How to Be a Pick-Up Artist

Excerpt from “The Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating a Mindful Life in a Distracted World” by Achim Nowak (© 2016 Achim Nowak, published by Career Press, Wayne, NJ).

Word Story is a simple social game. Gather a group of 8, 10, 12 folks. Sit in a circle. Create a story together. You make it up as you go along, one word at a time. A person says a word. The person on either side adds another word. The person next to them adds another word. And so it goes.

A few rules: The sentences in the story, absurd though the story may turn out to be, must be grammatically correct. When it’s your turn, you may say “comma” or “period” in lieu of adding a word. That’s it. The story ends whenever it ends. And when it’s your turn, you have to jump in. Fast.

Word Story is a singular exercise in creating momentum and discovering meaning as you go along. Mental energy, emotional energy, creative energy, collective energy: There is lots of energy at play. The drill is split-second cuing. When the story comes your way, you have just seconds to add a word. One word. Words get jumbled in your head. Adrenaline pulses through your body. You do a gut-level possibility check. Then you have to spit it out. Your word.

A group of folks who surrender to Word Story embark on a rollicking energy ride. As a rehearsal for being fully engaged in a moment, Word Story is as good as it gets.

When I think of how we play the momentum game in our daily life, I think of two types of folks: the Let-Me-Think-About-It People and the Pick-Up Artists.

Let-Me-Think-About-It People face an impulse, an unexpected stimulus, a new piece of information with the instinct to step back. Reflect on the new information. Dissect the risks involved in getting on the ride. Gather a little bit of data. Mull it over. They eventually catch a wave. It rarely is the one that’s right in front of them.

Sometimes, of course, the next wave doesn’t come.

Pick-Up Artists tune into external stimulation quickly. They pick up the nuances of a language cue. They enjoy the back-and-forth of verbal banter. They are in tune with their internal prompts—thoughts, emotions, physical energy. They pick up on nonverbal cues, as well. They sense the underlying mood, spirit, energy of a room the moment they walk through the door. Stepping back is rarely their first impulse. Pick- Up Artists prefer to step in. Quickly.

I value the benefits of considered reflection. It is an essential life skill that fosters substantive insight. I value it especially when the social stakes are high. But I also know that Pick-Up Artists are a lot more likely to experience the joy of momentum. They, in turn, create the joy of momentum for others. They fashion the more momentous life.

In my work as an executive coach, I support exceptional business leaders. Smart, driven go-getters. Brilliant strategic thinkers who are three steps ahead in every conversation they’re in. Whenever I help one of these leaders get ready for a high-stakes event, I often hear these words: “I didn’t have enough time to prepare.”

They’re right. They really didn’t have enough time to prepare. I can think of moments in my own life when I wished I had more time to prepare. Then I remember Word Story. In Word Story, our entire life up to this moment has been our preparation. Our mental agility, our instincts, our ability to energize ourselves—that’s our preparation. Our willingness to let go of control. That’s preparation. Our faith in prajna. Preparation.

“The reason they pay me the big bucks,” my friend Tony San Marino, senior vice president of a venerable advertising agency in Manhattan, says to me, “is because my instincts have been well-honed over time. They trust my instincts.”

Yes, a clear strategy can be beneficial in business and life. Planning fosters purposeful execution. But life in the moment is a cue game. A cue is a concrete and immediate signal through which energy communicates with us.

Notice. Respond. That’s how momentum is created.

  • We create momentum when we move physically closer to another person.
  • We create momentum when we extend an extravagant gesture. A touch. A kiss.
  • We create momentum when we raise our voice, lower our voice.
  • We create momentum when we perform a disruptive act.
  • We create momentum when we smile. Everything we do is a cue for the next moment. It either creates or kills momentum.

“Until one is committed,” the Scottish explorer W. H. Murray wrote, “there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative, there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves, too.”

Not prepare more and more and then some more. No. Commit.

Commitment will tempt us to ignore the cue that doesn’t fit our plan. Go ahead, have your plan. But conscientiously engage with the cues that are coming your way.

Commit in the moment, to the moment. Commit split-second, cue by cue.

Providence will take care of the rest. Momentum is the reward.

Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from “The Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating a Mindful Life in a Distracted World”” by Achim Nowak (© 2016 Achim Nowak, published by Career Press, Wayne, NJ. All rights reserved). For more information, visit
Achim Nowak is an international authority on presence and interpersonal connection. His first two books—“Infectious” and “Power Speaking”—have become essential leadership development tools with Fortune 500 executives and entrepreneurs. His third book is “The Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating a Mindful Life in a Distracted World.” Nowak’s work integrates a wealth of experience in the personal transformation field, actor training, conflict resolution, and spiritual practice. He has been featured on
60 Minutes, NPR, Fox News, and in the Miami Herald. His weekly Energy Boost message offers practical tools for creating an energized life.

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