How David Blaine Developed His Insane Willpower

David Blaine didn’t know how much longer he could last. He was encased in a block of ice in the middle of Time Square for a full 55 hours and was literally going crazy.

“I started to think I was in purgatory. I genuinely believed I was being judged, and that this was a place I was waiting to go to heaven or hell.” [1]

He was in the final hours of his Frozen in Time stunt where he was to stand in that block of ice for 63 hours. But from the first moment that he stepped inside, he immediately started shivering.

After the 24-hour mark, he began fighting sleep deprivation. He couldn’t sit down or fall asleep because doing so would expose his bare skin to the ice and result in frostbite. So for the next 39 hours he had to will himself to say awake. 

Then it got even worse. The unseasonably warm weather in New York caused some of the ice to melt, which led to a steady drip of cold water on Blaine’s neck.

He was clearly enduring torture, but at the 55-hour mark things really got bad.

The sleep deprivation was so bad at this point that Blaine was hallucinating. He heard voices, he saw bodies carved into the ice, and he even saw his own judgment day – hoping that he had lived well enough life to be sent to heaven.

And he didn’t realize that these things were not real because he was awake!

“Those last 8 hours were the worst state I’ve ever been in. To go through something that horrific and not quit – that took something that was beyond me.”

Yet, he did make it through those last 8 hours! Somehow, David Blaine endured the cold, the dripping ice water, the sleep deprivation, and the mental illness for an entire working day!

So how did he do it?

Many simply do not believe it was possible. After all, David Blaine is a magician. He could have made it all an illusion the same way his hero Harry Houdini once did.

But those people might not be so skeptical if they knew the mental training exercises Blaine has been doing since he was a boy.


When Blaine was 4 years old, he got his first exposure to magic.

He saw a magician in the subway near his home in Brooklyn perform the Pencil Through a Card Trick and was completely blown away. [2]

He couldn’t believe how the man was able to do that!

From that day on, Blaine was obsessed with magic. He would practice with his grandmother’s tarot cards for hours trying to create illusions. He would go to the library and read everything he possibly could about magic.

Then at the age of 5, he began performing tricks in front of adults who simply could not believe that this little kid had tricked them! This gave Blaine an incredible sense of pride and desire to amaze audiences. [3]

Then he came across a man who would become his hero – Harry Houdini.

Houdini inspired Blaine to not only perform magic tricks in front of people, but also complete feats that seemed impossible to them. He read about how Houdini trained and prepared for his amazing stunts, and Blaine followed his lead.

So Blaine began training his willpower.

- He would swim for as long as possible without coming up for air.

- He would walk to school in the dead of winter in only a T-shirt.

- He would run for as long as he could while barefoot in the snow.

- He would take freezing cold baths to see how long he could stay in the water.

- He spent 3 whole days in a closet without moving.

- When he turned 11, he fasted for 4 days without anything but water.

- When he turned 18, he fasted for 10 days with only water and wine.

All of this practice – before he even graduated high school – gave Blaine incredible willpower. [1]

So by the time he started doing stunts like spending 36 hours on a 30-meter high pillar that was only half a meter wide, spending 44 days in a glass box above the River Thames without food, or holding his breath for 17 minutes, he was prepared.

Just like an athlete who trains to have super-human athletic ability, David Blaine trained himself to have super-human willpower. 


You may have no desire to do any of the stunts or the bizarre practice routines of David Blaine.

But there are several things we can take from his story to help us endure just 20 more minutes on the treadmill or one more hour of studying.


Your willpower acts like a muscle. Most of the time this is a negative thing. The more you use it throughout the course of a day, the weaker it gets. So you can feel too exhausted to exercise after work – even if you just sat at a desk all day. [4]

But Blaine’s story proves that you can also strengthen that muscle.

By doing things like holding his breath for as long as possible, fasting for days, and staying in a closet without moving, he was strengthening his ability to hold his breath, fast for over a month, and fight sleep deprivation. [5]

All of those things require willpower. And just like Mozart practicing the piano from an early age and mastering it, Blaine was practicing his willpower from an early age and mastering his self-control.

You do not need to strengthen your willpower to the point of Blaine, but you can increase your chances of making it to the gym or turning down dessert.

So follow one of these 10 exercises and begin strengthening your willpower.


It was not just pure willpower that allowed Blaine to make it through those final 8 hours of torture in the block of ice, he used a trick that helps him make it through every one of his stunts.

When he learned that he had 8 hours left, he told himself:

“Okay, I just need to make it through the next 2 hours. Then there will only be 6 hours left. And that won’t be so bad.”

It was impossible for Blaine to fathom enduring the torture and insanity he was facing for the equivalent of a full working day. But, he could endure it for just the next 2 hours! So that is what he focused on. 

This strategy is called “chunking” and it's what Blaine used to get through all his stunts. 

When you’re working toward a goal, your brain can become completely overwhelmed. It is intimidated by the gap between where you are and where you want to be, so it will motivate you to say, “why bother?”

If you can break that huge goal down into small “chunks” that are realistic to accomplish, you shift your brain to becoming motivated to complete them.

You may not be able to fathom running 5 miles, but can you run 1 mile?

You may not be able to fathom spending an entire night studying, but can you study for the next 30 minutes?

You may not be able to fathom sticking to a diet for months, but can you stick to it today?

When you chunk up your goals like this, not only does the task become more attainable, but you also grow confidence with each chunk you complete. Each chunk becomes a small win - giving you more confidence than ever that you will reach your huge goal.

Whatever your goal is, start chunking it up into something small enough to be realistic, but large enough to feel like a “win”.


Blaine fully admits that if he was not on TV, he would not be able to do these stunts.

“I don’t think I’d be able to fast for 44 days if I was in my apartment. The temptation is just too great.”

Despite how much he had strengthened his willpower, despite him chunking up his stunt into smaller pieces, he would not be able to stick out those final 8 hours if he didn’t have the cameras holding him accountable.

It's a lot easier to forgive yourself for a failure, than to admit your failure to your friends – or in Blaine’s case the entire world.

You have a natural desire to be respected by others. And that desire will give you a boost of willpower to ensure that you remain respectable to them. [6]

This is why Alcoholics Anonymous has sponsors, why many people hire personal trainers, and even why religious people have more willpower - they don’t want to look like a failure in front of God. 

So find someone who can hold you accountable. Even if there are no actual consequences for you not living up to your goal, the simple knowledge that someone is holding you accountable will help keep you on track.


David Blaine is a true master of his willpower muscle. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger strengthening his body at an early age, so too did David Blaine strengthen his willpower.

So begin an exercise to strengthen your willpower like Blaine strengthened his. Then break up your huge goal into manageable chunks, and find someone to hold you accountable.

You do not need to do anything as extreme as he does, but if he can strengthen his willpower to endure pain for hours, days, and even weeks, you can strengthen yours to endure a night of studying or an hour at the gym.