Brandon Love MagicBrandon Love Magic

By Brandon Love

5 Life Lessons I Learned from a Magic Convention

Two hundred magicians packed into a conference room at a hotel in Vegas. We all sat frozen in anticipation, slightly leaning toward the stage. Another magician, simply dressed in black, walked carefully onto the platform. He said nothing, but gestured to a coin he held in his left hand. He showed his right hand empty. He slowly closed his fists. Then he closed his eyes. A look of concentration settled in his face, but nothing moved. He made no moves. He looked up at the audience and smiled devilishly. He turned over his left hand to show that the coin had vanished. Then he opened his right fist – and there was the coin! There was a long pause, where the air completely thinned, and wonder swirled through the silence. Then the room erupted in applause and hooting and hollering. Audience members sought eye contact with one another to share a moment of impossibility. Many sat stunned for several minutes. All of it, over a coin trick.

Mind you, it was perhaps the best coin trick I’d ever seen before. So simple, and incredibly magical. It was unlike anything many of us had seen before. It’s a wonderful thing to experience new possibilities. Refreshing, really.

This is one of the reasons I love going to conferences in general. I always seem to find some inspiring new ideas to play with.

For some, creating, practicing, and performing magic might seem like child’s play. I assure you it is anything but. Mmm, I take that back. It is a lot like child’s play. But it also demands a dedication to the craft that commands hard work, risk-taking, and collaboration.

Some best guesses suggest that there are about 50000 magicians in the world. Of course there are many more people who know one or two tricks, but about 50000 who study and create, practice and perform magic.

Last month I had the chance to hang out with 1500 of them at a magic convention in Las Vegas.

It’s been said we should surround ourselves with those we most aspire to be like. And being at a conference of magicians filled me to the brim with aspiration.

I saw impeccable magic (see above), shared a lot of laughs, but most importantly I met some amazing people who reminded me of some valuable life lessons. Perhaps you’ll find some value in them too.

5 Life Lessons I Learned from a Magic Convention

  1. There Are More Possibilities Than I Can EVER See

Hanging out at a magic convention is eye-opening! Imagine hallways full of imaginatively decorated characters performing tricks with cards and coins and crayons and swords and everything in between. And just when you think you’ve seen every coin trick there is to see, a dark-clad magician shows you something you’ve never seen before and totally melts your mind.

Conferences have the inherent ability to show us new ideas and perspectives. Put a lot of people together in the same space and their differences spark curiosity in one another. While I sometimes feel a bit of dread at the thought of going to a conference, I’m usually so grateful for the new possibilities I quickly find myself surrounded by.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel like we’ve seen it all. To feel like we’ve got things figured out. Hanging out at the magic convention reminded me that possibilities are endless. What a refreshing idea!

 

  1. Success Comes to Those Who Work

Magic conferences create a wonderful chance to mingle with some of the most successful performers in the world. I’ve studied the work of many magicians, but it wasn’t until I actually got to meet some of them that I began to understand the REAL work involved in magic. Just as an example, I chatted with a world champion who spends 10-hours (!) a day (every day!) working on his act. And it shows in the quality of the act, which he performs flawlessly for audiences around the world. The act itself is only 10 minutes long, and it perfectly disguises the thousands of hours of practice that created it.

I met so many people who shared their creative processes, their practice regimen, or their travel demands with me. And very quickly I was reminded of the core of success: Dedication.

My most successful work tends to follow times I convinced myself to work a little longer, to push a little further.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but to be excellent at anything, one must be committed to the constant striving. The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement, and when we lean into that space we can grow our own success. I try to think about this whenever I am misdirected from what’s important.

 

  1. Kindness Holds Us Together

It is deeply satisfying to feel included, and I’ve never felt more included than I did in Las Vegas. I was greeted and welcomed and introduced by so many strangers-turned-friends.

And I have to admit, I’m always a bit nervous when I hang out with groups of magicians. There’s a nagging desire to compare myself to others, and then I often have this fear that people are judging me negatively all the time.

But almost immediately after walking into the hotel I bumped into some conference attendees who shook my hand and asked my name.

It makes sense that a cornerstone of the magic community is kindness – after all, we’re in the business of preserving secrets – the community depends on serious trust! We’ve all had kind people share secrets with us, and there’s a great sense of gratitude that encourages us to pay it forward. This secret-sharing necessitates a tight-knit community, which makes a magic convention a buzzing, friendly place.

I was reminded that kindness is the only way we gain access to different perspectives and for this reason  I believe it is the glue that will keep us together in the long haul.

 

  1. Mentorship Matters

A lot of the fun of a magic convention happens in the space between the workshops and speakers. Most attendees are willing to showcase their work and share feedback with each other.

I took it upon myself to share a particularly difficult trick that I’ve been trying to learn. I’d first learned it from a book, then I watched videos on it. In total I invested dozens of hours without seeming to make any progress.

A group of three magicians sat down at the table with me to examine my technique. They showed me their versions of the move and offered me helpful ideas to develop my own. I practiced that night in my room, and after just one hour I had nailed it. Not perfectly, of course, but enough to recognize the value of having a coach.

Magic is an art of mentorship. Many things are. Working with a mentor makes learning and progress faster. It also helps to build accountability. Mentors and coaches help us see things that we can’t, and help us get out of our own way.

Many people have experience in the kind of success you’re looking for. Find a way to spend time with them, then listen deeply.

 

  1. A Clear Why Creates Powerful Magic

There are two types of magicians: those who are clear on their reason for performing magic, and those who aren’t. Those who ARE tend to radiate purpose and come across authentically. Those who AREN’T are sometimes cheesy, and usually difficult for an audience to connect with.

I don’t mean to be judgmental (I certainly didn’t know why I was performing magic for most of the years I performed it… even now I play with the question a lot). But it’s something I noticed at this year’s convention. A lot of the most valuable work in magic involves introspection and careful thought.

I connected with a fellow attendee as we filed out of a lecture. I was all excited by the trick we learned.

“That was pretty incredible, huh? I would love to add that to my show.”

“Yeah, it was great. Wouldn’t work for me though.”

I was caught off-guard a bit by his nonchalance. The trick we learned was both incredibly amazing and deceptively easy to do. It even had some built-in moments of comedy. By many standards, this was a perfect trick.

But my new friend didn’t want it. He appreciated the effect in the hands of others. But as he explained to me, this trick wouldn’t fit his story. While it’s almost perfect, in his show it would be inauthentic.

My new friend had been performing magic for nearly a decade it turns out, and when he began he wanted to include EVERYTHING in his act. As he described it to me, his show lacked any sense of purpose, and people didn’t really take him seriously. It wasn’t until he decided WHY he wanted to perform magic for others that he pieced together a show that he, and his audiences, loved.

Chatting with my new pal at the convention reminded me just how important it is to get clear on the reasons we do things. When we understand our WHY, it’s easier to navigate the HOW – not just in magic, of course, but with everything we do.

 

There you have it. My five lessons learned from a magic convention. I came back feeling refreshed and refueled, that’s for sure!

I often speak at conferences and there’s something special about events that bring together many people, uniting them with a shared interest. They can be a source of inspiration, and memories. And they offer a great platform to challenge, and change our thinking.

Until next time, surround yourself with people you admire and spend more time listening than talking. I bet you’ll be inspired by what you learn.

By Brandon Love

6 Practices That Bring Me Joy

“We are what we repeatedly do.” – Aristotle

I was recently approached by a student after one of my workshops: “How do you manage to stay so happy all the time?”

To be honest I was caught off-guard by the question. If someone asked me to describe myself using five adjectives, I probably wouldn’t even consider the word “happy”. It was a bit of a shock to hear someone else describe me that way. But I guess, from the outside, I do seem pretty optimistic about things.

In fact, I’ve been meditating on the question for more than a month now, reflecting on the current state of my happiness. It’s true that I generally feel very positively about my life. I have had more than my fair share of rewarding opportunities, and learned from legions of wise and insightful people. I have a lot for which to be grateful.

But it’s worth noting that where I am now is a long way from where I found myself for so many years. My mental health has not followed a straight-forward trajectory, despite how it might seem these days.

The truth is that many of my younger days were tormented. After graduating high school I experienced some of the lowest lows I’ve ever known. I grew withdrawn, avoided hanging out with my friends, and eventually stopped attending classes. Things got so bleak that I even planned and took steps toward ending my life on more than one occasion. They are dark days that still give me the chills to think about.

I realize now that most of the struggle came from the need to create some sense of meaning for my life. The quest to find purpose has been a hell of a journey, and there were many moments where it seemed an impossible, desperate, and worthless task.

It is not useful to think of happiness a final product. It is not a destination that we’re perpetually chasing. It is not something that is achieved, but something that is practiced.

But I’m happy to say that things aren’t like that anymore, and they haven’t been for a while. Gradually I managed (and continue) to make my way through the complexity of it all. I read books, I watched films, I asked lots of questions. I starting putting pieces together, making the best sense of this space as I can.

I also know that I’m not alone in this. Many of my friends, family members, colleagues and clients have had their share of mental demons to slay. All of us are on a mission to create meaning in our lives, and that process is inevitably painful.

But perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned along the way is that happiness IS a process. It is not useful to think of happiness a final product. It is not a destination that we’re perpetually chasing. It is not something that is achieved, but something that is practiced. And I’ve got to say I’m so glad I didn’t give up on the process too soon. I would have missed so much.

To respond to that student I would say that there has been no ONE secret to my present joie de vivre. Rather, it has been a constant study of my self, relationships, and habits. I’ve found keys to happiness in yoga, philosophy, magic, exercise, diet and sleep. Through adventure and discovery, creativity and productivity, and through kindness and compassion.

It would be hard to say exactly how the pieces fit together, but I have attempted to compile a collection of practices that have most contributed to my present wellbeing.

6 Practices That Bring Me Joy

Presence

The practice of being in the here and now.

This practice is at the top of my list because it has single-handedly been the biggest difference-maker in my mental health. It’s quite easy for my mind to start burrowing its way into distant memories or future expectations. The practice of coming back to the moment, of being aware, has helped me develop an appreciation for the journey. I used to think happiness came after I had achieved a certain degree of wealth, or status, and would sometimes feel anxiety or worry about not having those things right now. But I have come to realize that there’s joy and contentment in every moment, if you’re willing to seek it out. Being present has improved my patience and my capacity for forgiveness.  Perhaps most importantly, it has helped me learn what I can, and cannot, control.

There are lots of great ways to practice presence in your life. Yoga and meditation are great tools. Going for a walk. Perhaps simplest is to pause where you are, and pay attention to the feeling of your breath, moving in and out of your lungs. Try not to change it, or judge it. Rather, see if you can just be with it, through the inhale and the exhale and the spaces in between. The more you can stay with your breath, the more present you are practicing.

Gratitude

The practice of optimism.

I used to complain a lot. Complaining is so easy to the critically-minded. It’s very easy to find ways that something isn’t perfect. In fact, as a teenager I spent a lot of time pointing out flaws with the world, and with other people, and of course with myself. Sometimes my friends and I had full conversations where all we did was complain. Unfortunately all of this complaining eventually filled me with resentment and a sense of perpetual dissatisfaction. Read: complaining about the world made me unhappy.

I don’t remember how I was first introduced to the practice of gratitude, but it has been a major game-changer in determining how I look at the world. Closely tied with my practice of presence, taking a few moments to acknowledge what IS instead of what IS NOT has helped me find contentment. Practicing gratitude has helped me realize that my life is full of meaning, if only I can remember to look for it.

Service

The practice of caring.

Most of my mental health challenges have revolved around trying to find a sense of purpose. By finding ways to help others, I found a way to create an immediate answer to that burdensome quest. It may not answer the question about the Greater Purpose of my life (or does it?) but it does help me temporarily quench the burning question of my existence. Regularly serving others is helping me stay the course.

Something I sometimes like to try is a saying “yes” day – I follow the rule “if someone asks me for help, and I can help them, then I will.” I’ve met and made some really great friends by practicing “yes” days.

Growth

The practice of learning from everything.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate just how powerful our thoughts really are. The judgments we make determine our limitations and our opportunities. Those who say they “can’t” never will. Those who say they’re “smart” may always be afraid to fail.

Many of us develop a sense of certainty about things. Certainty creates a sense of comfort, but unfortunately it isn’t always helpful. In fact, I’m only really confident that things are far more complex than it first they seem to be. For this reason, I’ve developed an attitude of curiosity towards most things, even those things that frustrate or anger me. Every experience, no matter how negative, is transformed by my mindset into an opportunity to learn. A teacher once encouraged me to change my “F” word: whenever I feel “frustrated” I try to reframe the situation as something that’s “fascinating”.

By developing a growth mindset the learning in my life is ceaseless. When it comes to creating a sense of purpose, learning something new is one of the most powerful ways to do it. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Or at least you’re probably not very happy.

Self-Respect

The practice of setting high expectations.

It’s really easy to play victim of circumstance. In fact I would say that the lowest times in my life were those where I felt I had no control, where I felt like the world was happening TO me.

During my years studying in the dojo I learned that self-respect is about having realistically high expectations for yourself, and holding yourself to those expectations as often as possible.

As I’ve gotten older, I realize more and more that this isn’t so much about outcomes, as it is about actions. My expectations of myself have become defined by the actions I take, not by the results I’m able to produce. When I focus on results I usually miss the mark. But when I focus on taking action, and practice discipline of those actions, I find the results usually follow.

When we take action, we create motivation. Doing things gives us a sense of purpose. Developing expectations and holding myself to daily actions is great for my self-esteem, and ultimately, a sense of happiness.

Self-forgiveness

The practice of being kind when expectations aren’t met.

It’s the most challenging of my practices. The truth is that we’re meaner to ourselves than we would ever even think of being to others.

But we must be kind to ourselves. After all, mistakes, failures, and distractions are inevitable. It’s easy to create high expectations and then miss them all together. I used to be really hard on myself when I failed to reach a goal. So much so that at various points in my life I felt like I couldn’t do anything at all. My inability to forgive myself my mistakes and errors and failures led to feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing. Our thoughts create our realities, don’t they?

A friend of mine suggested that we’d all do a lot better if we could learn to talk to ourselves like we do with our best friends. What a powerful idea! I began treating myself with kindness, nurturing my ego through errors and failures, detaching from the products and enjoying the process. Being able to forgive myself has been a powerful source of my happiness.

The path to understanding is lined with wonders and disappointments. It’s full of joy, and deep sadness. It is a rich experience, both challenging and rewarding. And the only way out is through. It is our job to ride the waves, doing the best we can with what we’ve got, and being kind to ourselves when we’re not our best, so that we can get back to being our best sooner.

We are what we repeatedly do, so choose wisely, my friends.

What are your best happiness practices?

By Brandon Love

Creating the Life You Want to Live

Joel and I launched the final illustrated edition of Brainsprouting last night! Oh, what a feeling.

If you’re not already familiar, Brainsprouting is a book about creativity. Specifically, it’s a guide for becoming fearlessly creative, and learning to help others do the same. The book outlines our approach to designing solutions and facilitating idea-friendly spaces. It’s been read and reviewed by students, teachers, entrepreneurs and executives. And we’re really quite proud of the work.

To honour the launch of this long-coming project, here’s an excerpt from the conclusion. If you’re interested, you can order copies of the book here: www.brainsproutingbook.com

Creativity and Agency

There were a number of years when Joel’s mother, Mom, was unhappy. The family had just moved to a new city, and she was having a hard time meeting new friends.

It’s hard to say which happened first, a shift in mindset or a small action, but after nearly two years of relative loneliness, Mom decided to join a quilt guild.

Things started to change in big ways. Mom started volunteering. Eventually she got a part-time job. Since then, she’s learned to juggle and tap dance and do tai chi and she even teaches line dancing – all sorts of creative stuff. Now, Mom makes friends easily, but that’s not really the point.

As it so happens, there were also many years when Brandon’s mother, Mom, felt unhappy. Things weren’t terrible, but she seemed to want something more. She just didn’t know where to find it.

Then one morning, Mom saw a newspaper article advertising a naturopathic nutrition course, and it occurred to her that she might enjoy it. She’d always liked food, after all, so she took a chance and signed up.

She learned a lot, and her interest grew. In fact, Mom liked it enough to start a business helping other people improve their health. It wasn’t successful immediately, but she kept learning, kept trying, and over time, she found creative ways to make it work. Mom’s business is now going very well, which is a happy ending, but it’s still not the point we’re trying to make.

So what is the point? The point is that both Moms realized they had control of their own lives; they found agency. In both cases, a small creative step triggered a cycle of empowerment. Somewhere along the line, they started to take ownership over their own happiness, and that has made the difference.

Creating the Life You Want To Live

Perhaps the biggest role creativity has to play is its capacity to create a sense of agency in those who practice it. When we create, we experience firsthand the power of our own ideas. We experience the transition from idea conception to mature thought, and then, with enough work, the transition from thought to action. We can see the impact of our efforts on the world, and we can know that our choices to act made a difference. This is agency.

People won’t even attempt to change anything until they feel they have the ability to do it. Whether we’re thinking about changing the world or changing our lives, creativity helps us believe that we can.

Of course, a sense of agency isn’t the only thing that’s needed to make change. Change requires taking a risk in the face of uncertainty. Creativity builds fearlessness. Change requires mindfulness. Creativity helps us pay attention to our thoughts. Change requires motivation. Creativity helps us tap into our natural desires of curiosity, self-improvement, and contribution.

While creativity happens unintentionally all the time, we can choose to do it more often. We can become consciously creative.

When we create in any aspect of our lives, our empowered thinking will spill over into every aspect of our lives. For Joel’s mom, creating quilts led to deep friendships. For Brandon’s mom, creating healthy food sparked a passion for new pursuits. For us, the journey of creating this book has literally changed the way we live. Our methods with clients and students have been transformed. Our professional results have shattered expectations. Our personal relationships have reached new heights. Creativity has given us many reasons to be grateful, and our sense of gratitude deepens as the journey continues.

The outcomes of a brainsprouting session are seldom predictable, but are reliably rewarding. We can only guess at where your path will lead, but practice creativity, and a world of possibility awaits. Make the choice to be fearlessly creative, and you will create the life you want to live.

 

By Brandon Love

The Muscles I Never Had

After performing at a private party last week, one of the guests approached me to chat. He was curious about the study of magic. In particular, he was interested in the practice of it.

“You must spend hours with a deck of card in your hands,” he said, looking at me as one might look at a fascinating lizard at the zoo. “How many hours would it take to master a trick?”

“To be frank, some tricks are so deceptive because they are so simple, while I’ve invested thousands of hours into some pieces that I still don’t perform.”

He nodded, “so you have exercises that you do? Like, for your hands? Like bodybuilding, but for hand dexterity?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

I’m just like a bodybuilder, but I focus on the development of little teeny tiny muscles in my hands.

Then he said the third most popular thing I hear as a performer of magic: “I could never do that. I don’t have the hand muscles.” He joked, “you probably have more muscles in your hands than in the rest of your body.”

Okay pal, we get it.

I chatted with the guy for a few minutes before he was whisked off to the rest of the party. But our conversation has been ruminating in my mind all week.

It’s natural to assume that there are things we cannot do, especially if they don’t come easily to us.

For many years of my life, if I found something even the slightest bit difficult I ran away from it. I avoided the discomfort of the challenge, and stuck with what was comfortable.

if I found something even the slightest bit difficult I ran away from it

I did this with my magic for many years too.

The thing about magic, and perhaps about most things, is that to get to the really good stuff, you have to jump right into the awkward, difficult, challenging stuff first.

This past summer I decided I was going to improve my sleight-of-hand game.

One of my coaches showed me a mind-blowing trick with a deck of cards more than a couple years ago. I remember when he first shared the technical method with me. I said to myself “that’s wayyyy too hard. I’ll never be able to do that.”

So I avoided it. Until last summer.

I decided I would learn how to perform this piece of magic. Every day I devoted two hours to learning, practicing, and refining the techniques involved. It was boring, frustrating, and my self-confidence plummeted. After the first week of effort I remembered why I stuck to the easy stuff. I started to wonder if it was really possible that there were some things I would never be able to do.

But things started to change after the first week.

All of a sudden I was hitting one of the techniques right on the button! I still had six more techniques to learn, but at least I was able to do one of them.

It seems I developed a muscle I didn’t even know I had.

With this boost to my ego I put my trust in the process. The daily practice became easier as I started to see results quicker, and instead of dreading the work I started to enjoy it.

I put my trust in the process

The more I think about it the clearer it is that everything is like this.

Which leads me to believe that anybody can do anything. The childhood adage bears truth!

We all already have the muscles we need to accomplish our goals. It might be the case that we’ve never used the muscles, and so it feels like they’re not even there. But with exercise and nourishment, we can help to develop the muscles we need to achieve the impossible.

Here are my three biggest takeaways from my meditations with cards this past summer. Perhaps you’ll find something helpful in your own pursuits.

  1. Motivation follows action – I definitely didn’t feel motivated to put in the hours at the beginning. Especially when I wasn’t seeing any measurable improvement. I also wasn’t motivated to write a book in the beginning. Or to get my health in order. But as my friend and mentor Joel wisely says, motivation follows action. Lots of times we wait for the right motivation to do something. But we need to just do the something, and we’ll feel more motivated to continue.
  2. Having a partner, mentor, or coach makes a difference – This summer I was on the road and away from my magic friends and coaches. Thus my practice hours were long and lonely. But worse than that, I didn’t have anyone to give me feedback on my practice, I didn’t have anyone to help me see my blind spots. Coaches help the learning go quicker, and their encouragement does not go unnoticed.
  3. We have muscles we don’t know about – The key to doing anything is to recognize and trust in the process required to do it. We all have the “muscles” to do anything already, we just need to develop them. Whether sleight of hand muscles, or risk-taking muscles, or compassion muscles, we all have abilities we don’t even know about. We all have untapped potential.

The word “can’t” is one of the greatest excuses we tell ourselves. But I’m here to say you can. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding.

And when the going gets tough, remember, no bodybuilder built a body overnight.

By Brandon Love

The Sphere of Control

If you pay attention to social media at all you might agree that times seems particularly turbulent these days.

It seems like tension is growing. I overheard a conversation about the political climate not only in the USA, but in the broader global community. One person say “we’re about to be forced to take our problems more seriously.”

“we’re about to be forced to take our problems more seriously.”

But what can we do? The forces that have created these problems are enormous. Voting doesn’t feel like it makes much of a difference, protesting is energizing but yields uncertain results in the short term. How do we deal with these problems?

I believe it starts with a look inside.

Did I mention I’ve been practicing yoga lately? Actually, I’m training to become a teacher. Yoga has transformed my health, in all its facets. Physically I’m stronger and more flexible. Mentally I’m clearer and calmer. Spiritually, I’m hungrier and more connected. Overall, I feel much more in the driver’s seat of my own life. I feel like I’m in control. It’s been an empowering experience.

Since beginning my teacher training, I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time around the yoga studio. It’s such a warm place, with wonderful people. And I’ve noticed a gradual increase in participation over the past 5 weeks.

Which surprised me a bit.

Don’t most New Year’s Resolutions hibernate around this time of year?

Don’t most New Year’s Resolutions hibernate around this time of year?

It’s especially interesting to me, because of the tension there seems to be. Many of the people I interact with have expressed some degree of dismay with the way things are from a global perspective. And they feel the urge to do something, to help, to make things better somehow.

But what can we do?

But what can we DO?

But what can WE DO?

The more we ask the question, the more possibilities bubble up to the surface. There’s a lot that we can do. While our sphere of control is not as great or all-encompassing as some would like, there are a great number of things we can change.

Most of them are within ourselves, of course.

I think this is what many people are beginning to realize. And perhaps this is why the community at the yoga studio seems to be growing.

When we ask “what can we do?” we open our minds to possibilities.

When we ask “what can we do?” we open our minds to possibilities. We find within ourselves a sense of willingness, and we become more aware of our choices. It occurs to us that some of the choices we make lead to more positive outcomes, while some of them lead to negative ones. And sometimes the ones that seem positive in the short-term end up being negative in the long-term. Eventually we might see that all we are is choices, habits, and patterns of behaviour. The key to change, is to recognize choice is the foundation.

So, what we CAN DO, is seek awareness of our choices. To pay attention to how we’re choosing, and then make decisions that are going to be better for ourselves.

Now, I have zero evidence that people taking an interest in their health and fitness is on the rise, but imagine what it would mean if it was?

What if we collectively used the fear and tension we’re experiencing on the global level to fuel our personal transformation? What if we started taking care of ourselves?

Care means nurturing: Choosing healthy foods for lots of energy so we can give our best to the work that we choose; Exercising to build strength, stamina, and mobility; Giving ourselves permission to be curious, to ask questions, and to take risks.

Care means keeping promises to yourself, just as you would to a best friend. Making choices and following through on them leads us to a sense of fulfillment, which creates purpose, which elevates our happiness.

Everywhere we go we leave a trail of influence.

Care means role modelling. Our sphere of control may lie directly within ourselves. But our sphere of influence extends beyond our bodies. Everywhere we go we leave a trail of influence. The greatest way to lead is by example, and so when we care about ourselves we also show others how to care for themselves.

By learning to care for ourselves, by taking ownership for those things we can control, we might just witness the revolution the world seems to be approaching. And we might end up exactly where we hope to be.

This weekend, or whenever you feel you’re up against a jam, remember what lies within your power to change. As yourself “what can I do?” and consider what options you have.

There’s always a choice to be made.

By Brandon Love

Being Wrong

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

When I tell people that I perform magic for a living the response is sometimes a burst of laughter. I get it – after all, many people associate magic with childhood, and consequently with impish immaturity.

And while I DO perform magic for the silliness and childlike wonderment it inspires, there is another reason I try to share my craft with as many people as possible: Magic reminds us that we’re always missing something.

If you’ve ever witnessed a really great piece of magic you know what I mean. Despite being rational and intelligent, despite having fairly reliable senses, when we experience magic we can’t help but recognize the limits of our perceptions. We KNOW we’ve been fooled by logical means, but we can’t seem to see the logic.

We’re always missing something, not just during the performance of magic, but in every moment of every day. Our perceptual abilities are inherently limited, which means there’s a degree of uncertainty attached to most of the things we claim to know.

Many of the people I’ve connected with know that this is true. But they also admit that this truth is easy to forget. And when we think we’ve got things figured out is when we can really run into trouble.

Magic reminds us of a simple, but important, truth: We’re always missing something.

A few years ago the old football stadium in Hamilton was torn down and a newer, better stadium was constructed in its place. I, like many other Hamiltonians, had watched a lot of football games in the old stadium and had come to feel pretty familiar with it.

One day I was discussing the construction with my cousin. I was lamenting the fact that the newer stadium the city was building didn’t seem like it was any different than the original one, at least from the outside.

“Well, I know the seats are going to be a lot nicer,” my cousin reasoned. “And they’ve rotated the stadium so the players won’t have to worry about the sun in their eyes anymore.”

I laughed with a hint of condescension. “They did not rotate the stadium. It looks the exact same as it’s always looked.”

“No, you’re wrong. They’ve rotated it.”

“Nuh-uh!”

“Uh-huh!”

You see how this conversation panned out. By the end we were both making bets, and feeling a bit more “fired up” than we were at the outset of our chat.

To solve the matter we did what anyone would do in our situation, and jumped on Google.

It didn’t take very long to feel awful, sinking feelings in my gut. I was totally wrong. My cousin was definitely right. I felt completely embarrassed, not only that I’d been wrong, but that I’d had such unrelenting conviction in my assertion.

My ego got a good bruising that day, as anyone who’s ever been wrong will likely attest. The thing is that we’re not very good at being wrong, even though we’re wrong so very (and I do mean VERY) often. Being right feels so good. Who doesn’t love being able to say “I told you so”?!

Who doesn’t love being able to say “I told you so”?!

Psychologists have described something they call “the certainty bias” as one of the inherent flaws in our cognition. Coping with uncertainty is hard, so we collapse our ideas into one resolute explanation. This allows us a bit of respite from the anxiety that comes with uncertainty.

The problem comes along when, instead of acknowledging the potential error of our ways, we double-down on our hypothesis. When presented with information that doesn’t align with our views of the world, instead of thoughtfully considering how it might change our construction of reality we reject it outright as false, since it doesn’t fit the model we have.

The certainty bias and the confirmation bias do wonders for our egos, but little for our dialogues. Our need to be in the right gets in the way of constructive conversation. Our inability to admit to our errors precludes us from discovering better solutions to our problems, from forging healthier relationships, and from evolving into our better selves.

What do we do about this? Here are three strategies that I use regularly to deal with my need to be right. I offer them here in the hopes that you might find some value in them yourself.

  1. Remember that we’re always missing something – This simple admission creates the space for yet unperceived possibilities. It also allows me to acknowledge that my judgements about the world, and what is possible, may, in fact, be wrong. It allows me to embrace new information, and invite new perspectives.
  2. Celebrate mistakes – Our institutions (particularly in education) are set up to deter us from making errors. Perhaps this is why we find it so hard to admit when we make them. As we’ve already seen, errors are inevitable. Instead of fearing, ridiculing, or otherwise judging mistakes I attempt to do the exact opposite. When I’m wrong I give myself a high-five for discovering that I’m wrong. When my clients find themselves in the wrong I applaud their courage to accept it. It’s a game-changer that makes it easier to take risks, and engage in fruitful dialogue.
  3. Practice creativity – Creativity is all about coming up with new ideas, many of which will be awful, useless, and silly. As my co-author Joel and I have said elsewhere, we don’t get to the good ideas without going through the bad ones. By practicing having lots of ideas lots of the time I’ve gotten better at detaching my ego from my creative efforts and accepting the inevitability of bad ideas.

As the world seems to grow in entropy and chaos, it’s important to respect the complexity of it all. While we think we’ve got things figured out, it’s reasonable for us to doubt our certainty. Perhaps now more than ever. In order to move forward together we’ll need to get good at acknowledging our limitations, and working within them.

In order to elevate our consciousness we’ll need to be better at resolving the differences in our perspectives. Intellectual humility is a virtue worth pursuing.

Though, I might be wrong about that.

By Brandon Love

The Fear of Failing

How often does your fear of failing keep you nestled safely in your comfort zone? How often do you miss opportunities because you’re worried you might not be successful?

I, perhaps like many of you, developed a healthy fear of failure from a young age. I still have it now, of course, but I like to think I’ve gotten better at dealing with it.

Some of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned came at the expense of a little embarrassment. One of my most vivid failure tales happened to me when I was in university.

I decided I wanted to take my magic shows to the next level. Instead of performing in people’s living rooms at birthday parties I wanted to experience the light of a public stage.

It didn’t take long for me to find a local theatre that was having a variety show. I met the manager of the place and after sharing a few card tricks I was invited to perform a 25-minute set in the show. He was even going to pay me. My first paid public performance!

I jumped on the opportunity and got down to work immediately. I remember spending night after night basking in the glow of my computer screen, writing and re-writing and re-re-writing a script. I put so much thought into my presentation, into the stories I would tell, and into the structure of my show. I was so pleased with my work, and couldn’t wait to perform.

On the night of the show I walked confidently to the theatre, cool as a cucumber, ready to bring down the house. It wasn’t until I saw the 50 or so people waiting for the show to get started that my heart starting thumping irregularly in my chest. I suddenly remembered that despite all my script-writing I hadn’t done a whole lot of actual practicing for real people (and not just for the people of my imagination). Uh-oh.

I said hello to the manager and had to wipe the sweat from my palm before shaking his hand. Oh there you are, Nerves, I didn’t think we’d meet tonight.

Oh there you are, Nerves, I didn’t think we’d meet tonight.

I looked up and noticed there were people sitting in the balcony, overlooking the stage. “There wasn’t a balcony in this theatre the last time I was here!” I said to myself. But it’s true what they say, you can’t lie to yourself, the balcony had always been there, and now there were people in it, watching down at me. They’d be able to see all my secrets. They’d see I’m a phony. What if they laugh at me, or heckle me? Sweat beaded along my brow.

The audience applauded, and a few even whistled, as an incredibly talented guitarist took his bow. The bar seemed to get a little higher as the manager started to introduce my act. All I could focus on was what everyone was thinking of me.

My face flushed red, and I took the stage to see fifty smiling, eager, expectant faces.

The first trick involved producing a fishbowl “out of thin air”. Unfortunately I didn’t set the prop right before the show, and when I turned too quickly the fishbowl fell out of my jacket landing with a resonant thud on the stage. For a moment there was silence. It was a short moment.

Water spilled on my ankles but I didn’t even notice. All I could hear was the laughter and the giggles. The audience politely tried to contain themselves, and I tried to laugh along with them. But my face grew hot with embarrassment.

All I could focus on was what everyone was thinking of me.

And so I fell into a bit of a shame cycle. Feeling embarrassed about the first mishap made me extra nervous, which made me mess up the second trick. And the third one. Because I was so afraid of failing, I forgot my script. In addition to messing up every trick in my show, I went completely blank several times during the performance. Looking back on it now, I really pity the audience that day. Musta been like watching someone scratch their nails down a chalk board.

I was supposed to perform for 25-minutes, but 15 was all I could handle. I forced an awkward final bow as one or two members of the audience politely golf-clapped my exit. The air was pretty tense as I packed up and I bee-lined for the door. I remember thinking that it might be time to quit magic, to wash my hands of this experience and never look back.

I tried to avoid eye contact, but someone called after me before I could leave.

“Hey! You forgot your cheque.”

I turned around to see the manager of the theatre, the guy who had hired me, walking towards me with a smile on his face. I couldn’t believe he wanted to pay me still! If anything I felt like I owed him some money for damages or something.

“Hey man”, he told me “it takes a lot of guts to get up on a stage and perform, you should feel good about trying. I hope you’ll come back and do it again. The next time is always better.”

That was just about the kindest thing anyone could have said to me in that moment. I thanked him for inviting me to be a part of things, and for his encouragement, and I left.

I sat in my car looking at the cheque for some time, reflecting on the manager’s words: “the next time is always better”. I thought about how true those words have been through most things in my life. Perhaps I wouldn’t quit performing altogether. After all, somehow, I did make a little money for my pain.

I reflected on the disaster of a show, wondering how I might have better prepared myself. I thought about what I would do to make it better next time. I came up with a great list of things, including practicing with real people.

It’s a lesson that seems obvious now, but I didn’t learn it until I had experienced what happens when you don’t. I needed to make the mistake in order to gain the lesson.

The more I practiced, the better I got, and the more grateful I became for having had the chance to bomb in my first paid public performance.

The next time is always better

The truth is that we should expect to be bad at most of the things we do, especially if we’re trying something new. We often put such high expectations on our performance that we never get down to work. When we expect perfection from ourselves, failure is inevitable, and we develop a fear of trying anything at all.

To help me get around this hurdle, I remember the following ideas:

  1. The first time we do anything it will be far from perfect. Expect nothing but to learn from the experience, and celebrate taking the first step in the process of growing. “The next time is always better.”
  2. Our first ideas are never our best ideas. Everything can be made better when we have an eye for improving things. Start with any idea, even if it seems “bad”, and work to improve from that.
  3. Growth requires discomfort. Taking chances on an idea will always be slightly uncomfortable because it’s a risk. But we only discover our better selves when we lean into our discomfort and embrace the risk. Even if it flops, there’s something to gain if you’re looking for it.

Perhaps it’s worth reflecting on your own relationship with failure this weekend.

What’s one thing you want to do but are worried about the risk of getting it wrong? How do you find the courage to take steps in the face of your fear of failing?

By Brandon Love

Problems & Perspectives

Problem solving is hard work. Sometimes it’s fun and rewarding work, and sometimes it’s frustrating and deflating. This is why my relationship with magic is very much a love/hate thing sometimes.

Magic is, at its core, the practice of problem-solving.

A few years ago I had the chance to travel to Las Vegas to learn magic with some of my heroes. It was a dream come true: Imagine, ten dudes from all over the place sitting around a fancy table in a fancy hotel, shuffling cards and sharing ideas.

One conversation from that experience really stands out in my mind. It was after our coach Paul had just shared a new piece of magic he’d created. The piece itself was impressive, and we sat stunned with silly grins on our faces. But what was perhaps more fascinating, was the story of the amount and intensity of work required to create this masterpiece.

Paul went on to share that he spent several months thinking about nothing else but this new piece, including several sleepless nights during that stretch. Several months (!) of leaning into the problem. He had a vision and was set on achieving it. Paul shared that his entire living room was filled with notes, and playing cards, and open magic texts everywhere. What is art if not the joys and pains of being held captive to the ideas in your mind?

What is art if not the joys and pains of being held captive to the ideas in your mind?

For some of us that kind of dedication might seem a little out of reach. Paul is a very accomplished magician and has been creating magic for a very long time. His dedication to the craft makes sense when you consider how far down the yellow brick road he is.

But I’d be willing to bet that we all have problems we could spend several months trying to solve. What problems would you love to solve if you knew there was a solution waiting for you?

We can learn a lot from magicians. The world’s top conjurers are master problem solvers. They invest hours upon hours to make the impossible a reality.

One of the greatest lessons I learned about problem solving came from a conversation I was having with another of my coaches a few years back.

To encourage magical thinking, he gave me this problem:

There’s a huge tennis tournament with 999 competitors. The tournament consists of one-on-one matches, where the winner advances, and the loser is eliminated.

In the first round, there will be 499 matches, with one player randomly assigned a bye (a free pass to the next round). The next round will have half as many matches plus one.

The challenge is to figure out how many matches will be played in the tournament.

 

Take a few minutes to think about it. See if you come up with a number. I’ll wait here.

Chances are you’re starting to stumble over the numbers in your mind. Perhaps if you already have an aversion to math, you’ve thrown your hands in the air in defeat. Perhaps you’re even getting frustrated with me now.

When he gave me the puzzle to solve I remember really squeezing my brain to arrive at the answer.

After watching me count my fingers, squint my eyes, and work up a sweat, he finally offered to help.

“Solving this problem is not about math, it’s about shifting your focus, changing your perspective a bit. You’re concentrating on counting the matches round by round, progressing towards a winner.

Let me ask you this: How many losers will there be?”

“998” I responded.

“So how many matches will have to be played?”

I smiled.

Perspective-taking is at the crux of problem solving.

Did you feel that shift too? Instead of focusing on counting the number of winners, we could count the number of losers and arrive at the solution rather simply. 998 matches will have to be played, since every match produces one loser.

Lots of problems seem to follow this pattern. We spend time working at what we believe to be the only solution, beating ourselves down and growing frustrated with our lack of results.

It’s only when we gain a fresh perspective, take a step back, and shift our focus that we open up different possibilities, and help us find more solutions.

Here are a few of my favourite ways to gain new perspective on a problem:

  1. Remember the golden assumption: We’re always missing something. It reminds me that there are more perspectives I haven’t yet considered, and helps me continue the search for solutions.
  2. Different Lenses – Write down as many different “lenses” through which to look at your problem. How would a firefighter approach the problem? How would a surgeon approach it? What about a butcher? A baker? Candlestick maker? Yes, it’s a bit silly, but silly is good when we’re being creative. If you don’t like silly, try asking yourself how other people you admire might approach the problem: Your partner, your boss, or Oprah. Intentionally shift lenses and see if that shifts the focus.
  3. Seek a coach. Being able to have an honest conversation about blindspots, strategy, and taking action is incredibly valuable during the problem solving process. Whether you ask for feedback from friends and family, or hire a professional, make sure to talk about your problems and process with someone you trust. I have found mastermind sessions are particularly valuable when I’m working on a challenge.

Learning to shift our focus will help us find more and better solutions, while also motivating our next steps as we create the lives we want to live. Perspective-taking is at the crux of problem solving.

The great news is that there are millions of perspectives around us all the time, we just have to be willing to look, listen, and lean in. There’s more here than meets the eye.

What problem do you need some fresh perspective on, and how can I help you find it?

By Brandon Love

Growing Pains

Growing Pains

We are officially five days into the new year. Congratulations! I don’t know about you, but I welcomed 2017 with open arms.

Perhaps this year, more than ever, I’m interested in pushing my limits. I know that I can learn, do, and be more. So I’ve made some changes to my daily schedule. Not drastic changes, but things that I hope will nudge me into the best version of me.

It’s only been five days. And what a painful five days it has been.

Allow me to explain: To improve my writing practice I’ve set myself a goal of writing two hours every morning. I wake up, make some tea, and sit in front of my computer with my hands on the keys. The goal is to keep my fingers nimbly typing as thoughts flow effortlessly from my mind.

It’s challenge enough to sit at a computer for two hours. Never mind the fact that thoughts almost never flow effortlessly and my fingers aren’t reliably nimble. Writing is tough work!

I’ve found myself watching the clock, doodling on scrap paper, checking my email, checking the fridge – basically doing anything that distracts me from the pains of writing. There are lots of moments when I want to give up, thinking I’ve given all that I’ve got. Believing that I’ve reached my writing limit for the day.

There are lots of moments when I want to give up, thinking I’ve given all that I’ve got.

It reminds me of a time when I was a kid in karate.

As part of our warm-up in class one day, our instructor told us to do as many push-ups as we could, holding ourselves in a plank when we had eked out every last push-up possible.

So off I went: One, two, three, four, … After doing a bunch I pushed my face away from the floor one final time. I remember huffing and puffing while holding my best plank. The burn went all the way through my body, while I hoped he’d tell us to rest.

Instead, our instructor came to each of us, one by one, and told us to do one more push-up while he watched for proper form.

“Are you kidding me?!” I exclaimed… silently, and safely, in the confines of my own head.

He came to me first, so I didn’t have much time to think. With my arms gently shaking, I lowered my nose to the ground. Then using all my might, and maybe a little re-directed anger, I heaved myself up to my plank once again. I can only imagine how red my face turned then.

“Good,” he said to each of us in turn, as he moved down the line. Every student in the class did one final push-up, before he allowed us to rest.

When it was all over and we sat there catching our breath, our teacher explained the exercise. “I asked you all to do as many push-ups as possible, and yet, when I asked you to do one more, each of you could do one more. And I bet if I asked you to do one more still, you’d find a way to make it happen.

The question, then, is what made you think you’d done as much as you could the first time?”

We looked at each other. “It started to hurt,” we agreed.

“Right, it got painful. But because you pushed through the pain, you are now all stronger. Pain will always be there, trying to control your decisions, trying to put limits on what you think you can do. It’s our job to work through the pain. To get used to being a bit uncomfortable, so that we can continue to get stronger, and faster, and smarter.”

It’s our job to work through the pain. To get used to being a bit uncomfortable, so that we can continue to get stronger, and faster, and smarter.”

I must have been 12 or 13 in that classroom. In 2017, this lesson seems especially relevant.

Adopting a new writing schedule was never going to be easy. After all, making change is seldom painless. I often catch myself wanting to run from the discomfort. To leave the computer, to go make some food, to browse around on the Internet. I find myself making excuses and creating distractions to help me avoid the discomfort of sticking to my writing.

But I try to remember that pain is trying to limit what I can do. And that I can always do one more push-up. The old adage is true: No pain, no gain.

In order to have, do, and be what we want, we have to do more than “set our minds to it.”

Instead of running from the pain, instead of using it to justify giving up, we can train ourselves to lean in.

What would your life look like if you embraced pain? What would happen if you expressed gratitude for your discomfort? If you’re in the same boat as me, you’re experiencing a little resistance as you set out to achieve your goals. Here are a few ideas I’m using to help me tolerate and navigate my growing pains:

  • Remember that you can probably do more than you think – you’re supposed to experience pain when you’re growing. Most of our limits are self-imposed.
  • Find ways to enjoy the process of change, growing pains and all – force yourself to smile while you work, you’ll find yourself having more fun
  • Focus on what your future self will gain from your persistence – be clear on why are you making this change, and use that to motivate your next “push-up”
  • Think of your ability to manage pain like a muscle – at first you might not be very good at it, but with practice you’ll get better. The key is to keep coming back to the work, even if you get off track.

The key is to keep coming back to the work, even if you get off track.

So, I’ll continue to write every morning for two hours, sometimes staring at a blank document with a fake smile on my face, but sometimes with my fingers typing so nimbly that the thoughts have a hard time keeping up. Keep your eyes out for the results.

Pain is a necessary part of being human. We can choose to fear it, or to accept it and embrace it. We can let it direct the course of our lives, to establish our limits, or we can use it to help us get to where we want to be.

What changes are you making for 2017? Or perhaps more importantly, what pain are you willing to endure this year?

By Brandon Love

Day One Leadership Podcast

Got to chat about the practice of creativity with my pal Joel and the legendary speaker Drew Dudley.

Have a listen here:

 

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5 Life Lessons I Learned from a Magic Convention
6 Practices That Bring Me Joy
Creating the Life You Want to Live
The Muscles I Never Had
The Sphere of Control
Being Wrong
The Fear of Failing
Problems & Perspectives
Growing Pains