In part 1 of this article, we looked at the meaning of synchronicity through the eyes of four different people with different (yet often overlapping!) perspectives. This time, we dig a little deeper. Can synchronicity awareness improve our life?
There are times when life around us seems to want our attention. Out of the blue, we notice something and it seems to be related to something that's been on our mind. We might catch a sentence of some chatty cyclists passing by, or a particular song comes to us on the radio. Maybe a butterfly lands nearby just as we are thinking about a friend who has just passed away. Or, we notice some particular words on a billboard from our train window. It's as though life is arranging itself for us. And sometimes, such perceived messages might even come to us in a row.
This phenomenon might be so apt, we might wonder whether there could be more going on than just a coincidence. When it comes to synchronicity and coincidence, people often like to quote Einstein, who is supposed to have said that coincidence is God’s way of being anonymous. But the notion of synchronicity is attributed to the Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung, and considered to have deep roots in early psychological theory. Since then a lot has happened, and today people are not only able to recognise it when it happens, it is said they are using this phenomenon to let it improve their lives.
“Since Jung introduced the concept of synchronicity, the notion has gained unique endurance and cultural impact, mainly among clinicians,” said Dr. Pninit Russo-Netzer, a Senior Lecturer and Researcher who has published scholarly journal articles, books and chapters in the fields of positive and existential psychology, well-being, wholeness, and meaning in life. “Several scholars have used case studies to show that synchronicity awareness has unique benefits in clinical and therapeutic settings for individuals' personal transformation and growth," she further explained.
Dr. Russo-Netzer is the head of the Education Department at Achva Academic College, the founder of the Academic Training Programme for Logotherapy (meaning-oriented psychotherapy) at Tel-Aviv University, Israel, and the head of the ‘Compass’ Institute for the Study and Application of Meaning in life.
She has conducted research with Dr. Tamar Icekson from Peres Academic Center, and Ben-Gurion University, Israel, and found, based on a “two-factor Synchronicity Awareness and Meaning-Detecting (SAMD) Scale,” that synchronicity awareness and meaning-detecting are positively associated with openness to experience and tolerance for ambiguity.
They also discovered that individuals who search for meaning and are open to synchronicity events, and manage to make sense of them, may experience more meaning and optimism. This may eventually contribute to greater life satisfaction. She said: “The results of our own research imply potential applied pathways for the development of therapeutic, organisational, and educational practical interventions to enhance well-being."
According to Dr. Russo-Netzer, our ability to recognise synchronicity and make sense of it, is a type of mindset that can be used to support individuals in coping with the challenges of a changing world "where uncertainty and complexity appear to be a significant part of our day-to-day reality.”
She further explained: "Experiences of unpredictable happenings may temporarily shake and challenge individuals' sense of certainty and control in life, but when they are capable of making sense of such happenings, it may open up opportunities for greater sense of meaning in life."
“A different line of thought, coming from career counselling theories," she went on to explain, "also indicates that coincidental events can be seen as turning points in one’s career path. More specifically, the Planned Happenstance theory [Ed: relying on unplanned opportunities rather than strategising for career planning] suggests that individuals who remain sensitive and receptive to unexpected events in their surroundings can benefit by turning accidental cues into meaningful career opportunities.”
Lumi Pelinku, whose spiritual expertise on the topic is often drawn upon in the press, also finds that embracing synchronicity can be useful when we have to make general (difficult) decisions in life. As an Intuitive Astrologer, Energy Healer, and Transformation Coach, Pelinku believes there is power in the sign presented to us, and that it comes to us when we need it. To Pelinku, spiritual synchronicities tend to show up more when we are experiencing what she calls a 'soul-awareness state,' such as when we’re questioning a decision, a relationship, or a career choice.
The spiritual aspect of synchronicity is also particularly useful in areas of psychology, since, as Pelinku explained, this is a somewhat intuitive modality, and a practitioner of it 'has the ability to observe their patients and their ways of coping with their subconscious patterning.' So, she outlined: "There have been incredible breakthroughs in this industry as psychologists are now taking a more non-traditional route of treatment by integrating spiritual assistance."
“Such a mindset may support individuals in coping with the challenges of our changing world"
Being future minded
But, whether we believe in the spiritual aspect of synchronicity or not, being able to see patterns in coincidences can also be seen as a useful tool to humans, explained Prof. Magda Osman, a Professor in Basic and Applied Decision-Making.
Prof. Osman is the Head of Research and Analysis at the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge in the UK, and together with Dr. Mark K. Johansen, a senior lecturer at the school of psychology at Cardiff University, she has explored the science behind the relationship of coincidences and the human mind.
What they found is that although coincidences might seem surprising, they are explainable; and that we are able to recognise them because of a fundamental consequence of rational cognition. But they also discovered something else: That our capacity to recognise coincidences and see patterns at all is a useful tool for humans to have, and gives us a level of control in our lives.
Prof. Osman calls this latter approach ‘being future minded,' and she said: "This essentially says that our cognitive apparatus – or the nuts and bolts of the machinery that helps us do mental things (e.g. remember, decide, problem solve, perceive, form judgments etc…) – is a pattern-detecting system. It is designed to learn to spot things that occur in combination.” This approach is beneficial because these 'mechanisms we use on a daily basis' are there to 'help us predict, plan for and attempt to control the future,' as is described in her book on the topic.
Tricksters and dark sides
But, as with everything in life, there are also some potential drawbacks to synchronicity or coincidence happening to us. This is something Allan Combs, co-author of Synchronicity: Through the Eyes of Science, Myth and the Trickster, can attest to. It's for example life's fickle nature that can make it hard to read any perceived signs, he pointed out. "The damned thing about living in this world is, you never know what's going to happen next," he said, and added: "Sometimes life seems to abound with slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. What's worse is that you can't always tell what actually bad news is, and what is good.”
Thus Combs, who is a Consciousness Researcher; a Neuropsychologist and Systems Theorist; as well as the Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies, has found that whilst the meaning of the signs that come to us might be useful, they may not always be clear to us, there can be a level of ambiguity or unpredictability.
“In ancient Greece,” he said to illustrate this: “coincidences were attributed to the god Hermes, better known as Hermes the Trickster. He was said to be the friendless God to men, because of the many synchronistic gifts he carried to the human world. But, you can never trust a trickster, nor can you predict the outcome of his gifts. And so, coincidence is really a trickster."
"For example," he continued, using an example from his own life: "a young man I knew was debating between two ladies whom he found attractive. They were named Jane and Julie. Driving in heavy L.A. traffic, this young man noticed the license plate on the car in front of him read, ‘JANE4YOU.’ He took this to be a message from the universe, and broke up with Julie. A foolish move on his part, because his subsequent relationship with Jane did not work out well at all!"
Then there are times we can also fall prey to a range of bad coincidences that we can’t seem to make head or tail of, or stop in any way. Or, as Combs explained: "This is what I call ‘perverse synchronicity’ or ‘one damn thing after another.’ Sometimes the outcomes are challenging. Other times, if you stick with the situation and ride it out, the problem will find its own solution," to which he added: "But... that is another story."
According to Dr. Russo-Netzer there can also be a dark side to synchronicity: “It may be possible that over-interpretation, or excessive rumination over unexpected events may trigger a distorted sense of meaning,” she said. This way of thinking, she explained, may “lead to undesirable experiences or psychopathology processes.”
During her research, Dr. Russo-Netzer has in fact noticed some possible correlation with depression. For example, we might read too much into things, or become too focussed on signs, she said, which “may lead to psychopathology processes such as paranoia or magical thinking,” adding that: “more research is needed to further understand the uniqueness of this phenomenon.”
“It may be possible that over-interpretation or excessive rumination over unexpected events may trigger a distorted sense of meaning”
Can we facilitate things?
Recognising synchronicity or coincidence might be helpful in our lives. But, does that mean we can control or facilitate any of it?
According to Combs, yes; we can influence things. But, only when it comes to the bigger picture, in a more general way, and not in the details. To explain this, he said: “Looking at life's big picture we often see a pattern. It is as if the universe itself has carried us along a predestined path toward our present life, with its successes, emotional relationships and challenges. Scientist John Lilly named this process the Cosmic Coincidence Control Centre (CCCC), and it seems there are ways to influence it."
"Or perhaps," Combs continued: "there are ways we can align with it. It’s as if the world has an outer aspect, and an inner aspect. We spend most of our time living in the outer aspect, but during certain states of consciousness, such as sleep, deep meditation, and completive prayer, we dip into the inner world, and find subsequent events in the outer world lining themselves up like metal filings near a magnet."
To give an example, Combs added: "Shamanic work, for instance, has a similar catalysing effect on synchronicity. Indeed, it is sometimes used as an informal marker of successful practice."
Another way to facilitate synchronicity, argues Combs, is to lighten up: "When I was working on my synchronicity book, I often would take a day off and just follow my nose about town. I would visit bookstores, museums, parks, and cafés, enjoying the day. Many small and delightful coincidences would occur on such ventures. I was living in Kansas City in those days, but as a child, in Columbus, Ohio, my grandmother would take me downtown on similar pleasure trips. We would say we were 'going on a spree!' Perhaps this is where I picked up the habit."
Looking at the perspective of whether synchronicity or coincidence can improve our life, to Prof. Osman, being future minded is particularly useful. Because once we are able to spot patterns, we can use that to make predictions, which in turn can help us reduce our uncertainty in the world. “If our predictions are accurate, we can think about whether the patterns have a causal basis to them," she explained. "If they do, we can figure out where we might intervene...and if we can decide to intervene it means we can have control. We can decide what is needed to achieve something of value, or prevent something bad from happening."
This skill is in fact, what we as humans have depended on for our very existence, she added, and said: "The mechanism on which we do everything in our mental and physical world, is learning to find causal structure in reality; and it gets it right more times than wrong, because if it was the other way around, we wouldn't be around."
“Our mechanism to find causal structure in reality: It gets it right more times than wrong, because if it was the other way around, we wouldn't be around"
Practice, practice, practice
For someone like Pelinku, we can most certainly learn to work with the spiritual side of synchronicity. "For example, when we are approaching a dangerous situation, our psychic information can be used in time to help us navigate the way out safely. Learning to trust will guide you,” she said.
She further explained this requires a lot of practice, and that it pays to see it as a learning process: "As souls, we have the ability to be psychic, and we can tap into this ability when we learn how to clear out our thoughts and enter a neutral state energetically," she said. "It is like a muscle that we have to strengthen, and with consistent practice, it can be very accurate." In fact, according to Pelinku, there are many levels of psychic ability, and we all have a unique way of expressing them: “It takes a lot of practice and self-study to recognise the unique messages that come through.”
One way of doing this, she said, is by practising to listen to our intuition, so we don't miss the signs: “There are hidden messages in what we receive, but it is up to us to start paying attention to our own ability to seek out the answers by using our intuition: Intuition holds the link in which we can use to connect with the Divine," she explained.
“Synchronicity has been valuable in my life and it has guided me to explore so many avenues that led to amazing opportunities. Whenever I witness the patterns, I honour what has been sent and contemplate," she said, relating this to her own life, and concluded: "I am so humbled and grateful for the connection that I do have."
“It takes a lot of practice and self-study to recognise the unique messages that come through”
Russo-Netzer, P., & Icekson, T. (2020). Engaging with life: Synchronicity experiences as a pathway to meaning and personal growth. Current Psychology, 1-14
Russo-Netzer, P., & Icekson, T. (2023). An Underexplored Pathway to Life Satisfaction: The Development and Validation of the Synchronicity Awareness and Meaning-Detecting (SAMD) Scale. Frontiers in Psychology
Johansen, M. K., & Osman, M. (2015). Coincidences: A fundamental consequence of rational cognition. New Ideas in Psychology, 39, 34-44
Johansen, M. K., & Osman, M. (2020). Coincidence judgment in causal reasoning: How coincidental is this? Cognitive Psychology, 120, 101290