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Learning the Art of Mentalism

Mentalism helps to decode the human mind. The fine line between mentalism and magic makes the former tough to learn. Here are facets of mentalism and few mentalists for you.
Mukta Gaikwad
Imagine the ease in problem solving if one had the skill of reading minds. It would only take a few minutes to determine a convict, a liar or a lovestruck soul amongst a horde of suspects. If one could read minds, conclusions would be based on empirical evidences instead of theories.
But, it is the intricacy of mind reading that makes it a rare skill and a taxing subject to learn. Mind reading, also known as mentalism, refers to reading another person's mind with your own intuitive abilities. Mentalists or mind readers, undergo years of training to decode the human mind to perfection.
They are in constant process of learning from their experiences and everyday observations. What may seem as a mentalist's ad-lib performance, is actually a result of his trained subconscious mind to perceive things hidden to the naked eye.
Mentalism is a blend of clairvoyance, precognition, intuition, observation, telepathy, telekinesis, mind control and hypnosis. It is truly an art as it is an application of your skill and your trained subconscious mind to comprehend cleverly concealed facts.

Mentalist Decoded

A mentalist has to bank on some convincing techniques to converse or interact with his audience, while playing mind tricks. Following are the ways in which a mentalist succeeds in his act of keeping his audience entertained and mesmerized.

Cold Reading

Cold reading is a technique used by mentalists to establish a rapport with the audience by arousing interest and projecting enigma. This refers to a method used by every mentalist to predict a person prior to any communication with him.
Cold reading demands keen observation skills of a person's body language, clothing style, choice of colors worn or carried, hairstyle, religion, race, age, gender, facial expressions, mannerisms, manner of speech and language usage.
As cold reading is done in a matter of minutes, it demands quick review of details and comprehension of mannerisms. All it takes is one correct guess about the person's mood to establish a comfort level determined by trust.


Shotgunning is similar to cold reading. It refers to throwing a lot of generic information at the audience, which they can usually relate to.
For instance, talking about someone's death in the family, loss of a pet, anxiety related to marriages and so forth are common topics that most people can associate with. Once the information hits the right nerve, the audience automatically connects with the mentalist at an emotional level.

Hot Reading

Hot reading is a technique used in combination with cold reading. Contrary to the former, hot reading involves careful research of the subject's background, conversations, home and basically collecting as much information as possible.
This helps in understanding the subject's psychology and state of mind. A lot can be derived from the company the subject keeps than from what he may actually speak about.

Warm Reading

Warm reading is similar to hot reading. It refers to making generic assumptions that most of the audience can relate to. However, these assumptions are drawn out of prior research.
For instance, talking about a piece of clothing worn by your subject may have a relation to death of a near one. It might be worn in memory of someone or as a good luck charm. Talking about these common human experiences helps the subjects to establish an emotional bond with the mentalist.

Signs and Signals

Picking up small insignificant signs and signals from your subject's mannerisms can tell you lot about him/her.
For instance, disheveled hair, dark circles, puffy eyes, receding hairline, outrageously mismatched clothes and chipped nails can be signs of stress and overwork. Similar signs which are often missed by laymen, but picked up by keen observers are starting points of deciphering your subject.


Surely you must have experienced a moment wherein you and your friend have about the same thing, at the same time and have had the same opinion. This precisely is telepathy. So how does this happen? It happens when the deepest and truest feelings, energy and emotions of two people get focused on the same subject for the same time.
To learn telepathy, one must have a positive mindset. To make a telepathic connect with someone, it is imperative that you make them feel the need to connect with you too. This can be done by focusing your energy on an activity you would want to do with them.
Pay attention to your feelings to send out positive messages. A positive energy is most of the time responded with a positive response. Learning telepathy is a crucial part of learning mentalism, as it helps one understand the subject without saying much.


Observation is an activity done by most of us while sitting at café or while being pushed around in a crowded metro. To learn the art of mentalism, it is crucial that this skill is sharpened to make correct observations. A simple tip to be a good observer is to keep all your biases and prejudices away. This helps in seeing finer details about your subject.
Many believe that hypnosis, mind control, creating illusions and sleight of hand are required to be a mentalist. However, these techniques are used in magic tricks, which differ from mentalist's skills. A true mentalist is the one who acquires the real skill of reading minds and deciphering emotions to draw logical conclusions.
Tony Corinda, a magician and a mentalist, decoded the complex structure of mentalism in his book - 'Thirteen Steps to Mentalism'. A magic dealer, inventor and a businessman himself, secrecy was one of his dearly guarded characteristics. His birthplace, date and facts about his early life still remain a mystery to the world.
His close relationship with magic must have been the inspiration to delve deeper into the art of mentalism. Although, most of the chapters in the book amalgamate magic and mentalism, there is a fine line between the two.
Celebrities such as Criss Angel, David Copperfield, David Blaine and Keith Barry create illusions with sleight of hand and trickery. However, a mentalist is someone who derives conclusions with his mind power, which is truly beyond science's comprehension.
Erik Jan Hanussen, a famous hypnotist, mentalist, occultist and an astrologer, was believed to have been a fine conduit of Hitler's actions. Despite Hanussen's Jewish origins, he was a staunch supporter of Nazi Germany. This precisely shows his influence over Führer.
A report by Office of Strategic Services states, "during the early 1920s, Hitler took regular lessons in speaking and in mass psychology from a man named Hanussen who was also a practicing astrologer. He was an extremely clever individual who taught Hitler a great deal concerning the importance of staging meetings to obtain the greatest dramatic effect."
Hanussen's biggest feat was predicting the Reichstag fire, an event which established his talent and the Nazi rule. As the prediction was realized in due course, it led to Hanussen's downfall on the allegation of manipulating Marinus van der Lubbe (the main accused behind the act) by hypnosis.
Another famous example of a mentalist, Patrick Jane was a fictional character portrayed by Simon Baker, in 'The Mentalist'. The series is loosely based on functions of California Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The bureau hires Jane for solving crimes citing his psychic abilities to perceive beyond the obvious.
It is Jane's perfect mind-reading acumen which significantly helps the bureau in solving cases in a fast-track way. Here, the protagonist uses no tricks, gimmicks or sleight. It is purely his paranormal abilities, which enable him to understand human mind in way that most of us do not.
These examples clearly state that learning the art of mentalism is not about mere trickery, but more about "honing your power of thinking without thinking", as Malcolm Gladwell says. Mentalism is truly a combination of intuitive and instinctive thinking. An undefined subject as such, has little scope of charting a curriculum for its ardent students.
The art of mentalism is thus, about balancing your split-second judgments, learning human behavior, gut feeling and matching these with your instinctive thinking. The fickle nature of these makes this subject vast and indefinite. It is the abstract nature of findings with the precision of scrutinizing details, which makes mentalism an art like any other.