• Failure isn’t the end, then what is?

  • April 20, 2020

  • Failure is a part of life. A scary part, but is something we can't hide from or ignore. One way or another, we all learn that we must avoid failure and instead succeed at every avenue of our lives. We live in a world where our brain is flooded with information about how everyone we know is succeeding, and we seem to be failing, thank you, social media for that.

    If we fall down eight times, success is getting back up nine times.

    What's strange is that we seem to forget that failure is an integral part of learning. It is the only way we can get closer to what we have created in our minds as what success looks like for us. When we were learning to walk, if we fell over, no one ever turned to us and said, "oh well, you didn't learn to walk, don't bother learning, you may as well just crawl for the rest of your life". No! We were made to stand up and try again. Every time we fell over, we would get back up and try again.

    The four stages of learning

    When we are learning any skill, unknowingly we take part in what is known as the four stages of learning. These can be applied to literally any skill we are trying to learn, but I'm going to use the example of learning a magic effect.

    1) Unconscious Incompetence

    At this stage, the student has no idea that they need to learn the skill in question. This is the stage before you realise you want or need to learn something. It is the point where you don't know your bad at something, you haven't put it in any practice yet, and most of the time we are only in this stage before we start trying to learn.

    2) Conscious Incompetence

    Now that you've decided to learn the magic effect, you will start practising, and you will see firsthand how your fingers don't move how you want to. The cards slip and slide messily, the patter is all over the place, and the magic effect is nowhere near ready. However, because we are actively trying to learn the skill, we are now aware of how incompetent we are at performing the effect. This stage contains a lot of failures, and that is okay! Just keep at it.

    3) Conscious Competence

    After enough practice and failure, we start to move into stage three. Here is where we start being able to perform the effect. Our fingers begin to follow our orders; they know where to go more efficiently; we have more control; our patter and movements start to align. Things are starting to look up. However, we must keep improving because while we can get the effect to work, it isn't second nature yet. We still have to be entirely focused on the effect as we perform it to get it to work. If something were to happen that we aren't expecting, like a heckler, or perhaps some tiny deviation from our preparation, things still won't go entirely right. There is nothing wrong with that because we are now aware that we can do it, but we have to focus on doing it right.

    4) Unconscious Competence

    With a bit more practice and time, and failure, we can move into the final stage of learning. Unconscious competence is where we don't even have to think about how to do the magic, and it happens like second nature. Our hands rely on nothing but muscle memory, the patter comes out of our mouth without having to think, and we can improvise, allowing for a more natural performance. We can finally say that we have learnt the magic effect.


    Moving through these stages can be tough, even knowing that they are there isn't enough to make the journey any more straightforward. In fact, nothing makes the journey any easier, except the will to push through, to persevere. There will be lots of failures as we try to improve our skills, to improve our magic, and that is okay. That is the only way to reach stage four in any area of our lives.

    "Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm."


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