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Do you believe in magic? Yes, you do.

In some ways, it's quite practical.

What’s the Big Idea?

Stupid people believe in angels. That’s one of Aaron Sorkin’s go-to banter formulas that was recently repeated by Jeff Daniels’s character Will McAvoy in his opening rant in HBO’s Newsroom. One of the many reasons America is not the greatest country in the world, McAvoy tells a college audience, is that America leads the world in “the number of adults who believe angels are real.”

Sorkin, and others who share his view, would probably be surprised to know just how irrational we all are. Not all of us believe in angels, but we regularly attribute human behaviors to inanimate objects, such as toys. We speak to animals. We yell at computers. We think that burying a Red Sox jersey in Yankee stadium will affect the outcome of baseball games.

In a fascinating 2012 book, The Seven Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane, Matthew Hutson challenges conventional wisdom by arguing that all of us — whether we think we are skeptics or not — believe in magic. In fact, he argues, superstitious beliefs are evolutionarily advantageous to our species and can be incredibly powerful tools if we know how to use them the right way.

What’s the Significance?

How can you use “magical” thinking to your advantage? Well, what are your career and life goals? Hutson says that if you can visualize your goals, it increases your confidence, as well as give you the necessary “kick in the pants” to take the necessary actions to make your vision a reality. In this way, it directly increases your chance of success.

Everything happens for a reason, they say. Say you lose your job and find yourself really struggling. Hutson argues that magical thinking can be employed to turn a setback into an opportunity, in which you can transform the way you think, and eventually the way you act. With changed behavior comes changed life paths.

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

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