Improve Your Magic by Being More Present

Dedicated magicians should read this.

Improve Your Magic by Being More Present
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“Don’t sleepwalk through life.”

If you saw Derren Brown’s recent stage show, Showman, this quote will resonate with you. He delivers the line a few times throughout the show to address the importance of being present in life.

Derren's phrase came back to me last weekend after I totally sleepwalked my way through my magic show. Long story short: I was performing, and at one point, my muscle memory jammed, and my hands didn't know what to do.

It was my fault; I wasn’t present.

I was performing a trick I had been doing for years. I knew every detail of it, and that was the issue. I was performing to on auto-pilot, not paying attention to my words and actions. 

"Don’t sleepwalk through life.” Think about it. Do you want to exist or live? Do you want to perform your magic or be on autopilot, executing a series of actions?

The Psychology Behind It

My two greatest passions in life are magic and psychology. I perform magic on stages all over the world, and I am studying for a master’s degree in clinical psychology. I aim to bond these two worlds. They have so much in common.

But let's go back to that moment of brain fog. Mid-performance, I suddenly had no idea where I was in the routine. Let’s be honest. Has it ever happened to you too?

I’m talking about not feeling present during a performance. To execute a trick and at some point be like, “Where was I?” From a psychological point of view, this happens because you've entered autopilot mode.

Imagine you’re reading a book, and as you reach the bottom of the page, you realize you’re not aware of what you've just read. You know that feeling, right? You were reading while thinking about something else. (Hopefully, you're not doing that now!).

Learning how to read requires a lot of effort as a child. But the more you practice reading, the more you learn to read, and you make reading automatic.

Once reading becomes an automatic action, it becomes possible to read while thinking about something else. You end up reading without really taking any of it in. Your brain pays attention only when you decide you need to pay attention.

That's what happened to me during that performance. I didn't actively focus on what I was doing.

As magicians, we enter autopilot when we stop thinking about the magic we do. After the hundredth, thousandth, or millionth time performing a trick, it gets pretty easy to perform on autopilot.

Sometimes, we sleepwalk through our magic.

How to REALLY be present while doing magic

By being present, you will not only avoid mistakes during the performance but also enjoy that very moment a lot more. The audience will be more engaged, and your tricks will have a greater impact.

So, how can you really be present while doing magic? Here’s the key: break the auto-pilot, break the pattern. Let’s see how you can do that.

1. Keep working 

Even if a routine or show feels finished, don’t stop there. Keep working on the details and searching for new angles. If your act is never finished, your mind will never settle, and you won't sleepwalk through it.

Talk to other magicians and artists, and ask your friends what they think about your work. Show them a video of your performance. Look at how they react: is that the emotion you thought they would feel? Is that the very moment you want them to feel it? Consider if it is worth making changes or perhaps taking a whole different direction. Repeat this process regularly: it will keep you present.