’s all an exercise in being able to keep yourself present, to keep yourself immersed in the majesty of those elevated moments without allowing the skeptic of reality to whisper to you about your perceived mediocrity, lack of control, and eventual death.

The “zone” is absolutely a real thing. Whether we’re talking about sinking a string of game winning three-pointers or holding onto your credentials as a lucid dreaming cloud-splitter. And just as the placebo effect can give us near the same medicinal benefits as actual medicine, our willingness to forgo awareness in moments that require a sort of ego death to perform beyond what we think we’re capable of is just as important. If you’re too aware of the sugar pill you just took, it probably won’t work. If you’re too aware of yourself when the game is on the line, or you’re trying not to…“express your love” too quickly, you’ll probably choke.

It’s sort of hard to wrap all of this into a general theme but, at the end of it all, I suppose it’s best to take it as an exploration in control and how easy it is to sabotage ourselves by simply not wanting to give it up.

When you’re able to harmonize yourself to the moment you find yourself in, it’s no longer necessary for you to think about it and control it unless you want to ruin that harmony.

When we say, “Don’t jinx it,” when talking about something good we wish to happen, what we’re really saying is, “Don’t bring too much awareness into it. Let everything flow naturally and don’t think it to death.”

Trying to exert personal control over what you wish to manifest will have the opposite effect than what you intend, only causing you to try even harder and perpetuate the cycle. This is what I mean with the phrase “paradox of belief.”

You need to believe in yourself to achieve great things, but only to a point. Because once you find yourself within that elevated moment of greatness, of self-discovery, or artistic creation, or sexual ecstasy, or athletic achievement, or astral exploration, once you’re finally within the walls of that awe-inspiring experience, “you” are no longer necessary. Your awareness of yourself in that moment will only be a hindrance to continuing on as you were before you realized what was happening.

You might be sacrificing the temporary joy that comes from your specific ego and persona being able to experience those heights, but it would only last a few seconds anyways before you can’t help but drop the ball. When entering the holy realm of the Moment, masks and mannerisms must be left at the door. They’ll only weigh you down, and if you want to stay airborne, it’s best to forget about them.

Use your belief in yourself to get off the ground, but once you’re in the air, you need to let go of the rickety ego wings that got you there, the belief that they’re still necessary, and simply know that you’ll keep going without having to think about it.

It’s easy.

Just don’t jinx it.

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I write a lot about self-development and personal growth. I want to help people uncover their authentic selves through creative expression and in the process understand their place in the world a little better. I also enjoy writing screenplays, short stories, and poetry. All of which can be found at MossManSupreme.com

Imperial Beach, CA
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