Mentalist As Business Strategy Expert

What Gives You The Edge?

Live performance.

Every show I do is an opportunity to get real-time feedback from real-live people on what works, what doesn’t work, and what I should work on.

Shows are composed of hundreds of experiments. I play with language, timing, positioning, tone of voice, physicality, scripting, lighting, information order, and thousands of details that make the show.

Every reaction (or lack thereof) is it’s own data point, Read More

4 Quadrants of Mind Control

“Ok Peter, if this is going to be a scientific demonstration, it needs to be a double blind test. That means I’m going to put you in an. . . isolation booth.”

I walk over to my case and pull out a brown paper grocery bag.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” I say as I open it, “Chicago’s finest isolation booth!”

I slowly lower it over Peter’s head until he’s completely blindfolded.

Why in the world would anyone I barely know let me put a paper bag over their head; let alone have fun doing it?

I’m a master of influence.

And this makes people uncomfortable.

You can see it when I explain what I do for a living. “I’m a professional mentalist. I basically convince people I can read their minds using various techniques of influence.”

Their eyebrows raise ever so slightly as they lean back. (They won’t admit it but they’re secretly worried I’m going to reveal all their deepest, darkest fears.)

I don’t blame them. Who wouldn’t feel uncomfortable being in the same room with someone who could really do that?

But, that fear stems from a common misconception that influence, persuasion, manipulation, & coercion are all the same thing.

Unwitting Influence

If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone and you were trying to get them to see your point of view, you were trying to be influential. If you’ve ever tried to convince your sweetie to go camping with you, you were trying to be influential. If you’ve ever explained how something could be a win-win situation, you were trying to be influential.

Maybe you were successful, maybe you weren’t. The fact remains you were trying to influence another person.

As is every single person alive, every day since the dawn of time.

Some people come by this naturally. They seem to instinctively know what to say during a conversation to get the outcome they want.

But most people don’t. They’re shooting in the dark.

People who lack the natural grace of conversational influence seem to miss the subtle clues that provide valuable feedback you can use to shift tactics midstream.

Even people who are good at conversational influence rely on one or two strategies that have worked over the years.

I have a whole toolbox full of ’em.

This is handy because influence isn’t limited to figuring out where we should eat lunch today. Influence plays out in courtrooms, boardrooms, bedrooms, and everywhere between.

4 Quadrants

Years ago I wanted to understand how influence, persuasion, manipulation, & coercion intermingle so I came up with a way to graph their placement.

Imagine a 4 quadrant graph made from two lines that meet at right angles. One is vertical, and the other is horizontal.

The vertical line has “Behavior” at the top, and “Belief” at the bottom. The horizontal line has “Self” on the left, and “Others” on the right.


The X & Y axis represent two questions:

  1. What are you trying to change: behavior or beliefs?
  2. Who does it benefit: only yourself, or everyone involved?

Influence affects behavior. Persuasion affects beliefs.

If you’re trying to change someone’s choice, that’s influence. If you’re trying to change a belief that governs their choices, that’s persuasion.

Positive Side

As long as the intent of your influence or persuasion is to benefit everyone involved, then we can usually assume it’s a net positive effort when we do our moral calculus.

Negative Side

When most people are uncomfortable with influence or persuasion, it’s usually when done with the sole intention of benefitting the person doing the influencing.

This is known as manipulation & coercion.

Manipulation is the unethical attempt to change someone’s beliefs by way of lying, withholding the truth, or other subversive techniques. Coercion is attempting to produce a particular outcome by any means necessary.

If the intent of your persuasion is to solely benefit yourself without concern for the impact it has on others affected, you’re being manipulative. If the intent of your influence is to benefit yourself with no concern for the negative impact it has on others, you’re being coercive.

This “ends justify the means” approach is the path to utter destruction of your self, your relationships, and your ability to connect with other people.

This is what we call “The Dark Side.”

Filled Out

Now, when you think about interactions you have with people, you can have a better idea of whether you’re trying to be influential, persuasive, manipulative, or coercive.

The more detailed & nuanced your language is, the more adept you will be at its use.

Influence is a Tool

Just like with fire, handguns, a knife, or anything else it lacks inherent morality; whether it’s good or bad is based on how you use it.

If you want to get better at achieving outcomes that not only help you, but also help everyone involved (the mythical land of Win-Win), then you absolutely must practice the skill of understanding what the other person wants. This is why thinking like a mind reader can help you in every area of your life.

Only then can you use powerful language to communicate why your path will get them what they want.

You will be like a mental Kung Fu master.

They never fight strength head-on. Instead, they see where the energy is coming from, then move to blend with it. This allows them to take control without the other person feeling a thing.

It is the masterful blending and redirecting of a conversation you must master if you want to use your powers of influence for good, and not evil.

The Right Way to Do Wrong

A while back I wrote a short article on a book Houdini wrote in the 1906 titled “The Right Way to Do Wrong.”

Within its pages Houdini explains how to con people out of money, how to pick locks, break into buildings, among other dastardly skills.

Reporters challenged his books as being dangerous, ill advised, and in poor taste.

“How dare you teach people how to lie, steal, and cheat!”

His reason for writing it is as good now as it was back then.

“The better educated you are about the skills & techniques used by those who would try to do you harm, the better equipped you are to defend yourself from them.”

Bad people are already using manipulation and coercion to get their way, every day. Why should you, the good guy, intentionally cripple your ability to recognize & defend yourself from those people?



The technique that’s most effective in this quadrant is the use (or threat of using) force; whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, etc. it doesn’t matter. The most expedient way to get someone to do something that benefits you is to put a gun to their head and make them do it. My idea is any time violence is introduced to a human relationship, it is fundamentally immoral.


The best way to manipulate people is to deprive them of the facts & information they need to make a fully informed decision. The way to do that is to lie. Withhold information to maximize your ability to change someone’s beliefs to be more favorable to your position.


It takes a remarkable amount of effort to understand someone’s position, and see how what you’re proposing could benefit them. That’s why so few people are good at being persuasive! If you want to help change someone’s beliefs, you have to demonstrate how everyone’s lives will be better with that new set of ideas about how the world works.


Really, the only way to influence someone is to withhold nothing, use no violence, and propose nothing that will violate that person’s beliefs. Only then will you be able to influence someone towards doing something you want to do. This is a much higher standard than either manipulation or coercion, but it’s the only way I think you could sleep well at night.

What Say You?

Do you think you’re free from influence? Do you prefer the term “psychological direction?”

And if I might influence you to share this post with your friends? It will help me by getting more eyeballs on my writing. It will help you because your friend will appreciate you thinking of them. And it will help you friend equip themselves against those who would do them harm.

It’s win-win-win!

Just click the little round icon of your favorite social media platform and share away!

The Right Way to do Wrong

A question I get asked a lot on podcasts & interviews isn’t really a question, it’s more of a statement.

“I bet you can manipulate people, huh?”

Well, yeah. That’s what I get paid to do, and it’s why I started [     ] Like A Mind Reader in the first place; teach others the tricks of influence & psychological direction.

Historical Precedence

In 1906 Harry Houdini (the most famous magician of all time) wrote a book called “The Right Way to Do Wrong.” In the preface he says this:

The object of this book is twofold: First, to safeguard the public against the practices of the criminal classes by exposing their various tricks and explaining the adroit methods by which they seek to defraud. “Knowledge is power” is an old saying. I might paraphrase it in this case by saying knowledge is safety. I wish to put the public on its guard, so that honest folks may be able to detect and protect themselves from the dishonest, who labor under the false impression that it is easier to live dishonestly than to thrive by honest means.

The part that really grabs my attention is “Knowledge is safety.”

The psychological techniques & tools I cover in my consulting, coaching, & personal work are exactly the same used by big corporations, advertising, and the unscrupulous.

Just like any tool, it can be used for good or evil, and it’s up to the person using them to never use them for nefarious means.

But only through education & knowledge of the techniques can one protect themselves from it. We’re influenced and manipulated every day by those who would strive to relieve you of the burden of your hard-won money.


I’ll wrap up my thoughts with the words of Houdini:

The work of collecting and arranging this material and writing the different chapters has occupied many a leisure hour. My only wish is that “The Right Way to Do Wrong” may amuse and entertain my readers and place the unwary on their guard. If my humble efforts in collecting and writing these facts shall accomplish this purpose, I shall be amply repaid, and feel that my labor has not been in vain. ~Harry Houdini, Handcuff King and Jail Breaker


“The Right Way To Do Wrong” is now available as a PDF + Audiobook bundle! Read & listen to it wherever you go.

Make Better Decisions

“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” Charles R. Swindoll

Whether it’s figuring out whether to take the job offer or not, who to date, where to go to school, or what to have for dinner, every day is full of choices.

The quality of our lives are the results of the choices that we make. We actively design our life with every decision we make.

No pressure, right?

We often have very little information on what the outcome of our choice will be, and we can have a difficult time weighing the pros & cons of a particular choice we’re faced with. That’s why it can be easy to get “paralysis by analysis.”

That’s why I want to share 3 psychological elements that influence the choices that you make, and once you understand them it will help you make better choices more quickly.

“One should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths.” Lord Takandobu

Element 1: Loss Aversion

As much as we’d like to believe that we’re noble creatures driven by logic & reason, we’re actually weak apes who are terrified of having things taken away from us.

When we think about the future, we’re much more concerned with what we could lose instead of being excited about what we could gain. Our motivations are more about what we can keep than what we can get.

This is why it’s easy to get stuck in negative mental loops about how everything is going wrong in our lives instead of appreciating all the amazing things that are actually going right.

When you consider a decision, ask yourself if you’re deciding to keep what you’ve always had, or if you’re opening yourself up to getting what you’ve always wanted.

Don’t (only) think about what could go wrong. Think about what could (also) go right.

Element 2: Intrinsic & Relative Value

Everything is relative.

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours.” Einstein

It’s the same 2 hours in both cases, but your perception of its value is different. The same goes for making choices.

Think about the proportional value of what you’re going to win or lose when making a choice. If you stand to lose $5 and you’re a millionaire, it’s a (relatively) low risk decision. If you only have $20 to your name, though, suddenly $5 is a significant amount of money.

The intrinsic value is the same (near worthless paper), but the relative value is much different.

If the stakes of a choice seem high right now, take the course of action that will increase your relative value the most.

Element 3: Anchor Points

Anchoring is a cognitive bias that deals with our tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information we have when making a decision.

Think about buying a car. What’s the first thing the sales person does? Takes you to look at the most expensive car on the lot.

He knows you’re looking for something sensible for your family of 5. He knows they’ll never all fit into that shiny sports car he’s showing you. He also knows that when you see the price tag of that sports car, your mind uses that as the set point for how much cars cost.

It’s now the anchor point.

Now, when you look at the minivan, its price appears much more reasonable, relative to the sports car (see element 2).

That technique is a powerful 1, 2 punch to your psychology, and it works.

This is why a sales person will help you buy your suit first, and then the little stuff later: your mind uses the price of the suit as the anchor point for making price-based decisions later (relative to that anchor point).

So when you’re evaluating a decision, and how it will play out, understand that your emotional connection is directly linked to the first piece of information you consider. Use this to your advantage by anchoring yourself to a positive outcome, and go from there.


Decision making is a messy system with a lot of fuzzy math involved. Our conscious brain plays a much smaller role than we’d like to admit, so take the time to really understand how your non-conscious mind influences your choices.

Take control of your choices, and you’ve taken control of your life.