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Pickpockets and Conmen: Attraction Distraction

My wife, Carol, and I consider ourselves fortunate to have traveled extensively. It’s something we have always loved to do together. In our travels to big cities we have had the occasion to observe many types of people—from business people, to families on evening strolls, or out to eat, and everything in between. We’ve found that in the bigger cities around the world, it’s not uncommon to see people who make their living by preying upon unsuspecting tourists.  

Fortunately, Carol and I remain largely unscathed by predators. While we acknowledge luck’s role in life, we firmly believe that the biggest attribution to our good fortune is due to the diligent attention we pay to three little words that one of my worldly mentors shared with me almost 30 years ago. The words are…‘Big City’ Rules.

Essentially, this rule of thumb translates to the fact that one can afford to be relaxed and less wary while away from big crowds- say in in a small town, compared to being in a big city. These three little words help us remember to mind our wallets, zip our purses and pay attention beyond distraction whenever it occurs and for whatever reason.  

Pickpockets and Conmen 

In big touristy cities we have noticed that there are two main types of public chicanery and theft:  Pickpockets and Conmen. Before I break down how they do what they do, I’d like to be clear about how I define each.

  • Pickpockets are those who are able to remove an item from their victim in real time, and up-close and personal, without any immediate awareness on the part of the victim.   
  • Conmen are people who coerce you into voluntarily (and sometimes begrudgingly) giving them your money or something else of value. 

(I apologize for the gendered descriptor, but the profession was named centuries before our time and remains stuck as the label of the profession ever since.)

Pickpockets and The Art of Distraction 

Let’s start with pickpockets. Some work alone. Some work as a team. In order to succeed, the first thing they have to do is distract the mind of the victim. This can be done through conversation, with a touch somewhere on the body, a noise or commotion, or anything that might distract the victim’s mind from their current focus for just long enough for the pickpocket to do their work. For example, a pickpocket team may create a distraction that draws a crowd or compels the victim to curiously look to see what is happening. (Or simply use someone’s awe of the scenery, as they often do in front of famous crowd-attractions like The Pantheon in Rome.)  A pickpocket could also bump into the victim on the way out of the subway or bus and physically jostle the victim. The actual pickpocketing could either happen in that moment, or after the victim collects themselves and checks their pocket or purse for their wallet. Quite often, this technique causes the targeted victim to check the pocket or part of the purse that holds their valuables. This actually helps the pickpocket zero in on exactly where to find the jackpot they’re seeking. 

Conmen and The Art of Attraction Distraction

The word conman is short for Confidence Man. Unlike a pickpocket, a conman must use persuasion to gain your trust and build your confidence. This is how he gets you to give him what he wants. This requires the conman to create what I call an attraction distraction. The attraction is the focus on you. You are attracted to how you feel about yourself and attracted to how confident he is making you feel. This feeling is what he uses to distract you from what is actually happening. In other words, he has you feeling so good about your positive sense of self—your confidence—that you are distracted from the game he is running and what he is really doing. The conman builds your confidence by playing to your ego to the point where you willingly give him, or allow him to have, what he wants.

The conman attracts and then distracts the mind of the victim.

The Mind is Susceptible to Distraction 

The big lesson here is that, without conscious choice or awareness, the mind is almost always susceptible to being distracted from its intended focus.  Pickpockets know this timeless human truth and they count on it.  

We are all susceptible to being distracted. We can train our minds to be less susceptible, but the mind can be easily distracted. I bet that you would agree that your mind is distracted for some period of time every day.  Even daydreaming is a form of distraction, though it can often lead to good thoughts, ideas and perspectives and can serve as a restorative to the mind.  

Avoiding Distraction in Disguise

In my Four Rules of Engagement, rule number 2 is that Everyone’s greatest desire is to be right. Herein presents the challenge: even an unworthy distraction can sometimes disguise itself as deserving focus, and the conscious mind will then try to justify it- more often than not, quite successfully. 

The surest and quickest way to get our focus back on track, is to engage the objectivity of another person.  The best person for the job is one who can be objective and supportive, as well as someone you can trust, who can see your potential.  I know this sounds like a tall order, but I’ve been fortunate to have had a few special people fill this role for me since I was a very young man; I still do.  It’s literally how I learned to do what I do for my clients.

An Infallible Prioritization Trick

Almost all of us have a list of things we want, or need, to accomplish. Some of us keep it in our head, some on our computer or personal device and some still on a good old pad and paper. At the end of the day, we have what I call, “rollovers.” A rollover is something that you had the best of intentions of accomplishing today, but for whatever reason didn’t, and it will rollover to tomorrow’s list.  

The problem with rollovers is that when we’re very busy, our entire list for the next day can be full of rollovers.  This is usually when we feel frazzled and rushed as opposed to when we feel centered and calm. When we feel frazzled it’s almost impossible to give something its proper full attention and focus.  

Here’s what I’ve been doing for years to prohibit my rollovers from distracting me from doing what will help manifest my goals and objectives.  I’ll use bullets to illustrate how easy this process can be.

  • I don’t look at yesterday’s list in a new morning.
  • I consider which task, whether on my list or not, will make the biggest, most positive difference in my life.
  • I make that the first thing I do. And if it’s too big a task to accomplish and still do what I need to that day, I do something that will contribute to forward motion in that context.

In the end, we are all vulnerable to distraction as well as the attraction distraction

While, in our individual and collective minds (i.e. business, groups we lead, etc.), we can’t possibly create complete immunity from distractions, we can consciously choose to do all we can to be ever-vigilant about protecting the true intentions of our original focus.   

The bottom line is that distractions don’t wait for pickpockets or conmen and don’t care if you’re in a strange city, or at your own desk. That’s why we have to be ever-vigilant. As someone who works in a home office about half of the time, I can tell you that I am on constant watch for something that might distract me from my current task and/or my short or long-term objectives. While this isn’t the same as being pickpocketed it does happen quickly, and over time can steal away our own objectives, goals and happiness.  

This is why – no matter where I find myself, and no matter what I am doing – I remind myself daily of the words that Carol and I have adhered to for years…     

Big City Rules.

© Joe Caruso and Caruso Leadership, 2019.

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