• Failing your way to success

  • April 27, 2020

  • Yesterday I talked about the four stages of learning, how failure is an integral part of education and its inevitability. I think this is such an important topic; I’m going to talk about it again today. Though, hopefully with a more positive spin on it this time.

    Fail your way through the four stages of learning

    When we are progressing through the four stages of learning, we will fail, and at the beginning, we will fail a lot. Our brain doesn’t have the connections yet to be able to perform a difficult sleight or tricky manoeuvre with our fingers, especially not while simultaneously entertaining our audience with hilarious patter.

    What can be most frustrating though is that as we do make progress, like say the first time we get an effect to work as we practice on our own; our first instinct is to go and show it to someone. The trick may well work, and we even get praised for our skills, but it will have been a stilted performance and most likely not very smooth. That is fine; that is the learning process.

    “Sucking at something is the first step to being sort of good at something.”

    Getting nervous in response to the possibility of failure

    Another thing that might happen is we make a complete disaster of the performance. This is actually more likely when we perform an effect for the first time to a live audience. I have always attributed this to the way the body seems to go haywire while performing. Nervousness takes over every physiological aspect of the body, whether it is: sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, or all of the above. Suddenly performing in these conditions means, it is nothing like it was when you were practising alone.

    Interestingly enough, though, I learnt recently that your bodies physiological response when you are nervous, is precisely the same as when you are excited, it is just your mentality that is different. The thing is, our mindset is so different, because of how we evolved as a species. “Nerves” appear when we are putting our social standing on the line, like when we step into the shoes of the magician to perform some magic. Our brain starts to panic and thinks about how we will be ostracised from the group, becoming an outcast and shunned by society.

    The thing is, I can tell you from firsthand experience, you needn’t worry, though you won’t believe me until you experience it for yourself, but even if you make a mistake and create a colossal failure, you will not be kicked out of society. Some people might laugh at you, sure, but it really isn’t the end of the world that our brain made it seem it would be.

    Why your brain tries to sabotage you

    Why the brain does this is because of how we evolved as a species when we were all living in small tribal communities. If we were to be ostracised from the group, we would have to face the world alone and most likely end up dead. So our brain tries to protect us by sending all of those warning signals to the rest of the body, dumping adrenaline into our system, so we are ready.

    The only way to make this process easier is to keep performing, to keep learning, to keep overcoming every bit of our brain telling us to run away from the situation and carry on regardless. Every time we overcome our brain’s objections, it gets a little bit easier.

    You will still feel nervous before and during a performance, but you will begin to see it as the body’s way of preparing for something important. With a bit of practice focusing on mindset, you can teach your body to treat the nervousness as excitement, and before you know, you’ll be desperate to get in front of any audience you can.


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