Juggling and Your Beliefs

I’m amazed at how many people I run across that after seeing me juggle say, “Wow, I could never juggle.” I then think back to all the practice I did, all of those awkward throws that I threw too far away, the chasing the balls after they hit my foot, the figuring out to practice over my bed so I wouldn’t have to bend down so far to pick up, and then I think of the 3 hours a night I put in as a teenager practicing for IJA competitions, and I’m a little insulted that they dismiss all of that work I did and presume that I have some sort of magic that they don’t have that allows me to juggle but not them. What’s going on in their head?

Of course they’re thinking back to, or picturing a time in their life when they picked up 3 objects, gave juggling a shot (probably just once maybe twice), received no instruction about the steps to practice, nor the practice techniques that actually lead to juggling, they dropped all over the place, apologized for bruising their neighbors oranges, and promptly quit, having gained all the evidence they needed to determine beyond a shadow of a doubt that juggling is definitely impossible, at least for them.

So when I think, “juggling is easy” and when they think, “Wow, I could never juggle,” clearly we’re responding to two very different collections of memories. 

But at one time ‘juggling wasn’t easy,’ but then I came to believe it was. We’ll look at that in detail today. 

My recent JUGGLE Magazine article was on the four stages we go through when learning anything new, and it relates rather well to this article’s main topic which is beliefs, your beliefs, and how they relate to your juggling practice. I think you’ll find this very interesting, and hopefully very helpful.

The Four Stages Quick Review

Quickly, the first stage is that you are oblivious to the topic (at some point in your life you had no idea what mills mess was, nor what 97531 even looked like (it looks pretty cool). Maybe some of you are at that stage now – they’re both juggling moves). 

The next stage is what I call the awkward stage. Everything is awkward at first. A lot of people, not realizing they’re in the awkward stage, will just quit, saying, “It’s too hard.” They don’t believe they can get better. 

With some practice you get to the concentration stage. You can do it, but it takes most of your concentration to do it. I’m sure you can think of a juggling move that currently takes all of your focus to pull off. 

And finally you get to the flow stage where the move is as easy as walking or brushing your teeth. 

So the stages again are Oblivious, Awkward, Concentration, and Flow – too bad they don’t make a nice acronym. But that leads us to the topic of belief.

If you can think of a number of things that were awkward at first, but now you can do them really easily, perhaps without even thinking about it, then it’s easier to believe that whatever is awkward for you now will soon be super easy or will ‘flow.’

Let’s delve deeper into what a belief is, how it works, how it guides our behaviors, and how it affects our juggling results.

A belief is a thought that we hold to be true, but isn’t necessarily true. 

A belief is represented to us in the form of words and or pictures in our head, like the memories in the examples at the beginning of this article. You could say a belief is a collection of internal words and pictures. For instance, “I can learn to juggle 5 balls,” is a belief that we hold to be true, or for some of you not true. It only becomes true once we do 10 catches, officially.

Let’s look more closely at how all results happen in peoples lives. There’s a sequence that occurs for every result you get. (Now there are environmental factors, laws of physics, genetics, and plenty of other things that you don’t control and can’t control that we could consider, but the one the one thing you can control or gain control over is your thoughts.) 

Keep this in mind: Thoughts happen first, thoughts conjure up feelings, based on those feelings, we take an action, then we get a result

We’re looking to get the result: a 5 ball cascade. First you have to have the thought that it’s possible, that it’s possible for you, and that you’re willing to put in the practice, which then leads you to actually do the practice, and then as you pass through the learning stages, you finally get the result.

So thoughts come first, then comes a feeling (in this case motivation is the feeling), then comes actions (you practice daily), until you get the result: a five ball cascade. 

Now as you go about your practice you’re going to make some good catches, and you’ll make some drops, probably a fair few drops. If you pay attention to your catches, learn from your drops, and keep believing that “I can learn to juggle 5 balls,” then you’ll maintain that feeling of motivation and you’ll keep practicing until you get the result you’re looking for. 

Thought: I can learn to juggle 5 balls. Feeling: Strong Motivation. Action: Well organized practice, focusing on catches/good runs. Result: You eventually learn to juggle 5 balls.

But what if you start with the belief, “I’m not sure if I can juggle five balls (but I’ll give it a try)”. With this belief in mind, you might start comparing how many drops you have to how many catches you’re making. If all of the drops stand out in your mind (as opposed to those good runs) then that’s going to lead to another feeling (probably discouragement) and you’re not going to be too motivated to keep practicing. Soon instead of practicing more, it becomes easier to just change the belief to: “I tried, and now I know I can’t juggle 5 balls.”

Thought: I’m not sure I can juggle 5 balls but I’ll try. Feeling: Uncertainty/weak motivation. Action: Sloppy practice, focusing on drops. Result: No 5 ball cascade.

And what if you start with the belief: “There’s no way I can juggle 5 balls.” With this belief in mind you probably won’t practice at all. After all, what would be the point? 

Thought: There’s no way I can juggle 5 Balls. Feeling: Utter defeat, possibly shame. Action: Vote democrat. Result: Other people are stolen from to take care of you.

Only kidding! But do you see how I may have hit upon some deeply held political beliefs there.

But that brings me to my next point. Most of our beliefs are unconscious, meaning we’re not very aware of what they are, nor have we examined them very deeply. Consider the person at the beginning who said, “Wow, I could never juggle.” They probably don’t ever even think about juggling; it’s just not important to them. They just made a snap judgement a long time ago, formed a generalization about juggling, and went on with their merry life. Fair enough.

You’ve decided that juggling is for you. Learning to juggle is important. You enjoy the thrill of achievement, and really like seeing the progress you’re making. You want to learn even faster. Is there any way we can work with our beliefs to speed up the juggling process?

Yes indeed. Thanks for asking. 

Remember when I said that beliefs are collections of words and pictures? The words really are describing those internal pictures. 

So how can we make “I can learn to juggle 5 balls” a stronger belief? First, find lots of examples of other people juggling 5 balls: look for as many video’s as possible. If you only see one person do it, then it’s tough to believe. But if you see lots of people doing all sorts of moves with 5 balls, it becomes much easier to believe.

Supportive Belief: “If they can do it, then I can too.”

Perhaps you live in the woods and don’t have a high speed internet connection, (or like me you grew up in the 1980’s and only had VHS tapes) and you only have one video of one guy juggling five balls. Watch it a bunch of times. I wore out that copy of the 1986 IJA competition (you know, the one with Gatto, Burton, Hill, Merlo, Ellis, Menendez, Bennett). I watched it every day and eventually built up the belief that I could juggle like those guys, too (at least some of them). 

Beliefs are just like juggling moves – a lot of repetitions engrains them/makes them stronger.

The other thing to do is run the video in your head as clearly as possible, seeing yourself doing it easily and effortlessly. This will keep you motivated to get to the gym to get that practice in. You definitely have to practice a lot.

It’s the picture and 1) how it’s stored in your head, and 2) the meanings that you’ve attached to it that determines whether you’re motivated or discouraged, whether you believe you can, or believe you can’t. Pay close attention to the pictures in your head, and how are they causing you to feel.

I said earlier and it bears repeating, “A belief is a thought we hold to be true, but isn’t necessarily true.” 

So how do we determine what to believe? How do we figure out ‘the truth’? Is juggling easy, or hard? 

The solution is this: Don’t evaluate your belief based on what you believe to be true or false (after all, if you look for it, you’ll find plenty of evidence for both). Instead, determine what to believe based on the result you want. Work backwards from the result to determine which likely actions you should take, then think ‘what would be the feelings I’d need to feel that would cause me to take those actions every day’ and finally what thoughts would cause me to feel the feelings I want to feel, that would then cause me to take the actions I want, to get the results I’m ultimately looking for.

In short:

Result: Ability to do a 5 ball cascade at the ‘flow’ stage of learning.

Actions: Daily practice

Feelings: Motivation, encouraged, happy, energized to keep practicing.

Thoughts: It’s going to be awesome to be able juggling five balls at any time, any place. 

So I think I’ve established that there’s a direct link between the thoughts you’re thinking and the results you are getting, and that there’s nothing magical going on. Your thoughts alone don’t cause results to happen, or wishes to come true, or anything else. But they do determine how you feel, and they then in turn determine what actions you take. And it’s your actions, or lack of actions that determine the results that you are either getting or not.

Of course just because you take the actions doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the result you’re looking for every time. But if you don’t take the actions, then you’ll definitely not get the results you’re looking for.

Supportive thoughts regarding juggling

Here’s a short list of some thoughts/beliefs that I hope will be helpful as you pursue your juggling goals.

  • If he can do it, then so can I.
  • If many people can do it, then I can too.
  • If I practice as much him, then I’ll get similar results that he does.
  • If I do the same training drills as he does, then I’ll get similar results with my juggling moves.
  • If I practice moves in small ‘chunks,’ then it will be easier to put those chunks into larger moves, sequences, and routines.
  • If I repeat a move many times while feeling confident as I do it, then the feeling of confidence will get ‘paired up’ with the move, and the move will be performed confidently.
  • If I repeat a move many times while feeling nervous and hesitant, then the feelings of nervousness and hesitation will get ‘paired up’ with the move, and the move will be performed nervously and with hesitation, and that will result in drops.
  • If I pay attention to completed moves (no matter how few), then I’ll feel good, and will be motivated to keep practicing.
  • If I pay attention to drops (no matter how few), then I’ll feel bad or nervous, and will then have a less effective practice.
  • If I practice daily for 30 minutes, it will do way more for me than if I practice for 3 and half hours once a week.
  • If I practice 3 and half hours every day, I’m going to be wicked good, fast!
  • If I practice in short sets I’ll get good at starting and stopping.
  • If I practice doing long runs, then it’ll engrain the pattern so it will always feel easy.
  • If I get stronger, my patterns will be easier.
  • If I also do cardiovascular workouts (running, etc.), my body will become more efficient at exchanging oxygen, and lactic acid won’t build up as fast, and I’ll be able to juggle longer.
  • If I look at drops as just feedback, and not failure, then I won’t feel all that bad about them, nor will I become as nervous at the thought of them happening.


You want all of your beliefs and actions to be congruent. Congruency means to be in agreement. If you have one thought that makes you feel good and motivated, and then you immediately think another that makes you feel equally bad and unmotivated, then you’ve just short circuited your belief and you won’t take the actions. It’s simple math: +1+-1= 1-1= 0. In other words your no further ahead. 

My point is this: It’s not enough to ‘think positive’ when all throughout your day you’re unconsciously thinking all sorts of negative thoughts. Or if you say the positive words to yourself but then immediately think the negative pictures, then the words will have no effect. 

And if you think positive thoughts, picture positive pictures, and they make you feel good but don’t result in you actually going to practice, then it’s called wishful thinking and no good will come of it. 

Beliefs are the result of three processes or filters. As information from the environment comes in, we filter it in three main ways:

We DELETE a great deal of the information. Either it’s seen as irrelevant, unimportant, or we don’t understand it and therefore cannot make a concept out of it.

Next, we DISTORT a lot of what comes in so it fits with what we already believe to be true about the world. 

And finally we GENERALIZE the information to make it easier to comprehend.

The belief, “I’m a good juggler” is a generalization, and perhaps a gross distortion, and certainly I’m deleting all of the times that I’ve been a bad juggler. Equally valid, Is the belief that “I’m a bad juggler.” Again it’s a generalization, a distortion, and I’m deleting a whole lot of times that I’ve demonstrated that I’m a good juggler.

So which do you believe? Believe the one that is most resourceful, or supportive to you and your goals. And of course look at the feedback you get from your environment in the most objective way you can. Also, ask people close to you to get their opinion, get a lot of opinions. If you’re sincere, they’ll be sincere and let you know where you need improvement.

Beliefs are necessary but insufficient. You must also value the result and be willing to take the necessary actions to make them happen.

“For any result you want there is a way of thinking and acting that will get it for you. Your job is to be flexible enough to adopt those ways of thinking and acting.” -Bill Harris, Centerpointe Research Institute

Much of what I’ve learned about personal psychology has been through Bill Harris and many other teachers like him. If you’ve found this article helpful, then I’d highly recommend any of the products he offers.

We’re building up to look at goals, but before we can do that we need to look at values, or what’s important to you. Without being clear on what’s important, you run the risk of achieving goals that don’t mean anything to you, and we don’t want that.

Until next time. Put your back into it. But lift with your legs.

Comments 0

  1. You mentioned reaching the stage where juggling is as easy as walking. When someone tells me how impossibly difficult juggling must be, I often remind them how impossibly difficult walking is. Just think a moment about how much computation and coordination is necessary to take a single step forward without falling over. Surely this is more difficult than a simple 3 ball cascade!

    The difference is, we learned to walk at such a young age that we no longer remember not being able to walk effortlessly. It’s a shame few adults put in the effort to learn new skills of this nature. Riding a bike is probably the last big physical-learning task that most people go through.

  2. i’m actually learning 5ball at the moment so this is very encouraging, and specific. 😀 i like the feedback-view on drops. thats pretty cool.
    haha yeah, when i juggle i seem to get the “I can’t even walk straight!” comments. Which are extra funny because i slackline… *sigh*

  3. Thanks for the great article. I have always found what you say to be incredibly insightful. In fact, I might make your articles required reading for my students!

    I’d love to hear more about the delete, distort, generalize concept, possibly some examples. I remember you speaking about it a bit in Portland, but the details have left me.

  4. Hey Warren,

    Thanks for reading, and the feedback. The delete, distort, and generalize concepts are big because we’re constantly doing them, and we don’t even realize we’re doing it. It’s just the way in we sort through our world, sifting and filtering information. Once we’re done filtering the info, what we’re left with is our ‘internal representations’ of what’s already been filtered. What I mean is we have pictures, sounds, smells, words in our head that represent what we just experienced (or at least a filtered view of it).

    A non juggling example is a chair. We have a generalized concept of a chair, so when we come to one we know what to do, we sit on it. Now if we need to distort the world a little, a cooler, or box can become a chair, or we might need to sit down but don’t even see the log as a great place to rest, because we’ve deleted it as a possibility.

    A juggling example, and one that I’ll probably cover in greater detail, is how we rate trick difficulty. Let’s start with this premise: Everything outside of you is neutral – all of it. Shakespeare said it another way: Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

    We go through our lives (at least for a time) dividing the world into good and bad, easy and hard, like and dislike, and a host of other dichotomies not realizing that A) one side can’t exist without the possibility of the other and B) that one must win over the other (‘Catching must win over dropping’ is the game we play when juggling).

    On one level you might say easy is relative to difficult, ie. 3 balls is ‘easier’ than five balls. That seems plain as day right? But when we consider that everything is really neutral, then it takes us showing up to put the meaning of easy and difficult on top of what we’re seeing.

    Say there’s someone with absolutely no experience of juggling whatsoever, none, zip. They see a 3 ball juggler and a five ball juggler both effortlessly cascading away. They might distort things and conclude that all juggling is easy (note they’ve deleted practice time and also made a generalization).

    We ‘know’ that 5 balls is harder (generalization) and young David Ferman tells me that 7 balls is quote ‘dead easy’. Note we remember that five balls is harder because of the practice time we spent otherwise, you and me both find five balls really simple. And David ‘deletes’ the practice time to a degree, and claims and rightly so for him that 7 balls is dead easy.

    So we’re each putting different meanings on the moves we do, and here’s my point if you keep putting the meaning of ‘this pattern is hard’ on a move, it can become a habituated conditioned response every time you make an attempt on that move. Its more resourceful to assume that move can be done easy and effortlessly if you master the parts, learn the timing, and put yourself in the right state to physically accomplish the move.

    Picture juggling 5 balls, do you have a good clear picture? Now picture 7 balls or nine balls. According to NLP theory (Nearo Lingistic Programming) we’re going to store those internal pictures in our head in slightly different ways. It could be colour or hue, it could be spatial location near, far, off to the left right, clarity, speed (if your picture includes full motion), etc. This partially is how we know that 5 balls used to be hard, but now it’s easy. We know it currently because we remember how we stored it before we could do it, and now we store it differently.

    David says when learning seven or any number, try to see it as you would with 2 less objects, and the above I think is what he’s referring to.

    Now the mental stuff helps, but you’re still going to have to put in the practice, but at least you won’t be working against yourself (by proclaiming that the trick is hard when we all no it’s neutral) when you start learning a new move. Of course there’s a great reason why we would say that a trick is hard, but I’ll post about that later.

    For now just keep picturing it as being just as easy as two numbers below, and as you practice your body will figure out a way to make it happen based on feedback (both drops and catches).

    More on this later from the master of brackets,


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