Going green for pigs in Goat year

It was my bad luck that a friend told me what colours I had to wear on Chinese New Year to bring me good luck.

Apparently, wearing the universal colour red for luck was for amateurs.

My colour is green this year since I was born in the Year of the Pig. Not wearing the hue would leave me "drained of energy" for the rest of the year, my bearer of unsolicited advice chirped.

Green was apparently also the lucky colour for my husband, a rabbit, and my daughter, a horse.

"Wah, all three also green. That is a sign, you better follow," the "feng shui expert" urged, not knowing the damage he had caused.

I poo-poohed his silly suggestion.

But the infuriating thing was that once the thought was planted in my head, I found it nearly impossible to dispel. I hadn't even articulated what the consequences of not wearing green would be, but it seemed to be messing with the equilibrium of the very universe.

Last weekend, I caved in and bought green clothes: a plaid light-green dress for my daughter, a lime-green polo T-shirt for my husband and an olive green dress for myself.

My husband was particularly annoyed at the lime-green and the fact that he wouldn't be able to wear the same red shirt from last year. The Canadian, who happily walks under ladders repeatedly, also now thinks I'm a complete weirdo.

I explained it away by saying it was a Chinese tradition. Green was also my favourite colour. But truth be told, I was a little bit alarmed at my own actions.

I've never been a superstitious person. I don't believe that anything that happens is because of some grand design. I don't have paraskevidekatriaphobia, or fear of Friday the 13th.

Getting a clock as a gift does not fill me with aversion and I don't get too worked up over shattering a mirror - except for the fact that it's a pain to clean up.

So why was I dressing my family in different shades of broccoli this Chinese New Year? The answer, according to research, is because it works - in a way.

The superstitious may tell me that wearing green will help to ward off the malicious stars lurking around, but psychological research has a less mystical explanation.

Not wearing green would make the thought of having bad luck jump to mind and, once there, that thought would make me worry. This might lead to me making mistakes, think more negatively. (Knock on wood.)

In a psychological science paper titled Keep Your Fingers Crossed! How Superstition Improves Performance, researchers argue that superstitions not only give people a sense of control in chaotic situations, they can also actually improve performance.

In one trial, bringing their favourite lucky tokens into a memory test significantly improved participants' recall, since it seemed to increase their self- confidence.

This could be why such routines are routine in sport.

While leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championship wins in the 1990s, Michael Jordon never played a single game without wearing his University of North Carolina shorts underneath his game shorts.

Swedish tennis legend Bjorn Borg would always prepare for Wimbledon by growing a beard; Serena Williams bounces the ball five times on her first serve and twice before her second; and baseball legend Wade Boggs eats chicken before each game.

These superstitious actions don't actually bring "luck". But they do prime one's thoughts (much like how smelling durian makes you think about how it tastes) and this gets you ready for what happens next, so you are better prepared for it.

It isn't the universe conspiring to aid you because you unlocked some mystery to the galaxy.

I know, for one thing, that I won't win an NBA championship no matter how many of Michael Jordan's shorts I wear.

I understand perfectly.

But why mess with the good mojo? I'm not. Bring it on, Year of the Goat! (I hope I didn't just jinx it).

limjess@sph.com.sg