Feeling Lucky? The Positive Effect of Talismans

This guest post is by Christy Smith, of ThinkBlot Communications.

It found me last summer. I was doing a bit of window shopping, and there it was on the arm of a mannequin in the window: a simple, black, metal cuff that said “Be Extraordinary”. As I put it on my wrist, I felt something shift inside me. I didn’t even look at the price tag; I bought it on the spot because I knew it was meant for me.

For years I’ve been drawn to objects that carry a simple “Be” message: be inspired, be you, be generous. At the moment when I saw that bracelet, I wanted nothing more than to be extraordinary.

Looking back, when the bracelet came into my life, I was standing at a crossroads. Open before me was the traditional path that I’d been following for years. There was nothing new or special about it—it was comfortable and well-worn. But I had caught a glimpse of another path, one that was uncertain, risky, and scary, but appealed to my deepest desire to do more with the gifts I’ve been given. I felt like those simple words, Be Extraordinary, summed up what I knew I needed to do if I was going to pursue that new dream.

I wear the bracelet every day, and now feel as naked without it as I do without my wedding ring. The bracelet is my personal call to action. It is my talisman for good luck in navigating my new path, and is a constant reminder that I should strive to do not just great things, but extraordinary things. This small object is the physical manifestation of my goals and dreams.

Why do talismans touch us?

The use of talismans goes back to ancient times, when people believed that certain objects carried mystical powers and harnessed positive energy. To be in possession of one granted you access to those powers. Talismans were used as protection from bad luck, and a way to focus energy on a positive outcome that the owner hoped would come to pass.

In times of uncertainty, adversity, and personal reflection, talismans become particularly attractive. They can make us feel like we’re giving control of our destiny to something outside of us. Even though we are still 100% in control, it’s within this illusion that we can drive the behaviors needed to achieve our goals.

Talismans can be any physical objects, like a photo, piece of clothing, or an item of jewelry. We may keep and treasure things that belonged to loved ones who are no longer with us because we feel the connection to them through those objects. Those connections bring us strength and comfort. We may assign significance to talismans that are given to us under special circumstances if we think that they will bring us the same type of luck or fortune that was enjoyed by previous owners.

A confidence boost

We’ve all heard the stories about athletes who wear a certain item of clothing each time they compete, performers who insist on having certain items around them before they go onstage, or artists who need a special object in order to create. The behaviors all stem from the same kind of belief. It’s a bit superstitious, but nonetheless many feel that consistently creating the same environment will drive the desired level of performance.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal detailed the story of a wig that was being passed between cancer treatment patients. Each of the previous owners of the wig had fought their battle against cancer and won. The wig brings hope as it is passed along the chain from survivor to current patient. The wig carries with it each woman’s story, and is considered a powerful good luck charm for each new recipient.

Trying to debunk the mystery

Of course, there’s nothing mystical or magical about the power of a talisman beyond the energy that we give it. It becomes the outward manifestation of our inner motivations, wants, and needs. Using a talisman is harmless to the extent that we draw positive energy from it in our times of need. Our talismans are there for us on even the darkest day, to give us a sense of comfort, security, and hope.

Science now is starting to dig into these superstitions, with surprising results. Barbara Stoberock, Thomas Mussweiler, and Lysann Damisch from the University of Cologne published earlier this year the results of their study, which concluded that people who used good luck charms during the research study performed better on tests. The researchers theorize that those participants had higher confidence in their abilities. There was nothing about the charms that actually led to better performance—other than the participants’ belief in them. This research implies that talismans are a classic example of the placebo effect. But why knock it if it works?

I know that my bracelet doesn’t actually confer special powers onto me. The results of my actions, good or bad, are completely my own. I don’t blame the bracelet if I make a bad decision, and on the flip side, if something wonderful happens, I take full personal credit. But I wear it all the same. I like having the symbolic reminder, and it makes me happy when I look at it. And still every day, I work to Be Extraordinary.

Christy is the founder of ThinkBlot Communications and is a self-diagnosed Pollyanna. She is currently exploring the ways we can create positive self-dialogue to achieve our goals. She can be found at Twitter @thinkblotcom.

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  1. Interesting angle on this post. I can feel the idea here too.

    For me it is like superstition. Growing up playing sports, I absolutely had my own little good luck charms or certain pre-game activities and I know I am not alone in that world, as many of my teammates did too. Recasting it in the light of a “talisman” is creative and that really is what we are talking about with superstition.

    Looking at life today, there are certain things in my life… images, smells, or even a physical thing like your bracelet. I am not sure exactly what it is but these images or things tend to have the ability to refocus and center thoughts or cement us in the moment and increase our fortitude to persevere and continue.

    That is where I think the magic is — it gets us fully engaged in the moment and provides a boost of self-confidence to get things done.

    • Hi Dan- I agree that there is something about those things that creates a laser like focus. It is funny how much more confident I feel putting on my bracelet. It provides just the boost I need.
      I thinks sports is a very common place to find those kinds of good luck charms, so I’m not surprised to hear you mention that at all. (And it sounds like you may not have thought a lot about it at the time.) I say if it works- don’t mess with it. 🙂

  2. I’m glad to know that this is common with others, Christy.

    I accidentally matched a pair of black and blue running socks together once and then lost them. I had another pair like them so I made those my official race socks. When I had my daughter, the doctor forced me out of my running shoes. He gave in when I refused to remove my good luck socks!

  3. but in the very fact, the talismans are just an ILLUSION

  4. For me it’s an inspiration. In spite of knowing that It’s nothing but an illusion, we believe in it.
    It inspires, it gives power, it drives us to our destination, it boosts the confidence. Nothing wrong in believing.

    I myself wear a red and yellow thick thread, which is counted religious, on my wrist and change it every week. I feel good wearing it. It boosts my confidence. Many people asked me about this. I said it’s a “style”.

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