Creative Counselling: Magical Thinking
In this edition of the Creative Counselling column, Marie Bruce explains how the process of magical thinking can change your life and help you to achieve your goals.
by Marie Bruce
Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘magical thinking’? This is a term psychotherapists use when referring to that part of the psyche which determines how a person views possibility. Not enough magical thinking leads to despair, while too much can lead to pipe-dreaming. Both of these extremes result in the client not taking action to move their life forward.
In the first instance, this is because they don’t see the point in even trying. In the second instance it is because they are waiting for everything they want to just fall into their lap, with zero effort on their part. Needless to say, to move a client forward, the counsellor must nurture just the right amount of magical thinking and teach the client how to maintain that fine balance.
So, what is magical thinking and how does it work? In a nutshell, magical thinking is the ability to see a positive future for yourself. It is about thinking in terms of possibility, rather than viewing the world through limiting beliefs. Of course, we all have some limiting beliefs. Common ones include ‘I’ll never have any money,’ or ‘I’m not good enough,’ or ‘I’ll never be loved’. These beliefs are developed over time, often from our childhood, and can be the result of parental and social conditioning.
If you grew up in poverty, for example, then it can be very difficult to override the limiting belief that money is scarce and difficult to accumulate, thus leading to money worries in later life. If you had a physically or an emotionally absent parent, it can be hard to overcome the limiting belief that you are unlovable, which leads to self-sabotage in relationships because you feel you don’t deserve to be loved. Often, people are not fully aware of their limiting beliefs and can’t identify what keeps going wrong. This means that their negative patterns repeat, eventually leading them to the therapy room to seek help.
Nurturing the magical thinker is essential to any level of success. If you can’t dream it, you can’t become it, so developing this mental muscle is vital in achieving your goals and objectives. However, before you can develop it, you need to activate it. You can do this by becoming more aware of your thought patterns. Using an approach from cognitive behavioural therapy (often referred to as CBT), keep a thought diary for a few days. Each time you notice your thoughts, write them down. This will help to highlight any patterns of negative thinking and limiting beliefs.
Once you have identified your limiting thought patterns, activate the magical thinker in your psyche by deliberately replacing negative thoughts with equal and opposite positive thoughts. So ‘I’ll never have any money’ becomes ‘I have plenty of money to meet all my needs and more’; ‘I’m not good enough’ becomes ‘I am worthy of all the opportunities that life has to offer and I receive them with gratitude’; ‘I am unlovable’ becomes ‘I give and receive love easily because I am loving and lovable’.
Once you have activated the magical thinker within, you need to nurture it by training yourself to think in terms of possibility, rather than limitation. Always imagine the best possible outcome to any situation. If there are obstacles in your way, imagine a way to get around them, over them, through them and under them. Imagine that your dream life is on the other side of a mountain – how are you going to traverse the mountain to get to that dream and make it your reality? What tools do you need? What actions can you take today to make that mountain a little less daunting, a little more passable? What would be the first step you need to take?
Train your brain to think like a soldier – nothing should get in the way of your mission. If something unexpected happens (as it often does in conflict zones), regroup, adapt, re-plan and press ahead – but don’t give up or return to base until you have achieved your mission. Do not give in to the option of failure. This is magical thinking at work to the highest degree, in the theatre of war where the stakes are life and death. If soldiers can employ this magical thinking, you can magically think your way through a job interview.
In the beginning it may feel strange to think in terms of possibility – especially if you have suffered from depression or anxiety in the past, which are both products of negative and fearful thinking. But the more you activate your inner magical thinker, the more natural it will become to think positively, and to view your future in terms of possibility.
Do be beware of jumping to extremes. Magical thinking without taking action leads to pipe-dreaming. Your life will not improve without your own input. There’s no point waiting around to win the lotto!
You must think in terms of what is possible, and then take action to make that possibility your reality. It might mean doing something as small as making a phone call, updating your CV, or socializing more to meet people. Active the magical thinker within, and then back it up with action on a daily basis – one small task a day to move you closer to your dream. One task, that’s all, and a year from now, with consistent effort on your part, you will be much closer to achieving the goal your magical thinker presented to you. You might even have achieved it. Imagine that.
Marie Bruce x
About the author:
Marie Bruce Dip. T.C. MBACP is a qualified psychotherapist, Cruse Bereavement Counsellor and best-selling self-help author. She specialises in grief and loss counselling, PTSD and military counselling, and life coaching.
In this monthly column, Marie offers simple tools used by therapists to help clients and readers improve their mental well-being.
Marie’s books are available on Amazon UK.