According to Merriam-Webster, superstition is "a belief or practice resulting from ... a false conception of causation," and I think prayer fits that description perfectly. Knowing this, praying as an atheist was a strange, yet enlightening, experience. It wasn't that I still secretly believed in a god, but rather that habitual praying had become so ingrained into my lifestyle that I would catch myself making little prayers as if to “knock on wood”. These prayers would often be about someone’s safety, and didn't involve kneeling or bringing my hands together in any formal fashion. It took me three or four months to finally break the habit, but in the process, I learned something valuable – that for some people, prayer may be more of a compulsive habit than a religious activity.
What I also find fascinating about prayer is how it is completely testable. As far back as 1872 Francis Galton showed that prayers don’t have any physical effects, but somehow millions of people believe that they’re helping others by clasping their hands together and thinking to themselves. When I left Christianity, this was one of the things that upset me most – the sheer amount of time that I had literally wasted through prayer trying to achieve some realizable result.
I think my experience shows how habit and superstition can override logic and contribute to religion’s hold on people. I also think it shows how we shouldn't belittle religious people for praying or performing other ritualistic activities, because although they seem ridiculous from an outside perspective, to the practitioner they may simply be habitual. Instead of ridiculing them, we should simply be content point out that experimentation has shown prayer to be ineffective, and that it may be more of a habit than people realize.