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Neil Thompson’s Lesson for Living – Magical thinking

The term, ‘magical thinking’ is one generally used to refer to an aspect of child development. It describes a form of wishful thinking that is characteristic of young children. In principle, we grow out of it as we develop through adolescence into adulthood. It relates to situation where results are expected to arise without our making them happen. For example, a young child may believe that if they want a bike for their birthday and really do want it enough, then it might just transpire that they get the bike they desire.

I have said that we grow out of it ‘in principle’, but what I feel is important to recognise is that not everybody does, or at least not completely. Magical thinking in adults is not uncommon (or in some adults at least). An example, I am very familiar with is the assumption that learning will happen by magic. Countless times I have come across people who sit through a full-day training course, for example, without making a single note (they can’t all have photographic memories!), without making much of a contribution to discussion and then return to their place of work without a plan as to how they intend to put the learning gained into practice. And yet, at the end of the course, they will often hand me an evaluation form in which they claim to have learned a great deal and proclaim it to have been an excellent learning experience…

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