Is your office strangely empty today? Are those that have come in acting a little strangely? Today is Friday 13th and a time of terror for many workers.

Millions avoid making any arrangements on Friday 13th that could possibly go wrong. Planes fly relatively empty. Investments and business deals are deferred for another day. Some people even refuse to leave the house or go to work. Psychologists include superstitions among a wider range of human traits collectively called ‘magical thinking’, that includes other questionable beliefs ranging from a harmless belief in fairies through mildly disturbing beliefs in the paranormal to potentially more harmful beliefs such as fanatical religion.

Magical thinking perhaps demonstrates the gullibility of humans, particularly in light of the fact that many such beliefs can be disproved. Track events on Friday 13th and compare the results with any other day and, unsurprisingly, there’s no difference. One might imagine the superstitious belief itself could impact the results. Couldn’t a belief that accidents will happen so distract believers that they become more prone to accidents? The studies suggest that even this doesn’t happen.

So what help can you offer if you have an employee with a superstitious belief, or perhaps many such beliefs, that are limiting them in some way? Perhaps they refuse to venture out of the house on Friday 13th and your business suffers without them.

Hypnotherapy can sometimes help. It works for some, but on its own success is far from certain and relapse rates are high. Cognitive Behavioural Techniques (CBT) are generally more effective and sustainable for most mind-related issues, particularly if they’re combined with modern acceptance-based approaches such as Acceptance-Action Therapy (AAT).

A combined CBT-AAT treatment might involve challenging beliefs using an evidence-based approach, learning to accept any feelings such as anxiety and confronting the superstition by changing the behaviour.

When we act in ways that are consistent with an unproductive belief, we always reinforce the belief. Our mind gets a message that the belief must be true …. otherwise why are we behaving in that way. Conversely, if we repeatedly act in the opposite way, we’ll undermine the belief.

Next time a Friday the 13th is coming up (there are 3 in 2012) try suggesting they follow these steps to help them move past the superstition and stop it holding them back:

1. Create a habit of noticing whenever you “buy into” the superstition and limit yourself. Accept that this is the way you are right now. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t get annoyed or frustrated with yourself.
2. Recognise that the superstition is irrational. Remind yourself that studies have shown there’s no evidence to support it.
3. Drop the thought (surprisingly easy once we’ve carried out the first two steps)
4. Take the action you were hesitating over while accepting any anxious feelings this may generate.

Do this repeatedly and the limiting belief, and any anxious feelings it may be generating, will soon disappear – and you’ll have a full quota of staff on Friday!

13 old supersitions about Friday the 13th

1 If a child is born on Friday the 13th, he will be unlucky all his life.
2 A child born on Friday the 13th will have a short life.
3 A child born on Friday the 13th will always be unlucky, but a part of this misfortune may be avoided by concealing the child’s birthday.
4 A child born on Friday the 13th will not have any good luck until after the death of the last person who knows the true date of the child’s birth.
5 A child born on Friday the 13th must carry a rabbit’s foot from a rabbit killed at midnight by a cross-eyed farmer. Otherwise, the child will bring bad luck to the family. If the child loses the rabbit’s foot, he will die.
6 If a woman has a birthday on Friday the 13th, she will marry and have a child within the year.
7 It is unlucky to be married on the 13th.
8 If a funeral procession passes a person on Friday the 13th, he will be condemned to death.
9 Don’t go out at night on Friday the 13th, or you will have convulsions that night.
10 Don’t sit 13 people at a table on Friday the 13th; one will become seriously ill.
11 Don’t cut your hair on Friday the 13th, or someone in your family will die.
12 Don’t wear black on Friday the 13th, or you will soon wear it again in mourning.
13 It is good luck to be born on Friday the 13th.