People Before Thinkers Before Shooters, Or How Travis Haley Makes Me Want to Be a Better Person

Early in his D5 Disruptive Science Handgun course, Travis Haley asks his students, “Is anyone here OK living in a world of good enough?” He is not just referring to shooting. Every gun training course I observe makes me want to be a better and more thoughtful armed citizen. Travis Haley’s D5 Disruptive Science Handgun course made me want to be a better person.

Haley Strategic D5 Handgun Course, November 2018. Photo by David Yamane

After 3 days and nearly 30 hours of observation, I was asked during the final debrief to share my thoughts about the class. I said,

This is a shooting course inside a human performance course.

Not merely sports performance, although Haley models much of his work after that. Human performance. How to be a better human being, so you can make the world a better place.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was typing up my reflections on the course weeks later and came across the official course description on-line: “The D5 Handgun program will not just make you a better shooter. It will help you find performance and understanding in all aspects of your life.”

Indeed, in the first four hours of the course, Haley lays out his approach to developing human capabilities, and puts self-understanding at the center of that process. Some of this more directly relates to sports performance (Anders Ericcson’s idea of deliberate practice, the importance of active over passing learning, training vs. trusting mindsets), but some of it is important for human development more generally.

For example, we often fail to accomplish our goals in life because we focus on our (lack of) resources (money, tech, networks) instead of relying on our (more abundant?) resourcefulness (resolve, curiosity, creativity).

Haley also introduces the idea of conation to his students (see Kolbe Corp). Ostensibly, this is to maximize the efficiency of teaching the course by working with a person’s conative (intuitive) disposition rather than against it. But Haley actually spends more time discussing how understanding our own conative strengths and weaknesses can help us improve our relationships with our co-workers and significant others. He offers countless examples from his own marriage and encourages us to take the test with our own spouses/partners. (One student did, and enthusiastically reported the findings to Haley the next day.)

Comparison of Haley Strategic CEO Travis Haley’s and Director of Training Robert Bruce’s conative action modes.

Flash forward to the morning of the final day of the course. Haley gives the final one-hour block of classroom instruction over to the topic of ATTITUDE. Like Col. Jeff Cooper in the Gunsite 250 Pistol course, this is Haley’s “mindset” lecture. But very much unlike Cooper, whose concept of mindset revolved around “mental conditioning for combat,” Haley’s discussion of attitude is centered on helping students develop such that, “whether they pull a gun or not, they make the world a better place.”

Here is where things start to depart even more radically from most gun training courses. And Haley is very aware of this fact. “This is a block of instruction, I’ll be honest, we don’t teach in every class,” he admits. “It depends on who the population is. Like if I walked into a military special operations unit, this would not be the first thing I talk about because we would get laughed off the face of the planet.” To which he adds with mock exaggeration, “Because those guys are the SNAKE-EATERS!”

Haley immediately clarifies that he is actually mocking his younger self, who he wishes he “could slap the shit out of” because he wasn’t in control of his emotions and couldn’t handle a lecture like the one he is presenting today.

Today’s more emotionally mature Travis Haley draws inspiration from the “law of attraction.” Although Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Rhonda Byrne’s documentary and book The Secret revitalized the idea in the 21st century, the “law of attraction” is actually a 19th century New Thought idea articulated by Prentice Mulford in his essay, “The Law of Success.”

The essence of the law of attraction is that like attracts like, so positive thinking attracts positive experiences and negative thinking attracts negative experiences. Hence best-selling books like Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937) and Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952).

There is a spiritual side of this perspective, which Haley rejects in favor of the “quantum physics” side. Put very basically, everything in the universe consists of energy, including our thoughts. Therefore, our thought energy has the potential to influence the world around us through a magnetism that resonates with and attracts similar energy.

In terms of human performance, negative thoughts draw us into a vicious cycle of decreased performance while positive thoughts produce an ascending cycle of increased performance.

Haley continues in this New Thought vein with yet another surprising reference: The Four Agreements.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Wisdom was published in 1997 by Miguel Angel Ruiz Macias under the pseudonym Don Miguel Ruiz. A New York Times best seller for over 8 years, it is claims to be “a practical guide to personal freedom” based on ancient Toltec wisdom. (Toltec is a 10th-12th century Mesoamerican culture centered in Mexico. Anthropologist Carlos Castaneda also claims to draw from Toltec shamanic wisdom in his best-selling 1968 book, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.)

According to Haley, “My wife actually got me into this.”

The four agreements are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

Haley connects each of the four agreement to a lesson he has learned in his life, and concludes by stating, “To me this is the most important part of this presentation.” If you can live by the four agreements, “you will – I guarantee you, I guarantee you – you will make the world a better place.”

Whether you accept New Thought philosophy/spirituality, it is impossible to come away from Travis Haley’s course not appreciating how his vision goes far beyond teaching people to shoot better. “I don’t want to live in a world of good enough,” he reiterates. “I wish other people would have that mindset. It’s not about programs, it’s not about a system, it’s not about a recipe, it’s not about products, it’s not about guns. It’s about people. And that’s what we care about. It truly is why we’re here.”

Plaque on wall of Haley Strategic Partners headquarters, Scottsdale, AZ, November 2017. Photo by David Yamane

After I finished my final debrief, Haley acceded to the wishes of his class to tell “the dragonfly story.” Everyone in the class wants to hear the dragonfly story. Even though many know it already, they want to hear it directly from the dragonfly himself. It is a sort of rite of passage, part of their course graduation, a send off back out into the world.

Haley concludes this telling of the story by noting that the dragonfly only lives outside the water for 30 days.

I want you to look at our lives in comparison. What is our 30 days on this planet? It’s really not that long, is it? We’re not here, in the big picture of things, very long. So what I leave you with, which is what I said in the beginning, if you do all the right things – meaning the honorable things, the righteous things – in life, like the dragonfly you will leave the world a little bit better place than what you came into. And that’s what this course is about. So I bid you a farewell to make this world a better place.


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