What is mentalism? Mentalism is the theory in which psychological and physical phenomena can only be explained in terms of an interpretative and creative mind. Widely known in terms of entertainment, mentalism is a performing art where those who practice it (mentalists) demonstrate intuitive and highly developed abilities, or, at least, it appears that way.
If you have heard of magicians such as David Blane or illusionist Uri Geller, these are mentalism practitioners; however, they will not always mix mentalism into their strictly magic routines, as they want you to believe that no trickery is involved when practicing mentalism.
The subtle difference between magic and mentalism is that magicians will create an illusion, a distortion of the senses that can reveal how the human brain normally perceives or interprets something; but mentalists can make you think they have special powers by combining certain skillful arts of magic with an understanding of human psychology.
You might be thinking, what in the world does psychology have to do with the ability to bend a spoon or pinpointing exactly what a member of an audience is thinking? Well, the reason mentalism tricks have such a profound effect on humans is that they appear real because they are based in reality.
Mentalism tricks, whether in terms of telepathy, mind control, hypnosis, precognition, or clairvoyance, affect us on a psychological level. But how exactly do they do this? For one, mentalists are charismatic, and in addition to psychological skills, they can read lips and body language, manipulate people, memorize things at an advanced level, and are hypnosis virtuosos.
What is mind-reading?
Mind reading is the most popular kind of mentalism practiced today. Mind reading means being able to determine with 100% accuracy what someone else is thinking. When a mentalist displays his or her ability to read minds, it is not a result of guesswork or supernatural powers but rather through manipulating an audience’s memory and influencing them subliminally to make them believe in their words or actions.
This type of response is elicited through something called psychological suggestion, and in the field of psychology, suggestion is the process of leading someone to respond uncritically, whether a verbal belief or visual action. But it is not always the mentalist producing the intended effect, but rather using the “response expectancies” of the audience to their advantage.
What this means is when we have expectations, it sets us up to have automatic responses that influence how we get the outcome we expected. Once someone anticipates that a certain outcome will occur, their subsequent behaviors and thoughts actually help bring about that outcome. Of all the mentalism tricks, a mentalists’ power of persuasion is so powerful and accurate that it makes one question their perception of reality.
In either case, mentalism tricks produce astonishing effects in a world full of skeptics. A mentalists’ mix of illusory and cognitive manipulation creates results that defy logic, causing us to question the things we have always believed beyond a shadow of a doubt are valid. So, by now, you may be you thinking, okay, great, I get it, mentalists are psychological masters, but how do they actually do it? For example, how does one read someone’s mind?
Believe it or not, mind reading is one of few mentalism tricks that can be learned to an extent, and it does not necessarily require “special powers,” which is what people will believe of mentalists who know what they are doing. Mind reading requires more focus, training, determination, and time than anything else.
There are also tricks involved that can give the illusion that you are reading minds. We are actually all natural mind readers who are capable of mirroring the feelings and thoughts of those we interact with. Here are the basic necessary steps for how to “read” someone’s mind:
- Clear your mind and open up your energy – you need to first remove all distractions, thoughts, and stresses from your own mind. Not thinking about anything will enable you to be present and read the energy of that person. Yoga can help you train in this element, for example.
- See the person in front of you – take a mental snapshot of the person in front of you – including all details and features, from their eyes to their body language. You need to separate the person from everything else in the room, such as their chair, so you see only the traits that belong to them.
- Focus on the person in front of you – return your focus to the person and look them in the eyes for 15 seconds, then look away; any longer may disrupt the energy if the person begins to feel uncomfortable. Now take a mental snapshot of just their face and eyes. Note what their energy feels like and sit silently as you let that person’s feelings and thoughts fill your mind and spirit. This is where mind-reading begins.
- Start a conversation – choose a topic for a conversation, such as that person’s work, personal, or home life. You may experience the same thoughts in your mind that come through theirs, and the key is to welcome all thoughts so you can be as accurate as possible. Where the strong memory skills come in is in the ability to store the thoughts and sum them up once you are through. For beginners, though, it may be easier to just say immediately what you think that they are thinking.
Of course, there are other skills you can work on and incorporate to improve after more practice, but the bottom line is that outside of all the magic, trickery, and stage performances, mentalism and mind reading have the potential to do some real good in the world if channeled with sincerity and used wisely.