By: Thoughts of a Random Citizen Podcast
I am joined today by Jonathan Pritchard, a season mentalist mind-reader author. Some would call it a magician, but for sure, an entrepreneur. So, before we get into what you do more actively, what did you have to go through to become a professional mind reader? Also, for those out there who might have heard the term but don't quite know, what exactly is a mentalist?
You have to go through multiple levels of secret initiation rights and a lot of dungeons. Now, it's one of those things that is open to anybody and everybody. There aren't any secrets. It's just stuff you don't know yet. So basically, growing up as a kid, I was interested in magic tricks and that kind of thing. The mind-reading stuff always seemed to get the biggest reactions, and you tend to go where you're wanted. The things that work, you use those and repeat that strategy.
Making a coin disappear is neat; you probably hid it in your hand somewhere, but how in the world did you know my pet's name when I was growing up? That just took all of my interest in creativity. Then, when I was 13 years old, I got paid 200 bucks to entertain a company's summer picnic for their employees and family. So I was just walking around reading minds as a teenager, and I got paid money for it. It was the coolest thing ever. That was the beginning of my "professional mentalist career."
For the folks who are wondering exactly what a mentalist is, there's the umbrella term of mystery entertainer. You've got illusionists working with boxes and tigers on stage; you've got magicians, which is a big umbrella term. Then mentalists are those mystery entertainers that focus on the power of the human mind, whether it's memory, demonstrations, influence, persuasion, predicting the future, or reading minds.
How do you go from coin tricks to guessing the name of someone's dog? Obviously, there's got to be some kind of leading questions or something. How would you guess the name of a childhood dog?
There's no guessing. That's what being a professional is. You're not leaving success up to chance. These are rock-solid methods based on universal principles of how human beings interact with reality. If you don't know what that process is, you don't know when I'm side-jacking that process to get you to come to a certain conclusion.
Zooming out the big picture is whether it's a mind-reading effect or a magic trick. The magician, the mentalist, is creating a context for the audience to make logical assumptions that are later shown not to be true, that's it, that's the whole equation, that's the whole formula, that's everything. But the introduction is that the context for you to make assumptions is created through my actions, tone of voice, every single thing that I'm doing, how I'm doing it, when I'm doing it, the words that I'm using, my body language. Every element of our connection in time helps you come to certain beliefs about what we're doing here.
Helping you come to those wrong conclusions about what's going on, the further away from actual reality your assumptions are or the space between where you are and where reality is, that gap is the potential for amazement. So within the context of a theater show where there's a proscenium, lighting, a sound guy, posters outside, all of that, lets you know, this is a safe environment for those experiences, and that allows you the freedom to enjoy the surprise. Whereas that process outside the framework of a performance is usually called fraud, stealing, or lying.
The point is that it is like learning to be a painter. You have to learn the rules of reality if you're going to paint something perfectly realistic but impossible. If I wanted to paint a dragon, I would have to know how light works, how perspective works, and how materials reflect light for me to paint the shiny scales of a dragon so that your eye perceives that it's realistic. You've got to master reality before you can create a believable abstraction or illusion.
Magicians -mentalists- are phenomenal communicators because they can communicate a lie perfectly indistinguishable from reality. That's why magicians, since the beginning of time, have already understood meta-narrative; they already understood meta universes and multiple perspectives of experience and my truth versus your truth versus ultimate truth and reality. Magicians have had an edge on that for about 10,000 years.
Can you go into what you're talking about with the whole understanding 10,000 years ago of metaverses and whatnot?
It's theory of mind, of understanding my experience will be different from your experience, and kids don't have that theory of mind until they're about three or four years old. You can do an experiment with kids where you can take a Pop-Tart box, put their favorite toy inside the box, and put it on the counter. Then you ask the kid what mom will think is inside that box when she comes into the room. A young kid will say "my favorite toy" because what they know is what is, but then they get a little bit older, and something clicks in the brain to understand, "what I know isn't automatically what everybody else knows. So mom would say that there are Pop-tarts in that box because she wasn't here to see that happen. Therefore, I can construct a reasonable understanding of what her understanding would be."
That happens automatically, but you would be surprised at how many human beings still operate thinking, "everybody knows what I know." You find that consultants assume, "it's easy for me. It's obvious to me. Why would anybody ever pay me for what's obvious." So you've got a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of consultants who undercharge or don't even charge for what it is that they know because "it's so obvious to me." That's because they don't understand that not everybody understands what they understand.
Magicians, they're playing Vivaldi with your mind. They know exactly what you're thinking and what you're going to be thinking in just a moment because they've helped you think of it. So I'm doing things to help you see "reality" in a certain way to come to a certain conclusion so that in the next two minutes when I do something else, it will completely surprise you.
Can you highlight psychological blind spots? Can you relate and highlight what that might be for specific people in specific scenarios?
That one is a big detail of not knowing what you don't know and only paying attention to what you can see. It's like the Sherlock Holmes story where the clue is that the dog didn't bark. In the business context, this is massively important, especially for entrepreneurs and small business owners, because they think that the way they've set things up gets them some results, then it's good.
What they're not seeing is all the business they're not getting because of how they've set things up. It could be that their website is just absolute hot garbage. But enough random chance, enough people are converting on that website for the business owner to think, "this website is good." So they're not going to invest $10,000 to build a high-conversion website because it made them $5,000 this month, and $10,000 is twice as expensive.
Entrepreneurs don't see that they lost $20,000 of business this month because of the number of people who didn't convert, who would have, because their skills are there. Still, they don't understand how much business they're missing because they do not see the business they're not getting. So business owners appreciate how much value they're missing, and not seeing this is one of the absolute biggest brain hiccups out there.
I know you wear many hats. An entrepreneurial consultant is one of them, but I wanted to highlight some of your travels and experiences as a performer and mentalist. I know you said you're professional, so it's no guesses, but have you ever had a trick go wrong? And if so, what did you do?
I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but they're not tricks. They're miracles. Miracles have a semi-religious nature, and I fight the battle every day to not start a cult, so that's what we're working with, but I do every once in a while have situations where it fails spectacularly. For example, you just spent seven minutes building up the drama, going through all the buildup, and then you miss it completely. If they were magic tricks, they would work every single time, but there's a certain bit of flying without a net going on.
Weirdly, it helped me become immune to failure in a big part because who cares? The show goes on. Secondly, the failure legitimizes you. That is a fractal lesson. It applies within the context of the show and in life and business. If I were perfect, if I were a Superman, nobody could relate to me; they'd think, "it's easy for you because you're clearly not human." Therefore, "I could ignore everything you have to tell me because you're not whatever I think you are -perfect-." Within the context of a show, if a routine fails, it's better for me somehow because the audience thinks, "there's no way that he would plan to screw up that badly; clearly, he's doing something really difficult and, therefore, even more impressive than this other stuff."
In the business world, you would rather fly with the pilot who crashed and survived in the wilderness for 27 days and made it back alive than with the guy who just graduated from flight school with flying colors. The guy that's been through the worst of the worst and came out smiling is who you want as your go-to guy, not the guy who never had to deal with any failure at all in any way, shape, or form. So don't hide your failures, don't be afraid of them, be willing to allow the space for failure, and you'll see that you get a lot more results.
I know throughout your career, you've done a lot of travel. Can you elaborate on some of your favorite experiences traveling outside of the U.S?
I did a two-week tour that I spent three weeks on, through South Korea. I flew out about a week early to see a high school friend of mine who was living down on the coast, teaching English. So I hopped on the train, went down a week early, had a great time, and then came back to Seoul. I was there to entertain the troops at 13 shows on 12 bases. I got to go up to the DMZ camp Bonifas and entertain the guys there. It was a living room show, it was me standing in front of the TV and two couches full of dudes, and I did my mind-reading act.
What was your perception of South Korea?
It was fantastic, it was wonderful. Another friend of mine from college was in Seoul, teaching English. It was really weird because I was at a different base, I had set up the show, and there wasn't much else to do but sit at the bar. I'm just staring at the countertop with nothing to do, and then these big strong arms wrap around me and bear-hug me, and then I hear a whisper, "I want to see a different show." I'm in a completely different country, and my first instinct is to reach back and just start scratching his head. I thought, "I don't know who this is, but they're not going to outweird me." Then I looked, and it was a buddy of mine from college whose wife was stationed on the base. They saw me on the billboard, so they came out to the show. Then they took me out drinking, where we met up with another friend of ours from college, who then took me to do a show for his English students. I performed my mind-reading show for his English class and had a great time.
Then, with a bunch of friends that I made there, we went out drinking, and they would show me the town on my off days between going out and doing shows and coming back. It was a lot of fun, and I have nothing but good things to say about it. It was easy to navigate, and I was that guy; I didn't really learn a lot of conversational Korean because I knew I would have my military liaison. They knew who I was. Everybody I interacted with outside that bubble was easy to get along with, and most folks were speaking English, or I could at least mime my way into understanding each other.
Moving on, I know that you've written several books, one of them being Think like a mind reader. What made you want to write this book? Could you briefly tell us what it is about?
What made me want to write it was doing college shows. I've been entertaining college students for more than a decade now, and after my show, I usually have a long autograph line full of college kids who don't know that I'm not famous, but to them, I am. So, they wanted autographs, and the same 20 questions kept popping up. Statements like, "it's so easy for you since you're so extroverted," when actually I'm intensely introverted. I've learned how to be outgoing, but being in a large integral group of people freaks me out. I would rather be on stage in front of a large group because that's where I'm in control, instead of being in a social environment at a party where it's not my show. I don't know what to do with my hands, and I'd rather be home.
The same conversations started popping up, and I'd share how I think about things. After a couple of years, I started getting emails from college students saying, "Hey, I don't know if you remember me, you came to my school a couple of years ago, and you shared some ideas that blew my mind; here's everything that I've done since then, and is because you took the time to talk to me." That was deeply humbling and kind of scary because I was just making stuff up; I was talking off the cuff; I didn't actually plan any of this. They asked me, and I gave them my thoughts, and this stuff seems to be useful to people.
So, how would I get this to as many people as possible? Not everybody is lucky enough to go to a school that's bringing me in to do my show. I'll write a book. It was actually pretty straightforward for me to write the book because, by then, I'd have five or six years worth of these conversations. I put it all into the book, self-confidence, logic, how your mind works, motivation, and why that's the worst way to accomplish your goals. I sometimes bill myself as a motivational speaker, but I have an unholy hatred for motivational speakers because they give you something they can't give. So all of that is what I packed into the book.
I also built a mind-reading demonstration into the book so that you could learn how to use the book to read the minds of your friends, which is the ultimate meta lesson of becoming a better communicator. Because at first, it'll be an interesting puzzle that your friends want to figure out, and then as you get better and better at doing the trick, you create it into a miracle, and people will ask you, "How did you know that? Did I blink, and that's what told you?" I usually answer I don't care how you're holding your shoulders or hunching; that's not going to tell me your cat's name.
On top of that, you highlight in your book how people don't necessarily know how to create a life that they're actually excited to live. Can you quickly brief us on some solutions? How do you create a life you're excited to live?
Give yourself permission to imagine what that would look like. All of this goes back to doing college shows because the college students would tell me, "Man, I can't even imagine doing what you do." That's true on two levels; let's count what they meant. They mean in the straight forward "how did you do those migrating things that look like miracles to me? Where's your cult?" That's the first layer. The second layer is "I've been told my whole life that I've got to get good grades in high school so that I can get into college to get a degree, get a good job, get a good retirement, and then die and get a good casket; and then here comes this weirdo who reads minds for a living."
They're screaming through the sky this weird comment that portends death and destruction. They think, "What are you? How do you fit into my worldview? None of this makes sense. So, you're telling me that you're happy with life, not working in a cubicle. What?" That destroys their worldview that this tidy little box is the only way they will be a good person. Since that framework has been built since they were kids, it's a straight jacket of imagination that anything outside that tidy little okay area is suddenly scary and impossible.
If you ask most people what the best life for them would look like, it's deeply unsettling the percentage of people who say, "I don't know. I can't even imagine what that would look like." So most people aren't even free to imagine something, and if you can't picture it in your mind, you've got zero chance of making it happen; because every single thing, every tool that we humans have used since the dawn of time, started as an idea. Somebody who could imagine something about reality that isn't real yet, then devote their energy to transforming reality into the one they imagined. That's the direction it goes.
It all starts in your mind. Most people think, "Ok, that's good, but what do we do after?" Well, it's not that. You got to back up and imagine what that would look like for you, free from all the baggage of what you think you should be doing versus what you actually imagine yourself to want.
In one way or another, you also talk about how life is meaningless and full of atoms. Can you elaborate on this concept of the smaller parts leading to one whole?
This is a conversation that goes back to before the ancient Greeks. There are only two ways to think about reality, and one is that the fundamental atoms are all there is. It's all just particles bumping around, and consciousness is just an emergent characteristic of those fundamental atoms. In this way, meaning is untethered from reality. There is no meaning to life, the universe, everything. That is the deeply nihilistic "no reason for being," which is the most popular mode of understanding the universe nowadays.
The atomistic view of reality has won out. If it can't be quantified, it's not a real thing, and we're only concerned with what is real; therefore, meaning isn't real, love isn't real. On the flip side, the mind and the creative life spirit are what animate reality. You've got a co-substantial existence of spirit and matter together, giving rise to mind, beliefs, and experience. So that world is nothing but meaning, is nothing but amazement that there's even this thing called life to be sad about.
I completely reject the atoms-only approach to life because of the power of the mind to shape reality. The mind is the only thing that can change that deterministic cause and effect atoms to atoms worldview. It's weird to see people think, "there's nothing special about reality, except that I'm here saying that this isn't special." That deeply nihilistic result of the enlightenment is a bummer to me. To me, life is magic first, matter second.
Is that something well understood in your teachings and lessons of being a mentalist, magician? For what you do and how you base your miracles, do you have to be able to understand that there is more than just the basic atoms of things? Am I off base here?
Weirdly, in the magic world, most magicians are nihilistic. They don't believe in magic. There's no such thing as magic. However, they will do this bizarre ritual to create this experience that they say isn't real, which is deeply disturbing and very confusing to me. Because they're devoting their life to creating this thing that they say is impossible, and they call themselves magicians. To me, that is so bizarre. I'm never going to get used to that, but I used to be one of those guys, thinking it's all just atoms; there's no such thing as magic. But then, when you really think about it, as life itself is magic, it's nothing but magic; it is amazing.
That way of approaching reality is super uncommon and not very well understood or even supported by most people that you would run into. This way of seeing the world goes back to Pythagoras. The Pythagorans and the mystery cult of reality lost out to the Aristotelian way of seeing the world, which is the atomistic way. Aristotle nailed Pythagoras' coffin closed thousands of years before we were even born, and it's been Aristotle's world ever since. So, there aren't many people who see the world in the view of Pythagoras, and even the people who say there's spirit, rely most heavily on the religious framework of spirit. Nevertheless, Pythagoras is pre-Christian, pre organized religion.
This is all metaphysics. It's the cause and effect of meaning beyond the level of physical reality, but it's all still bounded by cause and effect, with spirit being able to shape it and change it. That all happens whether or not you want to ascribe a supernatural god figure or savior figure. Most of the major religions on planet earth are a humanized cause of a fundamental universal way the universe works. You can still have this operating system belief without bringing along all the baggage of having to believe in a guy for your spirit to do what it needs to do.
It is such a bizarre way of relating to the universe for 99.9% of people on planet earth. The dichotomy is, "I'm an atheist, scientist, cause and effect, atoms are the only thing that's real," or, "my god is the real god, my savior is the only path to truth." That is the bucket that 99.9% of the world falls into. Then you've got the Neoplatonist metaphysics people that study ancient texts, and ancient metaphysics before the cult of the atom got ahold of all philosophy and meaning. So, this is a very strange, ancient stuff that you've got to work really hard to find, and nobody at a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company cares about, but the insights it gives makes them pay you a lot of money for sharing with them.
I'm curious about what led you down that initial path? Considering that you said you had come from that more nihilistic background. What path led you to look up some ancient texts and figure out what a is what?
It was Wing Chun Kung Fu, which is the geometry of intention. So, for me to punch you in the face, certain things need to happen in certain ways. My fist has got to travel through space and time to connect with your face, and the shortest distance is a straight line, but then you've got non-Euclidean space. So oftentimes, the most direct route is the indirect route around your defenses, and when we're connected, I can feel your intention through your body before you're ever even consciously aware of it.
As long as I'm fully embodied, instead of just in my head about things, I can feel what you want to do before you're doing it. The experience is deeply unsettling when you've got a skilled Kung Fu person, and you're trying to wrangle them; they're never where you want them to be. They just always seem to be exactly in the wrong spot, and it is so frustrating. That's really where I started getting into geometry through time and then understanding those angles, and geometry's fascinating. Then, I followed that rabbit trail all the way back to Pythagoras, who was the curator of this kind of knowledge in a mystery cult.
That started to jive with my background as a mentalist, as a person interested in the history of magic, the philosophy of magic, where, back in the days of the campfires and roving bands of humans, the shamans -the magicians- were the curators of a way of seeing the world where science, art, and philosophy were all the same thing. Today, magicians are the best you're going to get at bringing those three elements back together, because Aristotle split the atom of those three elements, and they're separate now. Art is art; philosophy's over there; you got science over there; never shall they ever talk to each other, but in the experience of magic, communicating your life philosophy, using the physics of optics and sight lines to express your vision of reality, that's art.
It started with Kung Fu and understanding how the mind is what hits you first, and the body follows that intention. This weird thing about what you're focusing on aligns your entire being to move towards it. The power of your mind and intention allows you to overcome whatever's in front of you, and I mean that in a literal sense. It's the person whose mind is the strongest that comes out the other side, not the strongest body.
Another thing you talk about is how your impulse to move your arm is far quicker than your mind deciding it wants to move the arm. I'm curious to see how you think this does or doesn't relate to the little voice inside your head telling you right from wrong.
There is no difference really. That process of that little voice inside your head is really interesting to me. It goes back, again, to your childhood, and to me, your operating system is installed from your childhood experiences on the hardware that is being human. So there's that nature versus nurture thing, and when you're a kid, you've got that non-stop monologue that's out loud all the time, "Hey, look, there's a brown dog. Dad looked there. That dog is brown. I want to pet that dog." It's like having a little drunk person around you all the time. My wife and I are expecting our first kid here in a couple of months, and I'm looking forward to having that little drunk person walking around.
Anyways, at some point, the adults say, "Could you please, just for five minutes, please be quiet? I just need five minutes of silence. That's all I need." Well, that running monologue doesn't go away. It just turns from exterior to interior. You're constantly narrating; you're constantly talking to yourself about yourself, about your future self. There's that constant yammering going on. Just like in a long-term relationship where your partner could be talking, and you don't hear it because you've gotten used to not paying attention, but they're still talking. It's still there. It's just not your conscious focus.
Eventually, you're going to run out of new things to talk about, so you're going to say the same things over and over again; you're going to believe the same things over and over again. That internal self-talk has been practiced since you were a child, and your experiences create those expectations of how life works, further reinforcing the behaviors that caused them again. This consequently leads you to believe further that this is how the world works.
This bizarre self-reinforcing cycle of you believing the world works this way leads you to act a certain way, which causes those consequences again, further reinforcing the totally logical belief that the world works this way. You're entirely, logically, consistent within that framework of your beliefs, actions, and consequences. That still doesn't mean that there's no different way to believe about the world, which leads you to behave differently, getting you different results. That one is logically consistent with itself too.
So everybody's wackiness is entirely logical to them, and it's the result of that non-stop monologue in their head. If you're telling yourself you can't do it; you've got that little voice inside saying yes or no; your life is the result of the life you've been practicing. You've been practicing getting really good at having the problems you've got. That's a radical ownership that most people will not wrap their heads around because they'd think, "wait a minute, you mean, my problems are the ones I'm good at having. I don't like having these problems." Yet they seem to because they keep doing the stuff that leads them to have those problems repeatedly.
What you were saying reminds me of Isaiah Berlin's theory of pluralism in how today's society thinks there is just one answer for everything. When in reality, there are multiple ways in which people can live, operate, and then reinforce within themselves in a completely logical manner, and it's worked well.
So, transitioning towards the end of this conversation, I wanted to touch the business side of things. I know that you are in the process of creating an online mind-reading show, The game of imagination. Has it launched, or is it still in the process? Can you elaborate on that?
It's slowly transitioning out. It was created, did its job, and it's coming in for a landing. There was this thing in 2020 that you might've heard about, where this one week in March during all of my gigs, I helped companies at trade shows being in their booth. I custom-designed a presentation, used my skills at drawing a crowd to build a crowd, then did a presentation that clearly qualifies the best leads for my clients. Then after the presentation, I'm the machine that gets them tons of leads out of a trade show. That's one of the most valuable things that I do.
I also do sales training where I come in for two days and teach your team more effective sales. There's a magic effect; if you don't move the right way, the right things, you don't have a magic effect. If you don't do sales the right way, in the right order, at the right time, you don't have the effect of closing the sale. So I teach sales, negotiation, presentation skills, influence with integrity, all that kind of stuff. I do keynote speaking; I'm also the MC for conferences; I could be the end of gala entertainer. You want that 70-minute Broadway-level production value with video and all that stuff, I do it.
One more week in March, all of that evaporates because the world gets shut down. So I spent about a couple of weeks being hurt about it, then my college agent tells me I should figure out how to do this mind-reading thing over video calls or something, and money's a good motivator for me. So I said, "all right, let's do it, sell it, then I'll build it." She booked a bunch of college shows, and I built out this studio. I went to Twitch to find out how live streamers do it and then built it out.
I've got multiple camera angles and do a full interactive mind-reading show through video platforms. I used Zoom most of the time, and from there, I continued my corporate speaking. I was the guest of honor at a whole bunch of corporate events held over Zoom. I worked with Discovery over a Zoom meet and greet event; I was the entertainment. Discovery trusted me to communicate to their employees how much Discovery appreciates them by bringing in this mind-reader guy and having a good time. So, now that the world is slowly, tentatively coming back, the virtual events are phasing out in light of people going all-in on live shows again.
How much more difficult was it to do the mind-reading mental aspect of what you do over the internet? Was it difficult?
It was difficult and really different because I could just hand you something in person. On video, people think it's all gimmicked out, and it's all trip cards and that kind of a thing. So it was difficult, but it also had a lot of pluses that an in-person experience doesn't have. For example, when we're at a real-person show, even if you're in the front row, you're still about 10 feet away from me, but when the camera is right here, and I can touch the camera, you're literally an arms-length for me. It's tough to get closer than that and still be comfortable. So everybody in the show gets better than a front-row seat for the experience. It allows for a much weirder, deeper, more immediate connection with the audience than a live show.
They are completely different animals, and there's a lot of great about both. Still, they're in fundamentally different directions, and doing almost 200 of those in the past two years gave me a much sharper edge for making video call sales. So when I'm talking to these big corporations, and they want to meet on Microsoft teams, Google meet, or Zoom, I can close much easier than anybody else who's thinking, "How do I look? I'm not used to this; this is so weird. Do I look at the screen? Do I look at the camera? If I look at the camera, I'm not looking at them, so how do I know what they're looking like?"
Video call sales are even more difficult than phone sales, and most people will only make email sales nowadays because talking on the phone is icky. So if you're willing to learn those skills, you can land bigger opportunities that are just sitting there because everybody else wants the easy email-blast auto-drip campaign; and since the medium is the message you're telling this huge corporation that it's worth about none of your time. "I'll just put you in my auto flow, and you'll know it because it says unsubscribed down there at the bottom. I don't even care enough to send you an email personally, and that's how much your success means to me." Obviously, companies hire me instead.
One last thing that I really wanted to highlight you're involved with is Escape Pod. I think it's still something that you're doing. Can you elaborate and talk a bit about what that is and what you're doing with that?
You've just opened about a five-day can of worms. Okay. A fundamental belief I have is that the internet is busted. Most of our relationships are created and maintained through online platforms, like Facebook, and Twitter, but you don't own the tools to maintain that connection. You are renting that database of your relationship because, from a technical level, Facebook has invested millions and millions of dollars in solving the very difficult problem of maintaining a server with a database.<