I've always had feelings like these before. I've seen sad movies when I was younger, but the thing that got me the most was the kid (who lost their parents) said, "The last thing I ever said to them was I hate you! " Ever since, I would ALWAYS say "I love you" to my parents when they would leave my sight. Whether we went to our work/school or even if I would go upstairs to play games, I would say "I love you." One day, I didn't say it. My dad was leaving to work and I didn't get a chance to say it. I was worried that THIS was the moment where he dies.

With that little backstory, I hope it conveys the feeling I'm trying to describe. I always say "I love you" just in case they would die, the last thing they heard was those words. I have a feeling that once I stop saying it, they will die.

Is there a single word to describe this feeling? This phenomenon?

Another way to look at it in a less morbid setting: You're looking for your headphones. You can't find them. You stop looking. They show up.

Or another example: I have my hand on the tooth under my pillow. I wait for the Tooth Fairy. I stay awake, and she doesn't come. Once I fall asleep, she arrives.

The minute you STOP doing something, that's when the [something] gets answered. Make sense? Is there a word for this?

  • It does make sense. I know what you're trying to say... I forgot the expression for this.... Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 4:50
  • 2
    I'm not sure that the Tooth Fairy example fits with the others, because waiting till you're asleep is part of her job.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 5:08
  • A watched pot never boils. Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 6:03
  • Isn't this a question about psychology rather than language? Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 8:40
  • (At least the first one) Sounds like a superstition to me.
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 16:17

3 Answers 3



A superstitious behavior can include rituals you engage in to produce a specific outcome.

We learn superstitious behaviors through a simple reinforcement process. The basic principle behind reinforcement is that when a certain action appears to lead to a desired consequence, we repeat it.

Most behavior we learn through reinforcement involves a reasonably straightforward process linking cause and effect. This is the basis for operant or instrumental conditioning. With superstitious behavior, we perform an extraneous action that happens to accompany the behavior that's truly being reinforced. Now that extraneous action—the superstitious behavior—itself becomes reinforced.


To my mind, this just boils down to Murphy's Law, the belief that bad things happen whenever they can.
This also ties in to one's beliefs of fate, karma and superstition. But from the viewpoint of an objective observer, the theme is coincidence; or perhaps misfortune and bad luck. In adding the poetic backstory, we have a sense of dramatic irony


I agree that this belongs more in psychology but if you want a single word then it might be Focus, or hyper-focus. I cannot think of a version of this that does not come from a story or story idea like your tooth-fairy.

We mostly think with pictures and that is what you likely have playing in your head as you search for the headphones. The source of that picture has long passed away and you will never match it with what you currently see. Never matching means never finding. Once the struggle is over the brain relaxes and can finally see what has always been there and what do you know, there it is.

This also can be seen in problem solving when we describe the problem for another. Then we turn off part of our brain that is so focused as we set up the problem for those who are not as obsessed as we are. Then we describe with words what has only been a picture. It may be part of the Left-Right brain mechanism but locking into one mode of thought can make for an interesting form of blindness.

Another such word for this is guilt. One must avoid at all costs the guilt that goes with not preparing for the worst. This includes letting our guard down which means we are are selfish and only thinking of ourselves. In other words we are guilty of being imperfect and human. Depending on the story it is unforgivable. Many lives are spent in endless preparation for what happened long ago.

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