40-Day Business Leadership Peak Performance Programme Day 26: Movies

Steve’s muffin

Steve is a lawyer. Picture this. We are sitting in the legal precinct of town on the second level mezzanine near a café. Steve and I have ordered coffee and muffins. We’re talking about issues in his business when I notice Steve playing with his muffin.

“Steve, what’s wrong with your muffin?”

“It’s a bit stale.”

“Sounds like you’ve got chatter. What do you feel you need to say or do?”

“I need to take it back and get a fresh one.”

“Great idea. Go ahead.”

“Nuh. It’s OK.”

Steve and I keep chatting but then I notice he is back touching the muffin not really listening to what I’m saying.

“Steve … what do you need to do about that stale muffin?

“I know … I know! I need to take it back.”

“Well …? Go ahead.”

I kid you not. Steve sat there for seven minutes – sighing and breathing heavy. I could see him looking at the muffin … then the café … then the muffin … then the people at the counter …wondering … should I … shouldn’t I?

Eventually, he stood up and nervously walked over to the café. From where I sat I saw a 13-second transaction. What looks like nods and apologies take place and then Steve turns around smiling and he returns to the table jubilant.

“YESSSSS!” he said punching the air. The waitress agreed to quickly supply two fresh muffins and two fresh coffees as a way of apology.

I asked Steve: “What was going through your mind for those seven minutes?”

Jokingly he said: “I imagined 6 o’clock TV news helicopter arriving with camera crews and me being on the six o’clock news! TIGHT WAD BARRISTER TAKES BACK STALE MUFFIN.”

“Seriously though, a lot of my staff buy coffee at that café. They are all from the office. I’d hate it if someone started a rumour in the office that I was a tight wad. I can just imagine Shirley from accountants having a great little smug conversation with Charles and Boyd about penny pinching Steve. I can see Shirley poking fun at me behind my back.”

You need to understand none of this has actually taken place anywhere else but in the cinema in Steve’s head. Figuratively speaking, he’s written a script, hired actors, engaged Spielberg to shoot it – lights, camera, action – all he needs is a comfy chair and popcorn! But in reality, none of it actually happened. Understand it is a movie inside his head. He’s making it up! But it is powerful enough to prevent Steve – a barrister who fights major corporate litigation cases – from taking a stale muffin back to a cafe and asking for a fresh replacement.

This is what we call Your Movie.

Steve was in court recently. The judge read the deposition and noticed the date was wrong. He suspects that the paralegals cut and paste copy from earlier deposition documents and this time forgot to change the dates. The judge says sternly, “Steve … are we trying this … last year?”

Now Steve’s got massive negative self talk. “How did I miss this?! We are supposed to be professionals. This isn’t supposed to happen. How will we explain this to our client? Boy do I look dumb!”

“No, Your Honour.”

“OK. Well if this is wrong, Steve … what else is wrong? Case adjourned. Let’s see you in three weeks. Next case.”

Getting tossed out of court for a date error on a document was professionally embarrassing and gave Steve loads of chatter because it means he has to go back to the office and raise this issue with a partner who has been with the firm since Day 1. But Steve has noticed an emerging pattern of embarrassing errors.

Then I asked Steve what his insight was from the experience. He thought for a long while then said: “I’ve got a lot of stale muffins in my business.”

What a great insight!

Steve rattled off issues with accounts, issues with the paralegals, PAs not following up, misfiling, invoices not being issued and so on. His excuse was being to busy and not wanting to upset his team, in particular his office manager who has been with the firm since Day One.

“I know she makes mistakes but she is part of the original team. She does a great job and goes above and beyond so how can I discipline her over a small error like this? It will be embarrassing. That conversation isn’t going well.”

Can you hear what is going on? This is a movie in Steve’s head.  Steve imagines talking to his office manager and it not going well.

I asked Steve, “What did it cost to get thrown out of court for a small error?”


Over the next three months, Steve shut down his chatter. He successfully tackled a range of small and more serious issues – his ‘stale muffins’.

So, the big questions is: what are the ‘stale muffins’ in your business, or life?

Can you see that ‘stale muffins’ is another version of the upside down rocket?  And it relates to the bananas metaphor. It is about recognising and collecting problems. So keep identifying problems that give you chatter. Then shut down your chatter.

PS: Remember Ron and how I parked on his footpath? Remember how he didn’t say anything for over an hour and then … finally … he asked me to move the vehicle. I asked why it took so long to say something.

Ron had a movie. “I was worried that you would make fun of me or get offended.”

See in Ron’s cinema in his mind he’s written a script where I make fun of him … he’s hired actors … and engaged Spielberg to shoot it … and roll film … eat popcorn … there’s me on Ron’s inner ‘big screen’ telling him he’s being stupid … and petty … and trivial etc.

Note: Ron’s movie about my car was totally different to reality … but powerful enough to stop Ron from taking any action for over an hour. And Ron’s ‘movie’ about his late paying customers is so powerful, customers can go over 120 days without paying his invoices. Ron’s ‘movie’ in this case, has very serious implications for the cash flow of his business.

Get the idea?


Andrew Priestley is a qualified business leadership coach with clients worldwide. He is the author of The Money Chimp, Starting and How Money Flows Through Your Business. You can contact him through www.andrewpriestley.com

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It goes without saying that this is for information only and The Author  cannot be held responsible for any losses or damages that occur as a result of reading this material.

© 2017 Andrew Priestley/TCE Ltd


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