A solar eclipse is coming and that can only mean one thing: it’s apocalypse prophecy season!

The rationalizing people do with prophesies is a useful way to explore magical thinking. You might not believe the world is about to end but understanding how people arrive at those conclusions can help you spot your own compulsive thinking patterns that can get you stuck struggling with your mental health.

Magical thinking is a way of thinking that follows a very simple pattern: IF X THEN Y. X is some action or event and Y is some outcome or meaning that a person believes is connected to X (but isn’t). Somebody struggling with mental illness might believe something like: IF X (I leave the house with pure thoughts) THEN Y (my family will be safe). So she would compulsively try multiple times to leave the house in the morning until she can get it right. Or somebody that’s struggling with relationship issues might believe something like: IF X (my partner doesn’t text me back right away) THEN Y (he’s cheating on me). And then he sends a stream of reassurance-seeking messages or hooks-up with somebody else or whatever.

And this is a very natural, human way of thinking. When somebody’s watching his favourite football team get destroyed by a stronger team but he knows they’re going to pull-off a comeback because he feels lucky, and he saw two little kids wearing the team’s jersey on the bus today (and he bet a lot of money on it), that’s magical thinking, too. As a society, we tend not to consider that part of mental illness–it’s loyalty and faith and wishful thinking–but it’s the same pattern as the girl that believes her thoughts control her parents’ safety.

Our brains are amazingly talented at coming up with reasons that sound totally rational to us. This is always on full display with any magical thinking, apocalyptic prophecies included. We don’t just randomly imagine this stuff. We work on it. We uncover signs! The Washington Post did an article recently that quoted a writer for an evangelical christian website that believes the upcoming eclipse is one of several signs pointing to the impending Rapture. He points to the fact that the eclipse starts in the 33rd state, traverses the US to the 33rd parallel, and comes 33 days before an alignment of stars and planets that he believes was foretold in the Book of Revelations. And it’s 99 years since the last total eclipse in America. Coincidence? I bet you an ionic salt lamp it’s not.

And, of course, if you prefer your prophecies to be a bit more Babylonian, now’s also a good time for planet Nibiru to show up. The Telegraph even has a helpful countdown clock to the coming devastation hurled upon us by Planet X (the End is on September 23rd). A guy they interviewed says this month’s eclipse is a harbinger of our impending obliteration. Apparently, the moon is trying to send us shadow puppet warnings. Although even NASA admits research indicates the possibility of a giant planet somewhere on a wacky orbit out beyond Pluto. But can we trust an organization run by lizard people?

Your delusions might not be so globally apocalyptic. But when you get a weird feeling in your gut and it reminds you of that article you read about a guy that had a parasite in him that liquified his internal organs and you then go searching online for reassurance and you read an article that mentions strange headaches, which you’ve been having lately, and that convinces you that you could have a rare, degenerative neurological disease, so you immediately book an appointment with your doctor because you might only have weeks to live… that’s the same thought process. You’re going from A to Z to the end of your world.

Be aware of the equations you’re playing out in your head. They’ll always sound rational. You’ll always have evidence to back them up. These equations can wreck a relationship, a business, hold us back from doing the things we actually care about in life. It might simply be that you never delegate tasks at work because you’re convinced people will screw everything up, so you’re always stressed and overworked because of that. We all engage with these equations to varying degrees, and the more we let them lead us through life, the more damaging and restrictive they become.  

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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. I needed to read this today, thank you. You’re very right, even though most of us don’t make such grand leaps (The world is ending because I walked by that tainted thing with wet hands which tainted my hands!), what we do is a scale replica within our heads and lives.

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  2. I have a son who is certain that the world will end very soon. He thinks he needs to stockpile food, water, etc. He is almost 24 years old. He can’t seem to hold a job and is somewhere in Colorado, homeless. There is so much more to this story… Too much to share right now. I am desperate for help.

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