Category

What’s new?

The Magical Self

By | Abracademy Labs, Belief, What's new?

Can we enhance our inner belief without crossing the rivers of self-doubt? Can we change how we feel about ourselves… by waving a magic wand?

It may sound surprising, but researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, recently published a review of experiments on how magic might enhance wellbeing (Bagienski & Kuhn, 2019). And they observed that increased pride and self-esteem were common in studies where participants either discovered secrets to magic tricks or learned to perform magic.

To be fair, most of these studies involved populations with low self-esteem and some had methodological flaws, so more research is needed. But the available results do look promising.  And by looking at theoretical models of self-esteem, we find some fascinating reasons for why magic may improve self-esteem.

One common argument in these studies is that learning magic develops an impressive skill that most others cannot perform (Frith & Walker, 1983). And this speaks to two common psychological theories of what causes of self-esteem:  

The first was put forth by William James (1892) on how self-esteem arises when perceived success in “valued domains” aligns with our aspirations. And who doesn’t value a bit of magic and fantasy, like the magic we see in movies, novels, or games? In fact, this was supported by an experiment that concluded: “a novel and unusual event elicits stronger curiosity and exploratory behaviour if its suggested explanation involves an element of the supernatural” (Subbotsky, 2010). Additionally, people value secret knowledge and society marvels when people achieve the impossible. Both are in magic. Lastly, people are driven to figure out how magic tricks work. For all these reasons, it makes sense that magic is valued. So we could feel better about ourselves by learning magic successfully.

The strange part is how magic focuses the impossible… Because people tend to set their aspirations in the realm of possibility, but magic achieves the “impossible”. Thus, at a certain imaginary level, learning to learning magic must exceed one’s aspirations. And this experience is at least somewhat grounded in reality because social reactions to magic imply that the impossible became possible!This latter social aspect also aligns with Cooley’s (1902) model of self-esteem. In his model, self-esteem is caused by opinions of significant others who act like a “social mirror.” This idea of a social mirror also helps explain why improved social skills were observed in magic studies, but only when participants learned to perform magic (Bagienski & Kuhn, 2019). One reason might be that reactions to magic resemble an interested, enthusiastic response. And these responses would act as social validation. They are also very similar to the responses that scientists found to form positive relationships (Bagienski & Kuhn, 2019; Gable, Gonzaga, & Strachman, 2006; Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004). 

Another reason why magic could improve social skills is because magic is one of the only art forms that deliberately uses speech and social cues for its misdirection (Scott, Batten, & Kuhn, 2018). Thus, learning magic can be a natural fit for improving social skills. And when your social skills are sharp, you feel good about yourself because you can better cultivate the supportive, meaningful relationships that make life beautiful.

References:

Bagienski, S. E., & Kuhn, G. (2019). The crossroads of magic and wellbeing: A review of wellbeing-focused magic programs, empirical studies, and conceivable theories. International Journal of Wellbeing, 9(2).

Cooley, C. (1902). Looking-glass self. The Production of Reality: Essays and Readings on Social Interaction, 6. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=8FKzamiVX4sC&oi=fnd&pg=PA126&ots=13LOPWoq3y&sig=KiOgsxExuoBtH_5XD-CHBlcriJc

Gable, S. L., Gonzaga, G. C., & Strachman, A. (2006). Will you be there for me when things go right? Supportive responses to positive event disclosures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(5), 904–917. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.91.5.904

Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What Do You Do When Things Go Right? The Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Benefits of Sharing Positive Events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 228–245. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.87.2.228

James, W. (1892). Psychology: The briefer course. New York: Holt.

Scott, H., Batten, J. P., & Kuhn, G. (2018). Why are you looking at me? It’s because I’m talking, but mostly because I’m staring or not doing much. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 81(1), 109–118. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13414-018-1588-6

Talk to Harriet about inner belief for your team

Get in touch

Words on Wonder

By | Abracademy Labs, Belief, Curiosity, Food for thought, What's new?, Wonder

Scientist, mathematician and magician, Matt Pritchard, is interested in what makes people go WOW! ?

You probably know by now that at Abracademy, we want to bring more magic to the world. It’s our raison d’etre! And you probably also know that all our workshops are all founded on two mindsets inspired by magic – Belief and Wonder. So, when we came across Matt Pritchard’s Words on Wonder blog, we were hooked…

In his blog, Matt chats with other magicians, creatives and scientists about their work, particularly how they cultivate, and share wonder. One fundamental question he asks, that helps the reader understand what motivates each of his guests, is: Why are you interested in researching the science of magic? Here’s some of the answers to that question, starting with our own Wizard of Happiness and wellbeing researcher, Steve Bagienski: 

I can’t think of a more personally befitting and meaningful thing to do than explore magic and wellbeing. There are so many directions my research could go, but I am focused on the social and emotional experiences of watching, and learning, magic. I really do believe that our relationships with others are what matters most in life, it’s how we become part of something bigger than ourselves. I would love more scientists to explore the many nuances, but for me, my PhD project is a good place to start. (Follow Steve on Twitter)

On a different note, Ph.D student and associate lecturer in the Psychology of Magic at London’s Goldsmiths University, Alice Pailhes, studies how unconscious influences shape our choices and the illusion of free will with the help of a magician’s technique known as ‘forcing’:

Since I started studying psychology I became really interested in social psychology – how our environment affects our choices and behaviours. As we are constantly making decisions (as trivial and small as what to eat for lunch, but also important ones such as what career or partner to choose), I started to be really fascinated by understanding why we do the things we do, and how we’re influenced by a number of factors. I find the illusion of free will, as well as how we think we chose something when we didn’t, really captivating. As I’ve always loved magic and do a little myself, I quickly made a link with some tricks I knew: forcing techniques. Forcing is a way to make spectators pick or think about a specific card or object without them being aware that they were influenced. Magicians have been using forcing techniques and processes for hundred of years that psychology only understood a few decades ago! I think we have a lot to learn from magicians’ knowledge. (Follow Alice on Twitter)

Last, but certainly not least, Lise Lesaffre Lise is exploring magic, not so much in practice, but rather from a cognitive experimental perspective:

I use magic to investigate belief formation. More particularly, I use a sort of mentalism routine that makes the audience think they are in front of a genuine psychic. I take measurements before and after about their beliefs, and associated cognitive bias. We found that when the performance is convincing, the audience get really emotional and most people believe what they saw was a genuine psychic demonstration – more than 60% reported the performer was a genuine psychic! (Visit Lise’s webpage to find out more about her research).

We’ve often said that magicians are masters of human behaviour. You can see from these responses that science and magic make very natural companions, helping us understand the human brain and how it works.

Read the full interviews here. And big thanks to Matt, Steve, Alice and Lise for sharing their thoughts with us.

Find out how we combine science and magic

Get in touch

Abracademy’s magic: you need to experience it, to feel it

By | Food for thought, What's new?, Wonder

I’ve been a friend of the Abracademy family for a few years and I strongly believe in its mission to bring more magic to the world. Especially the world of business.

As customer and employee experiences become highly commoditised through plug and play technologies, one way for businesses to be truly different ánd relevant is by becoming more human. A magic trick unlocks a visceral punch, a moment of awe that is often needed to feel more human, to feel more alive. It shakes you awake, because you wonder: how did that happen?

“In a world of technology, we need to become more human.”
Rubens Filho, Abracademy Founder

Through Abracademy’s open workshops, I’ve experienced myself what “being more human” can mean in the context of life and work. I was literally blown away by these learning experiences delivered through magic, and found that magic makes the process of learning more profound. I’ve gained a few significant realisations for how I can set the example in day-to-day situations. I’ve learned…

… how to establish a creative connection with a stranger

… how to increase the simplicity and impact of your story

… how to squint at your personal and professional future

How to establish a creative connection with a stranger

In “The Design of Everyday Things”, Don Norman explains what it means to be human in the context of design. He talks about how humans should design for humans, and not for machines:

“Our strengths are in our flexibility and creativity, in coming up with novel solutions to problems. We are creative and imaginative, not mechanical and precise. Machines require precision and accuracy; people don’t. And we are particularly bad at providing precise and accurate inputs. So why are we always required to do so? Why do we put the requirements of machines above those of people?”

Shifting a large chunk of our attention to imagination and creativity is the way forward – and is what I assume many people want in their jobs, but then we will have to learn to establish a creative connection with literally anybody as we often don’t get to choose who we collaborate with in the world of work (there are exceptions, especially companies who self-organise). But imagine you could create an instant connection with almost anybody, through magic.

In one of the Abracademy open workshops, we were taught to make lights appear and disappear with our fingers. In the beginning this seemed really tricky. We either couldn’t imagine how to perform the trick or we were too shy to try it ourselves and show it to the group.

When we finally started to feel more comfortable with the situation, there was a second hurdle that needed to be conquered. We had to team up in pairs and had to perform the trick and show it to each other. Then we were asked to imagine and perform different use cases of the trick and to keep on going for a few minutes.

At first, we came up with the most obvious variations, but as the exercise progressed, we were talking to each other through the language of the trick. We were building on each other’s tricks and were using the previous trick as inspiration to make the next one more wacky or imaginative.

Imagine if you could use the same principle in the world of work. Imagine if you and your colleagues could truly perceive each other’s ideas and intent. Imagine if you could build on each other’s ideas and make leaps together towards new realities instead of using team work as a tool to force (poorly substantiated) ideas and opinions.

How to increase the simplicity and impact of your story

Everybody loves a good story and stories are what makes us human. During one of the Abracademy open workshops, we went through a process where magic and storytelling were interwoven.

We first learned a magic trick that was rather accessible and straightforward. Then we looked into our individual passions and had to define what we like most in life. So far, so good.

We then had to prepare a story about our deepest passion, but had to use a magic trick in parallel to deliver the story about our passion. A challenging learning curve. Stories consist of a range of messages, and after a while it became clear that each of those could serve as a step within the magic trick. Magic then served as a metaphor, a new way to bring each message to life.

Designing a storyline through magic gave me a new approach to increasing simplicity and effectiveness. What is key to the story? What can be removed? What is the moment of drama, and how should this be delivered through magic? What’s the glory moment, or the big magical reveal? What do we want people to learn?

My delivery was far from perfect, but try to be a magician and a storyteller at the same time. I challenge you!

How to squint at your personal and professional future

We all know these vision boards used by personal coaches with white teeth, sandy beaches, big private pools, cars, inspirational quotes, etc.

While this might be fun and highly motivational, I have learned a more profound way to peek into my own personal future: the magic carpet ride combined with another magic trick (which again, I won’t spoil as a magician almost never tells).

We as workshop participants had to close our eyes and imagine we were sitting on a magic carpet. The carpet started moving up. We saw ourselves. The neighbourhood. London. The UK. A few continents. The entire world.

We stayed there for a while, hanging into space and two years passed by. We then started descending really fast, and landed somewhere on earth.

Where are you?
What are you doing?
Who are you with?
How do you feel?

Through these powerful questions, I could straight away paint a mental picture of my deepest desires. I saw one potential scenario and felt both surprised and reassured. This picture was a projection into my personal life, but the same methodology can be applied to company vision exercises with the right team and level of imagination.

Abracademy’s proposition

These three exercises were all designed by Abracademy, and of course delivered through the use of magic to make the process of learning more profound. I won’t spoil the details of these magic tricks as you need to experience them yourself to truly understand their value and how they elevated the three learning experiences. During these open workshops, I found that by using techniques to generate more magic and wonder, I’ve memorised and internalised better what it takes to be more human in the world of work. I’m also not afraid to use these exercises in daily situations or even use magic tricks in front of tough crowds.

A powerful combo of learning design and magic tricks is the key differentiator in the Abracademy experience. Most L&D and org design companies offer very traditional approaches to change. And most magicians, well, they focus on magic without the business context. Abracademy touches on both in the most meaningful and playful way.

Thomas Waegemans
Business Design & Strategy Lead at Accenture Interactive
and Board Member at Abracademy

The Five Dimensions of Curiosity

By | Abracademy Labs, Food for thought, What's new?

How is that possible?

This question is central to the idea of curiosity. And humans are inherently curious creatures. It begins from the time we learn to crawl and extends to grown ups wondering how the universe works.

Curiosity brings a range of benefits in life – it encourages us to explore and learn new things. Studies have also linked it to better relationships, reduced aggression, and enhanced well being. Curiosity stimulates progress towards one’s goals.

But what ​exactly is​ curiosity? We can be curious to learn new things and meet new people. We’re also curious how our signed card appears in the magician’s pocket. Is curiosity always pleasurable? Not always. We might be curious as to why a date rejected us or how to solve that frustrating Rubik’s cube…

Some answers to these questions come from the cutting edge science of researcher Todd Kashdan and his team. They synthesized years of research on curiosity, from studies​ of nearly 4,000 adults and found Five Dimensions of Curiosity:

Joyous Exploration​

This is about the sense of wonder. When we acquire fascinating new information that grows our knowledge, we feel joyous exploration. You get this, for example, when you discover the secret to a magic trick and learn how to perform it yourself.

Deprivation Sensitivity

Aka “Need to Know” curiosity​. This is the drive to solve problems along with its frustrations. Think of that pesky Rubik’s Cube and difficult Sudoku puzzles…

Stress Tolerance​

This dimension of curiosity entails the willingness to embrace the doubt or confusion associated with uncertain and mysterious things in life.

Social Curiosity​

Speaks for itself: this is curiosity about other people. What do they like, what do they dislike, what’s their favorite music or food, and so on. Social Curiosity is the desire to know more about people and what makes them tick.

Thrill Seeking​

This is the willingness to take different types of risks. Thrill Seeking includes the emotional “high” we get from these exciting, new experiences.  This emotional energy can be channelled into reckless future behaviours, meaningful life pursuits, or both.

Of all the dimensions, Joyous Exploration and Stress Tolerance had the strongest associations with measures of well being. This makes sense because well being is not merely about enjoying our endeavours all the time. But rather about having the psychological resilience to deal with uncertainty in life during the tough times.

As Abracademy is a company wishing to spread more magic in the world, we celebrate how uncertainty can create some wonderful, amazing, extraordinary and, of course, magical moments.

References

Kashdan, T. B., DeWall, C. N., Pond, R. S., Silvia, P. J., Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., … & Keller, P. S. (2013). Curiosity protects against interpersonal aggression: Cross‐sectional, daily process, and behavioral evidence. Journal of Personality, 81(1), 87-102.

Kashdan, T. B., McKnight, P. E., Fincham, F. D., & Rose, P. (2011). When curiosity breeds intimacy: Taking advantage of intimacy opportunities and transforming boring conversations. Journal of Personality, 79(6), 1369-1402.

Kashdan, T. B., Stiksma, M. C., Disabato, D. D., McKnight, P. E., Bekier, J., Kaji, J., & Lazarus, R. (2018). The five-dimensional curiosity scale: Capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people. Journal of Research in Personality, 73, 130-149.

Sheldon, K. M., Jose, P. E., Kashdan, T. B., & Jarden, A. (2015). Personality, effective goal-striving, and enhanced well-being: Comparing 10 candidate personality strengths. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(4), 575-585.

Curious to find out more about Abracademy?

Get in touch

The Magic of Misfortunate Events

By | Abracademy Labs, Food for thought, What's new?

Resilience. Emotional agility. Psychological vitality. Regardless of the name we give it, this skill has a important impact on how we deal with life. 

Business losses, health problems, family issues. How we react to these adversities determines our future fulfillment. And it also determines whether we can restore magic and meaning to our lives.

It’s completely normal to experience negative emotions like sadness or anxiety when encountering the inevitable adversities of life. And it can be tempting to believe that one adversity will cause more problems. Or even worse: to believe it will become a downward negative spiral leading to debilitating negative conditions like PTSD. However, science shows that typical responses to adversity only involve a short period of negative emotions. This is followed by a return to our baseline happiness. There is also a seductive allure to focus on the disabling conditions of life, rather than the enabling ones. Subsequently, we are likely underestimating the prevalence of resilience we all have (Bonanna, 2004).

The good news is that regardless of where we are in life, our brains can be rewired to become more resilient. One way is by shifting focus to the meaning we find in our way, so we can use negative emotions productively.

Take stress, for example. After hearing a laundry list of reasons to “not stress”, many people then stress about being stressed. This creates a negative feedback loop. But researchers have shown that many disadvantages of stress disappear for people who view stress as a useful, energising tool (Achor, Crum, & Salovey, 2013; Keller et al., 2012).

Taking this a few steps further is the notion of Post Traumatic Growth. This is where a traumatic experience causes an individual to grow stronger than before the trauma (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2014). Think of Stephen Hawking. Paralyzed, no muscle function, no speech. Yet, he became one of the most respected thinkers: mathematician, physicist and cosmologist. And now his computerized speech is recognized as the voice of the cosmos!

Next time life throws you off course, ask yourself something… What would the value be if you could develop a habit of psychological resilience? Would you still view adversity and obstacles as problems? Or as gifts in disguise? What are the hidden opportunities of adversity? And how can you unlock this hidden, magical treasure of resilience for yourself…?

References

  • Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events?. American psychologist, 59(1), 20.
  • Bonanno, G. A. (2005). Resilience in the face of potential trauma. Current directions in psychological science, 14(3), 135-138.
  • Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (2014). The foundations of posttraumatic growth: An expanded framework. In Handbook of posttraumatic growth. Routledge.
  • Crum, A. J., Salovey, P., & Achor, S. (2013). Rethinking stress: The role of mindsets in determining the stress response. Journal of personality and social psychology, 104(4), 716.
  • Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677.

What company-hopping taught me about on-boarding

By | What's new?

Sitting down on my first day at Abracademy looking at a magic wand to my right and vanishing pens to my left. It made it wonder what makes an on-boarding experience magical? After all it’s not every day a team meeting starts with a magic trick…

Since graduating from Kaospilots, I’ve jumped from company to company. Not always because I wanted to! Sometimes circumstances have led me to move countries or a project comes to an end. As a result, I’ve immersed myself in different company cultures and have experienced the different types of on-boarding. Now I felt it was time to share is what I’ve learned!

Many see job-hopping as a bad thing, not something to highlight on my CV. They may think I haven’t deepened my domain knowledge, climbed the ladder or gotten to know every employee along the way. But for me, it has been a privilege.

I’ve met amazing people. I’ve had the opportunity to compare places and cherry pick what I like, and dislike, about each. Observing different managers and leaders has taught me what kind of leader I want to be. Seeing everyday acts that tell the story of the culture has created a very clear picture for me. For example, what little things I can do to change or anchor something about the culture I’m in.

As I have experienced everything from horrendous onboarding to mind blowing acts of genuine caring, I know how important it is to welcome people into a company.

If you want to make a good impression on new employees, here’s what I think works and what doesn’t work.

Do…

 

  • On their first day, find a way to surprise your employee. You could perhaps greet them at the train station with a coffee for them. Think about where their first work day starts – at the company door or their own door?! This could be overwhelming or impractical for some of course, but if it works, it tells an amazing story.

 

  • Try to find out their likes and dislikes, and create a personalized starter pack. Are they vegans? What music do they like? Get them slippers for the office! I guarantee you this will be appreciated.

 

  • Make sure everyone in the office knows their name, when they start and, if possible, share a photo of them so people know what they look like. I saw a hotel review on Hotels.com once, where guests are made to feel like the hotel has waited for them for 150 years… be that hotel! Make your new employee feel like you’ve been waiting for them.

 

  • Give them an easy task to complete on their first day of work, perhaps an ongoing challenge or tradition that you have in the company. Make it fun though, don’t make it seem like dirty work!

Don’t…

 

  • Overload them with information. They probably won’t register most of it. The first day is all about first impressions so make them count.

 

  • Underwhelm or neglect them. You might as well ignore them. A new employee doesn’t need to reflect for two hours after lunch. They need to feel taken care of, safe and seen by colleagues.

 

  • Make it short, the onboarding process often takes a couple of weeks, even if the process isn’t as intense as the beginning. Checking in on your new employee is important and you can even ask them to evaluate their onboarding process.

Make on-boarding important. I think we can all agree that new employees need to feel a strong sense of belonging to stay and invest in your company, while you invest in them. The first impression should be made to last – it represents the company. Ask yourself how you can be different. Design an on-boarding process that mirrors your values and at the same time puts the employee at the heart it.

Time to put words into action

During my time at Abracademy, I am looking into ways to make on-boarding more magical for companies and organisations. To unlock an employee’s full potential from their first day. That’s where you come in! I would love to hear your stories about your on-boarding experiences, good or bad.

 

Tell me about your on-boarding experience

Share your story!

Mina Hesar
Business & Process Designer

What is the power of learning magic?

By | Abracademy Labs, What's new?

The beauty of magic is that anyone can learn it. Not all magic takes years to master or requires an intricate sleight of hand. What’s even more extraordinary than learning magic is what you can learn about yourself in the process!

How does magic help us learn?

Magic is learning you can enjoy. When we’re infants we’re eager to learn everything and anything. But it seems that over the years learning can become something we fear, possibly because we’re scared to fail. Being able to learn magic and succeed at it can reignite that desire to learn new skills and open our minds to new possibilities. Magic teaches us to revel in practising, getting hooked on mastering a trick or improving your skills.

Seeing the power of magic in schools

Over the years I have, many times, seen first hand the wonders magic can do for students. Anyone can learn magic, but this doesn’t happen without some failures. Even Harry Potter had a bumpy road to mastering his spells! Pupils being able to deal with failure and accept criticism through learning magic helps them build the resilience needed to learn something new. The greatest learning comes from failure after all.

Importantly, I love seeing a child gaining belief in themselves, being able to step up in front of peers and perform magic. It’s this boost of self confidence and communication skills that can, and does, encourage essential engagement in the classroom. Pupils have said they were no longer too shy to read a poem to the class or give a presentation in morning assembly. Now that’s magic!

Unleashing magic in the workplace

Learning doesn’t stop after school. Working with companies has shown me the capability magic has to transform how teams function. It brings people together, they appreciate and learn from each other. Magic re-ignites creativity, imagination and curiosity to discover new things or new ways of being, traits often sadly lost in the working world.

We all need patience to get through life at school and at work. Like any new skill, learning magic requires patience. No-one becomes an overnight master, but with a little patience and a touch of magic, anything is possible!

Alex Pittas
Head Magician

Get in touch with Alex and the team

Get in touch

Blending two worlds: magic and facilitation

By | What's new?

It’s Facilitation Week and what better time to introduce my passion at Abracademy: Magilitation.

Magili-what?… (I hear you say).

Magicians have been developing powerful techniques that defy limitations in human cognition for centuries. Techniques that leave us wowed and awed. Imagine blending this magical knowledge with the art of facilitation? That’s Magilitation. And it’s where magic happens.

The start of Magilitation


Magilitation was an idea I had on a skills swap. Magicians are experts in human behaviour. While facilitators are experts in guiding behaviour towards a collective purpose. Could they share their skills? Could they help develop each others’ abilities to create a hybrid? And so Magilitation was born at Abracademy. Our magicians train our facilitators and our facilitators train our magicians. Together they develop their superpowers! They also help participants journeys of self discovery and experiential learning. It’s pure magic!

The benefits of Magilitation

Magilitation is a unique mix of presence and performance. This allows us to help all kinds of people find their inner magic. Magilitators give people time to see the magic they have inside themselves. Furthermore, Magilitators provide participants tools to share that magic with the world. For young people, their self esteem and confidence develop as well as creating a space to share their struggles, their joys, their ups and downs. All by using magic as a tool for storytelling.

The core attributes for a Magilitator

I love that at Abracademy we are human in our approach. We encourage the emotions that usually stop at the office front door. We think they’re an inherent part of what your company is. Our Magilitator’s humanity is thanks to their ability to combine facilitation and magic. They can:

  • Create wonder
  • Inspire through storytelling
  • Control audience attention
  • Shift a groups energy
  • Listen compassionately
  • Powerful speaking
  • Work with emergence
  • Dance in the moment

The power of magic for learning and development

Magic is democratic. No-one arrives at our workshops already an expert. Not so far anyway! The playing field is level and everyone learns together. Because magic is visual, it’s a universal language that everyone understands. There is no right and wrong in this learning space. Whatever feelings and emotions people have, these are always welcome.

I see a change in participants when they learn their first magic trick. Doing something that they thought was impossible, provides the quickest mindset shift I have seen in the learning space. Participants are now open to learning. They have successfully stepped out of their comfort zone. Learning happens when we are uncomfortable. Magic makes that discomfort exciting rather than scary. It primes people for learning.

I have learnt that the wonder of magic goes way beyond tricks. Magicians have a deep understanding of how our brains work. They know how we make decisions, how we perceive the world and how we form memories. When you combine this knowledge with facilitation, something truly magical happens. It allows participants to believe that the impossible can be possible. When people learn how to share magic with others, that’s when hope becomes contagious and magic spreads. It really is the most wonderful feeling.

Priya Ghai
Learning Design Lead

Get in touch with Priya and the team

Get in touch

What wellbeing means to me

By | What's new?

Is there anything magical about World Mental Health Day? Well, yes. Slowly, but surely, the world is wising up to the importance of good mental health.

In my 30 years as a magician nothing has helped me cope with life’s emotional challenges more than magic. It grounds me. It occupies my mind. It challenges my perceptions of life. It engages my mind. And keeps me looking forward for new things to discover.

Being well depends on a well-balanced life. When our resources are plentiful, we can face our daily challenges. By resources I mean positive emotions, being engaged, achieving goals, having good relationships and finding meaning in our lives. Wellbeing is also about care – respecting ourselves and remembering that we need to take care of ourselves first, so we can contribute to society. It is not about being happy all the time. That’s not possible. But as long as we are self-aware and act if resources become depleted, we should be able to cope. It takes skill to acknowledge our emotions, understand how they impact us and how to operate under difficult situations. Having that skill gives you a better chance at dealing with challenges.

The personal impact that magic had on my life 

I discovered magic in my teenage years, answering a ‘call’ from my creative side. I was bored, I wanted to try something different. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and learned that I could do amazing things. But magic also nurtured my social skills. It gives you a tool to approach people with and creates great conversations. Magic helped me connect with people from all walks of life. It is a universal language – quite handy when you’re travelling around the world!

The magic community has had a profoundly positive impact in my life. Creating a space where people share secrets and discuss possibilities is a very special and bonding experience. Another powerful aspect of magic is the support it has given me in harsh life moments. Stress, tricky relationships or your mind getting stuck… magic is my medicine for anxiety, stress or panic attacks. It is an activity that I always go back to, that helps me focus and be in the moment.

Three decades of a life with magic has given me great insights to harness when coaching other people. I gained an incredible understanding of magic as a learning tool. It works amazingly well to break down barriers between people and to help individuals find their voice. It supports everyone in self-discovery so they can take responsibility for their behaviours and feelings.

Click here to read the rest of my thoughts on wellbeing and mental health in Kendelle’s interview.
Illustrations by Kristof Goossens

Rubens Filho
Director of spells

Magic at the Science Museum

By | Abracademy Labs, Hugo, What's new?

When I heard that the Science Museum invited Abracademy to take part in their Lates event, I immediately thought: let’s take magic home!

Magic and science are two sides of the same coin. They form an inseparable unity, one does not exist without the other. To paraphrase the great Argentinian magician, Rene Lavand, “Magic and science are two, but no more than one…”

 

A very English and most representative character of this unity was John Dee, magician to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. He was a mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, philosopher, scientist and magician. His prolific discoveries and visions helped Elizabeth to write the future history of England. We didn’t know it yet, but John Dee would be present for Abracademy’s performance that night at London’s Science Museum – one of the world’s scientific cathedrals!

Abracademy offered various activities (workshops, the Wonder Table, Abracademy Labs and a talk by yours truly). We presented to and taught what magic is about to a hugely diverse audience. We also talked about the implications that this complex form of art has, in furthering the study of the human brain. In the workshops, participants learned about the sense of Wonder while experiencing magic specially designed for the event.

The Wonder Table showed the most curious different types of illusions. Illusions that made them question what reality is and how we can be sure about the existence of what we see. The table also marked a line between optical illusions and cognitive illusions, which are a more complex type of illusion. They attack processes such as attention, memory and perception. Magic is the best example of cognitive illusion.

Magic and science are inextricably entangled. They have always inspired each other to create new ways of thinking and observing. They are complementary disciplines concerned with the same things, such as the human brain and how it works. Magicians are great observers of human behaviour, acquiring a deep and intuitive knowledge of the brain in the process. Through their own methods, trials and errors, magicians have understood, for millennia, phenomena of cognition that are only recently defined by neuroscientists and psychologists. Magicians and scientist are once again collaborating. But this time to disentangle the underlying processes behind attention, memory and perception.

It’s within this context that Abracademy created Abracademy Labs – an independent laboratory using magic to investigate the human brain. Currently the lab is developing different experiments, including understanding decision-making and forced choices. Abracademy Labs was of course present at the Science Museum Lates. Participants were invited to wear an eye tracking device and asked to look at a deck of cards while choosing one. The experiment always ended with the same enthusiastic question: how can you predict my card selection?!

In a very special room dedicated to a different art, mathematics (the universal language of nature), Abracademy created an evening of Wonder and brought magic home. We’re delighted that Dee was with us as mentioned, albeit in book form. Just a few steps from our Wonder Table was the first English edition of Euclid’s Elements, to which Dee wrote the preface. A magic (book) end to a magic evening!

Hugo Caffaratti
PhD Cognitive Neuroscience