Sept. 12, 2022

67: Steve Haffner - Mind Performance Strategist

67: Steve Haffner - Mind Performance Strategist

In this episode, Steve Haffner shares:
The song that inspired him to quit his job and become a magician!
Why he went in to IT in the first place.
That he has always had a strong, creative drive.
What mentalism is and how he incorporated it into his act.

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In this episode, Steve Haffner shares:

The song that inspired him to quit his job and become a magician!

Why he went in to IT in the first place.

That he has always had a strong, creative drive.

What mentalism is and how he incorporated it into his act.

What inspired him to go from performing at trade shows into public speaking.

Some of the different cognitive biases that we have and how a magician or marketing department can exploit them as well as how we can overcome them.

What the "Lizard Brain" is and how primitive impulses still affect our thinking and decision making today.

The single experience that made him almost quit his dream and the corresponding experience that caused him not to.

Why he believes that having regrets is not necessarily a bad thing.

That people should challenge their beliefs and be willing to change them when they do not line up with the evidence.

What the allure of the status quo is and why we should not be afraid to fix something that is not currently broken.

What outcome bias is and how it is not necessarily an accurate arbiter of whether a decision was good or not.

What System One and System Two are with regards to our minds.

How Magicians and Marketing departments use misdirection against us.


Be sure to hit Subscribe in your podcast app so that you don't miss it or any other episodes.


[00:00:51] Greg Mills: Our guest today had a successful 30 year career as a systems developer, project manager and executive working for bosses at companies such as Humana EDS and Mercer.

[00:01:01] Greg Mills: In 2011, he shocked his colleagues and friends by quitting that career to become a full-time professional magician. As a creator of deceptions, he discovered that the same mental errors, distortions, and misperceptions that magicians and exploit and manipulate to create magic also influence our everyday thinking and decision making as well.

[00:01:23] Greg Mills: Today, he is a mind performance strategist. He combines insights from his previous careers with research, from the fields of psychology, behavioral science, and neuroscience. He presents his keynote in educational programs to associations and businesses throughout the us without further ado. Let's welcome, Steve ner to the show.

[00:01:44] Steve Haffner: Hello Greg. Thanks for having me on. Thank you for being

[00:01:48] Greg Mills: here steve, can you take a few moments and fill in the gaps from that intro and bring us up to speed with what's going on in your.

[00:01:56] Steve Haffner: Yeah I'd love to, and it's interesting. Every entrepreneur, especially I think older entrepreneurs which I assume is most of your audience all have a different, very different path to how they got where they got to, to making the decision, to be their own boss and start their own business.

[00:02:14] Steve Haffner: I and usually I think people move, they're an expert they've been working in, say manufacturing for years and years, and then they start their own business in that same domain, right. Or software developer, and they wanna develop their own app. So they go out on their own. My story's a complete 180 from that because I was a corporate it systems, engineer and developer for almost 30 years.

[00:02:40] Steve Haffner: And then I was a, actually a business analyst for a big fortune 500 insurance company. And then one morning I walked into my boss's office and I said, I quit. And she said, what are you talking about? You can't quit. You like it here, did you get a better offer? What happened? And I said, no, I'm quitting to become a magician.

[00:03:01] Steve Haffner: right. And so that sounds crazy. I know. And then in hindsight it is a little bit ridiculous sounding, but and I'll go into a little bit what the impetus was to do that. But I did that in, I made that decision in 2011, so it was in the middle of a recession, so it was kind of a tricky time to do that, but the timing was right for me.

[00:03:22] Steve Haffner: And it came down to values. I can get into that a little bit more. I don't want to go into it too much here, right at the top. But it was I think part of it was as I was getting, I was 48 years old at the time. And at that point in your life, you're looking at what you've done and where you're going and you decide, is there something I wanna do that I haven't done that I'm gonna miss the opportunity for, if I wait too long.

[00:03:45] Steve Haffner: And I think that was part of it. I have always had a strong creative drive, so to speak ever since I was a kid, I was into the creative arts. And as far as performing on stage, I was kind of a shy, introverted kid, but I loved getting on stage in school plays and express myself that way.

[00:04:01] Steve Haffner: I loved to write doing creative writing, and and so then naturally when it came. Choose what I wanted to major in, in college, I chose computer science and and I did like computer science. I don't regret that at all because I had a good, as I said, almost 30 year career, going, taking that path.

[00:04:19] Steve Haffner: But it was the safe path. There were a lot of jobs and programming and computers, and they were good paying jobs, trying to, make a living in the performing arts. Would've been a lot more difficult. Right. Which my parents pointed out to me many times. So that's one of the reasons that I got into programming.

[00:04:38] Steve Haffner: Plus I did like programming it I'm I've always been into puzzles and games and programming is, is kind of a form of that. Okay. Same kind of, mind gymnastics that you have to do to get from the input to the output in a, in a computer program. So, So, yeah, so then I got, I had a career as a professional magician, doing all kinds of shows, started off doing kids shows, which I loved, I, from the youngest, probably five or six up through, school age, then I did adult shows as a mentalist.

[00:05:09] Steve Haffner: What

[00:05:09] Greg Mills: exactly is a mentalist?

[00:05:11] Steve Haffner: Yeah, it's a branch of magic. So it's a, basically a magician, although some mentalists, they don't want you to associate them with magicians because they want to present themselves as, I don't know, really having.

[00:05:23] Steve Haffner: Supernatural powers or something but most most legitimate mentalists don't do that. And they say that it is an illusion, just like a magician, but it's a type of magic that is not visual, but it's in the mind, for example, a mind reading trick, I might have somebody think of their, the first pet they ever had as a child.

[00:05:44] Steve Haffner: And then I'm able to apparently read their mind and tell them what the pet's name is. Or I make a prediction about what somebody will do with me on stage. And, I have them pick something randomly out of a list and I show that in an envelope I've had them holding the entire time I predicted they would pick that one.

[00:06:03] Steve Haffner: So that's what mentalism is. And I found that was a lot more intriguing. And fascinating for adults. They got into that more than the visual magic. The little kids don't really understand mentalism because they don't understand the limitations of the human brain, but adults do.

[00:06:20] Steve Haffner: And since we don't really know everything that the brain can do, it's fascinating to think, wow. I wonder if those powers can be real, and I tell people it's illusion, but it comes across, as being very real and sometimes, people talk about my gift and, it is a gift to be able to take routines, make them your own practice, them, tweak them, make them work for you.

[00:06:42] Steve Haffner: That's definitely takes some skill and training, but it's not a supernatural gift. Like, like some people think, so, so yeah, so I did mentalism for corporate audiences. I would do, holiday parties or client appreciation dinners, and anything where they wanted some entertainment for.

[00:06:59] Steve Haffner: Okay. That's not where I am today. I had, I did a couple of pivots along the way, and I think this is good lesson for any entrepreneur. I started doing kids magic and school shows, but I wanted to get my income level higher. And the only way to do that, staying in kids shows was to just do more shows.

[00:07:17] Steve Haffner: And I was already doing quite a bit. You just don't get paid that much for each one. So that's when I transitioned into doing corporate events I wanted to get into the trade show market. So I don't know if you've ever been to a large trade show and you've seen a booth where they have entertainment there, like, and some, sometimes they might have a magician and it's okay.

[00:07:37] Steve Haffner: Yeah. And it's great. A lot of magicians make their living, just working trade shows. And it's really good for the company because the magician can insert their message into the magical presentation. They can draw a crowd, and get people interested and let them have fun. And then there's this natural tendency to wanna reciprocate.

[00:07:56] Steve Haffner: So if you give them something like entertainment, then they feel like they wanna give you, the company at the booth, something. So they might come talk to your salesman for a little bit, and it really is a great way, but it was a tough sell for marketing directors. They can magic has a stigma, magicians and they picture somebody really cheesy and corny and side show ish, and they don't wanna mix up miss up, mix up their brand with that.

[00:08:21] Steve Haffner: But I, I think that was a mistake, but what I did, I said, if I'm gonna try trade shows, cuz that looks like a market. I could have fun in. And if by this certain date, I think it was June of 2016. I said, if by this date, I'm not making half of my income from trade shows, then I'm going to go into speaking.

[00:08:42] Steve Haffner: So, because that was an avenue I was interested in. And so that's what I did when I hit that deadline, and I call it a trip wire and, I put it on my calendar. This is the date, and this is a hard date. Now I could, if I got that date and I was close to my goal, okay.

[00:08:58] Steve Haffner: I might have kept doing it, but I wasn't really close to it. So when I hit that date, I'm like, okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna go into speaking and I'm going to, figure out what it is that makes me unique that I can talk about that can help people as a magician. Of course, you have to learn how the mind works because you have to learn how to fool it.

[00:09:16] Steve Haffner: Right. And I discovered that some of the same mental distortions and errors and weaknesses and shortcuts that magicians understand and know how to exploit and manipulate, they also affect us in our everyday and professional thinking and decision making as well in different ways. Right. In a magic show.

[00:09:36] Steve Haffner: It's great when that happens, because that can create magic. But outside of that, not so good because it can negatively influence the way we think and make decisions and therefore, our success. So I bring out some of these I call them mental illusions. They're cognitive biases. They're what are called heuristics, which are mental shortcuts that the subconscious brain takes to help us navigate the world and all the millions of stimuli that are constantly hitting us.

[00:10:03] Steve Haffner: And other types of impulses and preferences that we have at the subconscious level, the instinctive, lizard brain level. Although I know the Liz brain is not an actual physical thing. That's kind of been debunked but the whole concept that we've got these primitive impulses and they affect our thinking and decision making, that's what we need, need to be aware of so we can understand how the mind works.

[00:10:26] Steve Haffner: And take steps to mitigate the negative influences,

[00:10:30] Greg Mills: when you made the switch, did you get a lot of pushback from friends and family? I know you mentioned your boss,

[00:10:36] Steve Haffner: so yeah. Yes. So I'll tell you the end of the story was I had, I was in my career, I had switched jobs. I wasn't doing tech programming anymore. I had moved into management position, had new job.

[00:10:51] Steve Haffner: I wasn't loving it. And I had picked up a few years earlier magic as a hobby. I loved magic when I was a kid and I was doing performances for friends and family and charities and things like that. And I know I knew people, even knew one or two people making their living here in, in my market doing it successfully.

[00:11:14] Steve Haffner: So I had that thought, man, I would love to, magic used my two passions that I mentioned creative writing and performing cuz you have to write your own routines if you wanna be any good. And so those came back into play and I really decided this was something I really wanted to do.

[00:11:30] Steve Haffner: So I but it was tough. Middle recession. I had a family, good stable, high paying career. So I had these two voices talking at me, one saying, this is ridiculous. Don't even think about it. And one saying, now's your chance. so, and I did get, I talked to my wife about it. I got support from her.

[00:11:48] Steve Haffner: But I wasn't really wasn't sure what to do until one morning I drove to. Still at my, my job with the insurance company sitting in my car, not getting out of it because I was wrecked. If you've ever had a huge decision, that's gonna have a big impact on your life. And you're not sure which way to go.

[00:12:04] Steve Haffner: That's painful. I mean, that can be really uncomfortable. And I was really struggling with this and I heard a song come on. The radio that I had never heard before, as I was sitting in my car I've started listening to the lyrics and it was like, they were speaking directly to me.

[00:12:18] Steve Haffner: So some of the lyrics were, there comes a time when you have to ask yourself, where am I going? What have I done? Are you taking the orders you've been given? Or are you breaking the rules with your own decisions? Isn't it time you tried. And so I heard this in a tsunami of emotion hit me so to speak, and I was just flooded with, oh my gosh, it was a feeling of clarity and relief, clarity.

[00:12:49] Steve Haffner: I, that I felt this was kind of the motivation that I needed. This made total sense to me. I need to do this and relief that my struggle was over of making this decision. I now knew what I wanted to do. 10 minutes later, I'm in my boss's office saying I, I quit. So it was the funny thing is I, as I've said, I'd never heard the song before and I've never heard it on the radio since.

[00:13:13] Steve Haffner: So that was the one and only time. And it hit me right at that moment. So that's kind of crazy and pretty cool. I mean, I like that. And I've heard it's called living the. By Martin Sexton and you can find it on YouTube cuz I've looked it up since then. I'm like, what was that song? And I just remembered a few those lyrics, and I looked it up and I'm like, ah, there it is. That's the song. So that was that was the emphasis to do it. And I know that, it's scary and probably a lot of your viewers have gone through a situation like that where they've been wanting for a long time to strike out on their own.

[00:13:43] Steve Haffner: But it is scary. It's like, it's like leaping over a chasm blindfolded. You just don't know what you're heading into and you're gonna screw up a lot of times. because I have, but I think the key is being willing to always look at where you're at and what is working and what is not working and adjust and adapt to the situation.

[00:14:06] Steve Haffner: And to disruptions, that are gonna come and hit you.

[00:14:08] Greg Mills: You mentioned it was scary, but. Do you think that it might have been one of those decisions in life that there really could have been, not a bad outcome in hindsight, if worst case scenario, if things had really failed, you could always go back

[00:14:31] Greg Mills: or in your case, things did work out

[00:14:34] Steve Haffner: . Yeah. And I had I had made that contingency when I made that jump. And for one, first of all, when I'm talking to young people who want to try to be magicians, or make their mark and do their own thing, even in not even magician maybe they want to be a videographer or whatever, straight out of college.

[00:14:53] Steve Haffner: I say that's great that you have the streams. You're trying that, but. You don't close the door to going out and working for somebody else. If you have to, because it's hard to plant your foot and get started. I had that career, I had money saved up. I could go for a while without making any money, while I ramped up the business.

[00:15:12] Steve Haffner: So I did have that cushion. And I also said, if six months in, if this is just not going anywhere, I can, jump back into the job market. Six months in, I was making money. It wasn't a whole lot of money, but it was enough that the momentum said, yeah, let's keep doing this. And I was enjoying it enough.

[00:15:32] Steve Haffner: And I basically, I had a new purpose, when at that time in my life, I wanted to use my creative talents and to, to a degree, I hadn't been before to make people happy, to bring joy to people. And and and it worked and that did, and that was so much fun, okay.

[00:15:50] Greg Mills: Now you had talked about a single experience that almost made you give up your dream.

[00:15:56] Greg Mills: What was that experience and what was the corresponding one that propelled you to stick with it?

[00:16:01] Steve Haffner: Yeah, so this was really fascinating that I, so I was a couple years into my magic career and I was mostly doing kid shows at this time. So you're familiar with Fort Knox vague, at least.

[00:16:13] Steve Haffner: Right. So it's where all the gold is. And it's about 45 minutes from where I live Southwest of Louisville. And it's an army base. And so. They have schools for the children of the service members there. And a school had hired me to come to their fall festival and perform close up magic for kids, for the kids, which is really great because you get to see in their eyes up close when that moment of magic happens and they get that look of delight and they laugh and they're like, ah, or their jaw drops or it's just, it's a, it's awesome feeling.

[00:16:42] Steve Haffner: So that's my favorite kind of magic to do. It's close up for kids. So I was doing a trick for this little girl called the sponge bunnies trick eight year old girl named Stacy. And at the end of the trick, she opens up her hands and all these sponge bunnies appear out of nowhere. Okay. And she got that look that I was looking for that expression on her face of wow.

[00:17:01] Steve Haffner: Wonder, but then it quickly changed and it changed to one of curiosity. And she said, Steve, O cuz that was my magician name. She said, Steve O she said, how did you make all those bunnies appear? And I said, and my magician smugness, which were kind of known. I said buy magic. Of course. And then her expression changed again to one of hope.

[00:17:22] Steve Haffner: And she said, well, Steve, can you make my daddy appear? And I said, well, where's your daddy in? She said, he's in Afghanistan. Can you make him appear right here right now? How do you respond to something like that? That was a tough year. Yeah. And I just said, well, you, I'm sorry, Stacy, my magic isn't that powerful, but I'm sure he will be back to you before, it safe and sound.

[00:17:43] Steve Haffner: But that hadn't, that got me thinking and my trip that 45 minute trap back to Louisville, I'm like, what am I doing? Am I doing kids against disservice by basically lying to them when I do magic? Cuz I'm deceiving them. Is this really a good idea? I certainly don't wanna make that look because her expression changed again to one of profound disappointment.

[00:18:03] Steve Haffner: After I said I couldn't make her dad appear. And I thought, I wanna bring kids happiness. I don't wanna bring 'em disappointment. Maybe this isn't such a good idea. Maybe I need to go back to the corporate world though. I thought about it. I didn't leave magic, but I had that, sticking with me, wondering if I should.

[00:18:21] Steve Haffner: So then a couple months later, this happened, I was working as a every Friday night at a restaurant bistro 42. And now you may have seen magicians at restaurants, performing table hopping, where now it's not that common, but you do see it. Magician goes from table to table while people are waiting for their food and entertains 'em makes the weight shorter.

[00:18:41] Steve Haffner: It's a lot of fun. So I was doing this at this restaurant and I approached the table with a little boy who was nine years old. And I said, hi, I'm Steve, the magician. Would you like to help me with some magic? And he said, okay. And I said, great. I said, tell you. I have an interesting hobby and it is collecting autographs of very important people.

[00:19:01] Steve Haffner: And one of my magic skills is that I can tell when somebody is very important, just from the first time I lay eyes on them. And I said, what's your name? Ms. Son. And he said, Thomas. And I said, Thomas, when I first saw you, I could tell you are very important person and you've got big things ahead of you in your life.

[00:19:19] Steve Haffner: So can I get your autograph? And he was kinda shy and said, okay, I said, great. So I got outta a deck of cards. One of 'em was blank on the face. And I had him sign his name, Thomas on the card. And then he and I together did this trick where we lost in the deck and we shuffled it and the end, it all disappeared or his card disappeared, and so he got that look of, wow, that was cool. And I said, yeah, but I said, tell you what, I'll show you my most important autographs. And I pulled up this wallet for my pocket and I showed him some, I had. Daniel Radcliffe and lady Gaga, LeBron James on plane cards, their names, I had written 'em there, but they, and then I said, but that's not the most important one.

[00:19:58] Steve Haffner: I keep the most important ones in this other envelope. So there was another wallet inside that I opened up and you could see one card on one side and the other one was a zippered compartment. And I said the most important autograph, I keep inside the zipper compartment and there's a card in there. And I pulled it out and said, here's the most important person's autograph I have.

[00:20:17] Steve Haffner: And it was his card Thomas right on there. So then he got really excited and got that, that look of delight. And then I said, oh, you may be wondering what this other card is because there was another one that I hadn't shown him. And I said, this one, I got just a few minutes ago from a very important person in the other room.

[00:20:33] Steve Haffner: I could tell she was important. So it was a lady back there. She signed her name here, and this is it. And when I showed him the name on that card, His expression changed. His eyes, got his biggest saucers. His jaw dropped to the floor and he started looking around because the name on the card was Lindsay Butler.

[00:20:52] Steve Haffner: His name was Thomas Butler. Lindsay Butler was his mother who was a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. And at that moment, she came from around the corner in full fatigues for surprise homecoming. Now that got me back to my purpose and that was my biggest Tata in magic. That was my favorite moment I had in my whole magic career.

[00:21:19] Steve Haffner: So what happened was she had called me a few weeks before. Looked up Louisville, magician, and she was coming home and she said she wanted a way to, if I could magically make her appear for her son. And since I'm not David Copperfield and don't have a big stage illusion, I could make her appear in a, big glass box or something.

[00:21:36] Steve Haffner: I could use a card trick. And so that's what I did. And that's pretty cool. Yeah. Yeah. So it was just the reverse of what happened to me in Fort Knox. Now, the fact of the matter is that little girl at Fort Knox, Stacy, she was probably only very disappointed for a minute or for 10 seconds.

[00:21:58] Steve Haffner: but I almost let that set take me away from my dream, because I was really considering maybe this isn't a good thing to do. So my, my big takeaway from that is, yes, we all have failures. We all screw up and we all make big mistakes. But put it in perspective. We have to, we have negativity bias and we have to practice self care and self love and not beat ourselves up.

[00:22:23] Steve Haffner: We all feel like giving up sometimes when things are not going our way and we ask, what am I doing? Why am I, why did I put myself in this position? Maybe I just need to quit and do something else. And maybe quitting is the right thing. At that time. Sometimes you do have to quit and do something else because you can only move forward.

[00:22:42] Steve Haffner: You have to leave something behind if you're gonna move forward, but you have to ask yourself, what are my goals? What are my values? And what is what is my purpose? What is the reason I'm doing that? And is that purpose? Is it still relevant? Is it do I still feel strongly about it? And if so, use that as a catalyst to get past that setback or that failure.

[00:23:05] Steve Haffner: So you can move forward. Learn from the failure. I think regrets are fine. People say, I don't wanna have any regrets. Regrets are fine because you're realizing you screwed up. You did something bad and that, and then that's the only way that you can get better is by recognizing it, and Daniel conman, he's a famous psychologist.

[00:23:25] Steve Haffner: He wrote one of the seminal books thinking fast and slow on behavioral science, so to speak. And he says he loves being wrong because it means he's more right now so that, and that, that speaks to the open mindset of have beliefs, but don't hone, hang onto your beliefs too strongly.

[00:23:44] Steve Haffner: Because if you get evidence that flies in the face of those beliefs, you should be willing to change your beliefs. Yeah. Right.

[00:23:51] Greg Mills: So it seems like a lot of people aren't willing to do that these days.

[00:23:55] Steve Haffner: Oh, I know it. I know it's very tough. And there's a book by psychologist, Adam Grant, which I have back here somewhere called think again, which is all, all about that.

[00:24:07] Steve Haffner: All about the ability to rethink your beliefs. People say, what about your core beliefs? And I and my opinion is you have core values, which are more integral to your identity, but your beliefs should just be something that's attached that you can grab onto or let go of. And it doesn't affect who you are.

[00:24:25] Steve Haffner: That the more you learn, the more your beliefs should change and evolve. Yeah. It's just something I, I didn't realize very, at first until I started studying psychology and behavioral science and think, yeah, I'm learning a lot from this and I need to have an open mind.

[00:24:43] Greg Mills: You mentioned that you had given yourself a trip wire to go into speaking, and I understand that, but how did you pivot to become a mind performance

[00:24:51] Steve Haffner: strategist?

[00:24:53] Steve Haffner: Yeah. That's a title that nobody else has because I made it up and I looked it up, to see if there was anybody else that was using this phrase. The term that I actually used for about a year was mental performance spec specialist. No, it was decision performance specialist, cuz I was focused on decision making.

[00:25:10] Steve Haffner: Well, it's not that I'm great about making decisions, but I know a lot about what can get in the way of making good decisions, so, so basically it's, I say mind performance because we all wanna perform better. And for most of us performance means what we're doing with our mind, the decisions that we make and the choices that we make.

[00:25:28] Steve Haffner: And we it's the degree to which those decisions align with our goals and our values. The better you align with your goals and values, the more successful that you'll be and that's mind performance. So it, here's how I made that transition. And here's the connection to magic is that we have these cognitive biases and I call, I do call them illusions that if we understand them and we know more about them, there are things that we can do to reduce their effects and they can make us make bad decisions because they can affect us.

[00:26:02] Steve Haffner: When we assess, when we gather options for a decision when we, how we judge and assess the options and even how we move forward. And after the decision you know what we do, there's this is one of my favorite cognitive biases called the outcome bias. And we tend to judge a decision based on the.

[00:26:23] Steve Haffner: Right. So if I were to ask you, well, you kind of already told me, Greg, if you were a good decision maker, you'd probably say, oh, not so much. it sounds like. But if you think about the best decision you ever made, you don't have to tell me what it is now. Cuz kind of putting you on the spot, but pardon? Oh, she's in the other room.

[00:26:41] Steve Haffner: Pardon? She's in the other room. Ahuh. Okay. Well, because it's your marriage will go in a different direction, but because if I said this, I said how do you know it was the best decision you ever made? But let's say it's in another domain. Let's say your decision to start your podcast or whatever.

[00:27:00] Steve Haffner: Trying to think of a good example now. But if you judge it solely on the outcome, if you judge the quality of the decision based solely on the outcome, you're making a mistake because the outcome does not. Does not indicate certainly not a hundred percent and often it's pretty low percentage of whether it was a good decision or not.

[00:27:23] Steve Haffner: Your decision process does because you think about it. There are a whole lot of variables that determine whether a course of action based on a decision is going to be successful. And a lot of those are outside of your control. There's a lot of random elements out there. A lot of market elements, a lot of things in the environment, we have no control over that can affect that outcome.

[00:27:46] Steve Haffner: And if we look at the outcome and it didn't turn out the way we wanted to, and we say that was a bad decision, maybe not. Because if you look at your decision process, did. Did you have a good process for gathering options for comparing and assessing those options, for not being too embedded with the status quo option and all those things that go into making good decisions and a good decision process.

[00:28:10] Steve Haffner: If you did that, then it was a good decision. You can still go back and look at the process. Was there something that we missed that made this decision not work out well? But oftentimes, yeah, this was a good decision based on what we knew at the time, vice versa, you could have a great outcome and you could say, wow, that was a great decision.

[00:28:28] Steve Haffner: And maybe you just got lucky. So you say your marriage to your wife was a great decision. Maybe you just got lucky, Greg .

[00:28:35] Greg Mills: I would agree. I would agree for me not so much for her, ,

[00:28:38] Steve Haffner: And it's you, if you look in the sports world, we were talking about that before the podcast.

[00:28:42] Steve Haffner: A lot of coaches get fired based on outcomes that they had no control over, prime example of that was the Pete car when he made the call in the super bowls a few years ago, and everybody derided him because he threw a pass on the one yard line got intercepted and they lost the game.

[00:28:59] Steve Haffner: They said he should have run, well, in hindsight, when statisticians, and information analytical people looked at the data on what would be the best play call he made the right decision. That actually had a better chance of succeeding. It just didn't work out for him, but it's, our brain likes to do things fast.

[00:29:19] Steve Haffner: It takes shortcuts and the quickest way to deter, to determine, at least in our mind, subconsciously whether a decision was good or not is based on how the outcome turned out. Yeah.

[00:29:30] Greg Mills: And sometimes the mind is just lazy too, or tries to conserve

[00:29:34] Steve Haffner: energy. Oh yeah. It's a energy conservation machine. Absolutely.

[00:29:39] Steve Haffner: Yep. Cause it needs that energy in case you need it to avoid danger, cuz it's all about keeping you safe and keeping you, from running into threats, the whole fight or flight things, it wants to avoid danger in threats whenever possible. And that's what most of these cognitive biases and illusions are based on the desire, the.

[00:30:00] Steve Haffner: Primitive cuz all small animals have this same brain system it's called system one. And it's desires to keep you safe and it keeps us in our comfort zone. Doesn't want you trying something new and innovating and doing go outside the status quo because it's scary out there. Take that well worn path to the river to get a drink of water.

[00:30:19] Steve Haffner: Don't go through the woods because you don't know what's out there. Stay in your comfort zone. It's very strong that when we're comparing options for a decision, say you have a two option decision between keep doing what you're doing or something.

[00:30:32] Steve Haffner: You've got, let's say just for an example, entrepreneurs often use a CRM software to keep track of their clients and which I do too. So say that you're thinking about changing to this other one. You've heard a lot about you're either gonna keep yours or change. Well, status quo has a incumbency advantage because you're already using it.

[00:30:53] Steve Haffner: There's the whole sunk cost fallacy where, you put money or energy into something, and that makes you feel like you need to keep using it, even if it's maybe not the best option going forward. So we do. So it's a very strong pull to continue doing what we're doing and not try to change, something, even though the change might be better.

[00:31:12] Steve Haffner: So we need to try to, when we're comparing options, take away that incumbency advantage of the status quo and make sure that we're specific about the different. Qualities and traits of each option and comparing them one to one on their own merits instead of giving the status quo in advantage, because it's already there and who falls, what kind of companies fall prey to the status quo bias more than others.

[00:31:40] Steve Haffner: Do you think it's successful companies or struggling companies?

[00:31:45] Greg Mills: I would say it's successful companies.

[00:31:48] Steve Haffner: Correct. And why do you think that

[00:31:49] Greg Mills: is? Because they have no reason to change? Yeah, they struggl company, we're obviously not doing something right. We've gotta change.

[00:31:58] Steve Haffner: Right, right. So, and you said we have no reason to change.

[00:32:02] Steve Haffner: It feels like they don't have a reason to change. Right. But if you look at, there's a lot of, , there's a lot of companies that if you look back over the years that have not taken advantage of changes that were right in front of them, opportunities that they had to grow or to move into new markets, and they failed now, you could say that's survivorship by us, where we only look at, the ones that failed and the ones that, succeeded, we have a different view of

[00:32:30] Greg Mills: blockbuster comes to mind.

[00:32:32] Greg Mills: They could have started on online streaming store. I think they could have actually purchased Netflix. Yeah. But yeah, chose not to

[00:32:39] Steve Haffner: right. Netflix called the meeting and said, Hey, let's March. And they chose. That's one of the examples that I use. I also use Kodak and I use block or Blackberry. I show logos of companies and ask people to identify them. BlackBerrys the hardest, but there's always a few people that had a Blackberry and they know what it is, the CrackBerry which was the biggest smartphone in the world until yeah.

[00:33:01] Steve Haffner: It was the precursor to the iPhone. Right. And then the iPhone,

[00:33:04] Steve Haffner: okay. Well they had that big keyboard on there and they didn't wanna let go of that because that was I guess that was their brand.

[00:33:11] Steve Haffner: And even though it was obvious, market research showed that consumers love the touchscreen. But they don't even make smartphones anymore. So it's easy to sit back in hindsight and point at companies and say, you failed, cuz you should have done this. And it was much more difficult to make the decision in the heat of the moment, but the more successful you are, the less likely you are to want to change and do something different.

[00:33:35] Steve Haffner: A good example though, is Amazon. If they had stayed in the status quo, they'd still be a bookstore. So they were able to make that, to make that jump. And I don't know, may maybe Jeff Bezos had planned all along to become this, site to sell everything, the biggest commerce site in the world.

[00:33:53] Steve Haffner: But he started, with a niche with as a bookstore. So anyway, so that's, that's my word of warning or advice is watch out for the status quo bias and how it does have an irrational allure on us and pull. So we have a preference for it. But don't let the comfort, the comfort of the status quo keep you from looking forward.

[00:34:16] Steve Haffner: Okay.

[00:34:17] Greg Mills: Now are there, it almost seems like the world's a little bit like the matrix in that there's a construct designed to keep us in check. How can we overcome some of those illusions?

[00:34:31] Steve Haffner: First of all, I would recommend to anyone, any professional, really any human being that has a brain to pick up a user's guide.

[00:34:42] Steve Haffner: which basically what I mean by that is, your brain is your engine that drives you and your life and your experience as a human being. And if you want to achieve your goals, which is what your brain does, the decisions you make is what gets you to your goals and helps you live your values. If you wanna succeed at that as best that you can.

[00:35:06] Steve Haffner: Maybe you should learn a little bit about how the engine works, right? So if you've got a car, a high performance car, you need to keep it in tune or know somebody that knows how to right. You need to have, an expert. And so I, I always recommend learn, go out into the fields of psychology and behavioral economics.

[00:35:28] Steve Haffner: Learn about some of the things that, that the brain does at the subconscious level that we're not aware of because that's the first step, because even just being aware of of some of these biases and why it's there and that you actually do have it, and then it may be affecting your decision making, just having that awareness can bring them to the top when you're considering a decision or taking a course of action and think, wait a minute, Am I thinking about this because of the status quo bias, or because of confirmation bias or any of the 180 other cognitive illusions that we have.

[00:36:05] Steve Haffner: So first of all, become aware of them. The second thing is, make change your environment. So I'm a big fan of James clear. He wrote the book, atomic habits, and I've been following him for years, even before he wrote that. And I follow, his newsletter. And one of the big one of the big concepts that he talks about is setting up your environment for success, right?

[00:36:32] Steve Haffner: So, as far as if you wanna form a new. Or break a bad habit, set your environment up so that it's incentivizes the good behavior and deses the bad behavior, or makes it easier for the future you to behave. Well, we, there are two us, two yous. We're kind of schizophrenic. There's the planner, Greg, and there's the doer Greg.

[00:36:57] Steve Haffner: So the planner is the one that's system two, you're thinking conscious process that says, Hey, I've got these goals and I wanna achieve them. So here's what I'm gonna do this and this let's say, cuz I've kind of went on in a weight loss regimen, not too long ago. I put on some pounds over 2020 when I wasn't working and like I gotta lose this time.

[00:37:16] Steve Haffner: So, made a decision, okay, I'm going to take these steps. Well then when it comes time to implement those, now it switches to the doer Greg and the doer is the one that's got all those things inside that. Rationalize and keep, you doesn't wanna spend energy, like you said, wanna conserve energy and we've got all this resistance to doing what the planner wanted us to do.

[00:37:43] Steve Haffner: But if the planner set up the environment to help the doer out the future doer, for example, if we're talking about, weight loss, if you don't have the, the bad unhealthy food in your environment, you won't be as tempted, to eat it or to go you're less likely to go to the store to pick up, a court of ice cream.

[00:38:04] Steve Haffner: If you don't have it in the house, you're saying, okay, well, so you're setting up your environment and the same with, like distractions set up, if you find that you're not very productive, cuz you're easily distracted set up your environment to not be, to minimize the distractions.

[00:38:19] Steve Haffner: And this is interesting. This is something that I learned as a magician. Magicians. So you've heard of misdirection and that's something that magicians use to direct a spectator's attention. Magicians learned. It's very easy to get someone to switch their attention, even away from what's most important.

[00:38:37] Steve Haffner: So if I've got a secret move to make, while I'm performing a magic trick, all their eyes are on me, cuz I'm the most interesting thing on the stage at that moment. Right. And I've got the props, I'm the magician. They wanna catch me out. They make sure wanna make sure they don't miss something. So their eyes are glued to me and I need 'em to be anywhere else, but on me so I can do the secret move.

[00:38:58] Steve Haffner: One method I use, if I have a, I'll have a spectator on stage with me and I'll ask the spectator an odd question, like I might say, oh, by the way, what's the biggest lie you've ever told. And then I pause for just a second. Suddenly I'm not the most interesting thing on the stage anymore. That person is because everyone in the audience wants to.

[00:39:20] Steve Haffner: Hear their response. They wanna see how they handle that awkward question and they wanna see how big of a liar they are too. So, so now all the attention shifts to that person. Plus my gaze goes to that person and that's a natural tendency to draw the audience's eyes there. Nobody's looking at me. I can do the secret move and create a magic miracle because I misdirected them.

[00:39:45] Steve Haffner: So why is it so easy for us to have our attention misdirected away from even what's important to us just because the brain is built that way. So, I'll just talk about attention control for just a second, because it does have implications for us. Anytime we're trying to get work done, for example, or anytime we get be set by a big disruption.

[00:40:08] Steve Haffner: Distracts us. Alright. So here's what happens system. One is the subconscious system and it's constantly scanning the millions of stimulus in your environment. Let's say you're on a dark street at night in a sketchy neighborhood by yourself. Your attention is everywhere. Right? Right. Okay. So what's it doing?

[00:40:27] Steve Haffner: It's scanning to look for anything that is a change or sticks out from the background or potentially dangerous. And it, so it acts as a filter the subconscious system one. Then if you catch a movement, that's a change, out of your peripheral vision, then you lock onto it and then it makes a handoff from your subconscious system to your thinking system, your system, tooth goal focused system, where you say, oh, what do I do now?

[00:40:55] Steve Haffner: Well, if it's a cat walking by, I'm just gonna go back to scanning. You don't do anything if it's. Somebody with a knife, you're probably gonna take a different option. so, Hey, there's a cat over there. there you go. So, so we've got this attention control system, the subconscious system's always scanning and looking for remember something that it's a change or something that sticks out from the environment.

[00:41:21] Steve Haffner: Not necessarily what's most important, cuz it doesn't know what's important. What's important to that system. One is keeping you alive. right. So that's what it's doing. It doesn't care about our goals and our values, the things that are important to us. So we can be taken away, even short term goals. You're trying to get this project finished and your phone rings or your phone dings with a text message.

[00:41:43] Steve Haffner: And your system once says you better pick that up. It could be important. It could be a life or death situation and you try to resist. So we need to we need to take steps, set up our environment to avoid those distractions. That, that system works great for keeping us alive that, that scanning and locking on, but it makes us very susceptible to distraction.

[00:42:04] Steve Haffner: Right. Yeah. And so as a as a magician, all I have to do is give them a reason to look somewhere else, even if it's a very small reason and people will do it because they don't, they're system one, it's something new there might be something important or dangerous there.

[00:42:18] Steve Haffner: So, so it's interesting how that works, it affects us all the time at the task level. When we get taken away from, like I said, a project or at the big picture level, because we can easily get distracted away from our high level priorities. Like our mission, if you're, if you have a mission statement for yourself or your organization can take us away from our values can take us away.

[00:42:40] Steve Haffner: We can forget our purpose. Kind of like I did when I had that experience at Fort Knox with a little girl and I it's like, oh, why am I doing this? Right. Keeping those top of mind so that when you get distracted, something like the pandemic, that was a big disruption for everybody in various ways.

[00:42:57] Steve Haffner: And all of a sudden our focus is on dealing with these emergencies and all this new situation. And we can get taken away from our values and our high level goals, that, and that very easily without even realizing it. But by keeping them top of mind, we can get back to them quicker and easier and access them better.

[00:43:19] Steve Haffner: So, and what I mean by top of mind, if you write them down. Put 'em on your website, put 'em somewhere where people can see them that makes you accountable to them. Your mission. What are, where, what are your high level goals? What do you want to achieve? What's the purpose of your organization, right?

[00:43:35] Steve Haffner: And your values. And I think everyone should have a value statement as well. You write 'em down, you put 'em somewhere where you will, them frequently, that will, when you get distracted away from them, that will make it easier to get back to them.

[00:43:48] Greg Mills: Yeah. There's entire industries that are, set up to distract us.

[00:43:52] Steve Haffner: Oh, absolutely. I could go on a huge rant about that's the whole business model of media and tech companies and news organizations is is to get to our lizard brain and make us afraid that whole fight or flight thing make us afraid and outrage. And so that we will click. Because that's how they make money.

[00:44:16] Steve Haffner: It's not exactly, they're not news organizations, they're click organizations, as they say, if the, if you get it for free, you are the product. Exactly.

[00:44:26] Greg Mills: And I don't think a lot of people realize that

[00:44:30] Steve Haffner: I know, and I'm hoping people become, more aware of that and push back.

[00:44:35] Steve Haffner: All right.

[00:44:36] Greg Mills: Where do you see yourself going in the

[00:44:38] Steve Haffner: future? Ah, well, okay. So I am 59 years old. I never plan to retire. I say never meaning I don't have a hard date for retirement, meaning I wanna keep doing what I'm doing until I can no longer do it either physically or mentally. Because I enjoy it.

[00:44:56] Steve Haffner: And I think it's important. I believe in my message and I think it's important to It to bring that to people, to make people aware of, what their minds are doing.

[00:45:03] Greg Mills: All right, well, let's get ready to wrap this up.

[00:45:05] Steve Haffner: I'll point out a couple of other resources. Okay. Since I said that, I think people ought to take the step of intentionally trying to learn more and you don't have to read a big full volume book.

[00:45:20] Steve Haffner: You can, watch Ted talks on how the mind works. There's a lot of great ones out there. You can read articles and blog posts and, look at sites on psychology or neuroscience. Neuroscience ties in with a lot of what I talk about as well. I think that's important. So I mentioned Adam Grant think again about having a flexible mindset and being able to change beliefs based on evidence.

[00:45:42] Steve Haffner: Daniel, Conneman thinking fast and slow, and that's a pretty big book and I use it for reference, but it's got FA it's fascinating. It's easy to read. And he won the Nobel prize in economics by the way, several years ago. Another book I think, is really valuable about how the mind works and how we think is by former professional poker player, Annie duke, and it's called thinking in bets.

[00:46:05] Steve Haffner: Okay. And it's really about istic thinking instead of, thinking in absolutes and embracing uncertainty. That's one of my big messages as well, because we have a. Lizard brain drive towards certainty because uncertainty slows us down. And if you are slow acting or making decisions in the wild, you're gonna get eaten.

[00:46:28] Steve Haffner: So our primitive brain wants us to think and act fast. So it tries to make us feel certainty even when we don't have that certainty. So we have to embrace uncertainty and say, Hey, I don't know the answer to this, or I think this might happen, but I don't know. And say what? And so you make contingency plans.

[00:46:47] Steve Haffner: If this doesn't happen, here's what I'll do, so it's so those are all great books. Great sources of information. I'll mention one other name. Dan, R E L E a R I E L Y. He's a psychology professor at duke. He's written some fantastic books. One's called predictably irrational. And it's all about behavioral science and the things we do irrationally, but everybody does 'em and that's what makes 'em predictable.

[00:47:12] Steve Haffner: So there's a lot of great fun resources out there for people to learn more about how your engine is working so you can make it work better.

[00:47:20] Greg Mills: What's the best way for people to check you out and get in touch with you,

[00:47:22] Steve Haffner: Steve. Oh, sure can go right to my website. And it's Steve So it's S T E V E H a F as in Frank, N E And they can, you can get my book. I mentioned seven strategies for making great decisions, send it to you free as a PDF, and you can sign up for my newsletter.

[00:47:44] Steve Haffner: So I have a weekly newsletter that comes out called cognizance, and it's about critical thinking and mind performance. And there, I always have one fun section in there. So I show links to articles. That's a good way. I talk about how you should learn how the engine works. Well, subscribe to my newsletter and you'll get all sorts of good insights.

[00:48:02] Steve Haffner: It's a real quick three minute read. Sometimes I link it to a blog post. You can unsubscribe if you want again, it's free and I'm not gonna use it to try to sell you anything either. So, okay.

[00:48:12] Greg Mills: What's the number one piece of advice that you can give for our listeners?

[00:48:17] Steve Haffner: I would say this and one book I wrote a draft for is called, don't say it.

[00:48:23] Steve Haffner: And it's all about famous or common sayings and a affirmisms that people say all the time that you should remove from your vocabulary. . And so I, I will just say one of them, because I used to say, this is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. because, and I, like I said, I used to say it, but it's a terrible mindset because first of all, it's bad grammar.

[00:48:48] Steve Haffner: But second of all, if you wait until something breaks before you try to address it or improve it, it could be too late. And just because something isn't broken doesn't mean you shouldn't try to improve on it or maybe make an upgrade to something else. Speaks to the status quo bias, like we talked about before, right?

[00:49:11] Steve Haffner: Today broke. So it's a whole mindset thing. I'd recommend, don't even say it anymore because it puts you in a status quo mindset.

[00:49:19] Greg Mills: Well, that's a wrap. Thank you, Steve, for being a guest on entrepreneurs over 40.

[00:49:23] Steve Haffner: Absolutely. Thanks for having me on. It's been a lot of fun, Greg.

Steve HaffnerProfile Photo

Steve Haffner

Mind performance strategist

Steve Haffner had a successful 30-year career as a systems developer, project manager and executive, working for bosses at companies such as Humana, E.D.S., and Mercer.

In 2011 he shocked his colleagues and friends by quitting that career to become a full-time, professional magician.

As a creator of deceptions, Steve discovered that the same mental errors, distortions and misperceptions that magicians exploit and manipulate to create magic - also influence our everyday thinking and decision making as well.

Today, Steve is a mind performance strategist. He combines insights from his previous careers with research from the fields of psychology, behavioral science, and neuroscience.

Steve presents his keynote and educational programs to associations and businesses throughout the U.S. on:
- The illusions that prevent and undermine high-trust relationships
- The hidden effects of stress on thinking and decision making
- and improving overall mind performance.