A few years ago I ran an ultra marathon workshop in Dublin.

At the beginning of the event I brought in a close up magician who walked around as people arrived doing tricks (sorry, magic), and then opened the event from the stage by pulling a €20 note that Gerry Duffy had previously signed from the middle of a kiwi fruit.

The link was ‘there’s no magic bullet for endurance running’.

Clever, right?

Actually I just love close up magic and wanted an excuse to see some in action at one of my events!

Anyway, a couple of years ago I met a friend on a Retreat called Steel – an ex-special forces marine turned close up magician.

He showed me a few bits and pointed me towards some resources, and I tried to get into doing a few minutes each day of card magic with my daughter when I got back from the trip.

But it fizzled out after a few weeks until a couple of months ago, when I decided to try again but this time as an experiment in habit building.

Applying all that I know about starting new behaviours to see if I could turn this into an established habit.

And today I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned so far with you… not about cardistry and sleight of hand, but habit building and skill learning in general.

#1 Remove the barriers

When I tried to learn before, I had a deck of cards in the lounge and set out to do 5 minutes first thing in the morning.

The plan was to build the habit with the lowest amount of pressure possible, and 5 minutes a day seemed doable.

But it felt forced, and I didn’t always feel like handling the cards every morning. This time, I’ve placed decks of cards all over the house. I don’t do it at any set time of the day, because whenever I feel like taking a break from work or just sitting down for 5 minutes, I pick up a pack and play.

The barrier for me was inconvenience.

Having a deck right by my bed means I can do a few minutes there if I want…

before I’d have had to have got out of bed to get the lounge pack, and that was never going to happen! How can you make your new behaviours more convenient?

#2 Unpack the problem and find the bottlenecks

I had a revelation last night as I was about to do my daily video.

I’m trying to learn a movement called a ‘single hand triple revolution cut’, and was really struggling with it.

I’d watched a couple of YouTube tutorials on it, but was still not getting it. Then I realised that I couldn’t not do the move…

it was only a certain part of the move that kept stopping me.

If I could unblock that bottleneck, I’d be able to do the move.

It sounds obvious, but how many times do we say ‘I can’t do this or that’ when really it’s just a part of the whole thing that we struggle with?

When I focused on the bottleneck, I was able to figure out a way to fix it and that unlocked the rest of the move for me. Find your bottleneck and focus on fixing THAT.

#3 Practice mindfully and purposefully

It’s not just doing something for 10,000 hours that brings mastery, it’s doing the thing with PURPOSE.

What that means is that you need to be analysing what’s working and what isn’t, in order to improve and establish the habit.

For me and my cards, I try to focus on what I did at each point when something actually works.

Where was I holding the cards?

How was I turning them?

Where were my other fingers at the time? By tuning into the detail of the process, I’m getting way more feedback for when I’m doing it right, than I would if I just celebrated the random successes.

I tend to do this on the fly because the repetition cycle is so short (I can complete hundreds in a relatively short space of time).

If your new behaviour or thing happens with less frequency, like getting to the gym or eating a healthy breakfast, a great way to achieve the same mindfulness is to journal.

Simply writing down what you’ve noticed about what worked for you starts to build not only a picture of how you can replicate the good stuff, but creates new pathways in your brain that turn this new behaviour into an efficient automatic process.

That’s the principle of Attention, Intention and Repetition… when we try to build habits usually we just focus on the Repetition part (e.g. 21 days) and ignore the importance of paying Attention to the thing (and giving it significance and meaning… AKA Intention).

The power of public commitment

So there you go: 3 lessons I’ve learned from messing around with a deck of playing cards for a few minutes a day, that you can apply to your own new habits or behaviours.

Oh, and without stating last week that I was going to talk about cardistry this week, I probably wouldn’t have come up with all that.

Stay tuned for my take on cold showers, and why I find myself doing something I swore I’d never do!