“The Game of Numbers”

Last week we were talking about Rory McIlroy’s “trigger words” from his victory in the British Open a few weeks ago—“process” and “spot.” We were saying that the principle behind these concepts was equally applicable to writing and to entrepreneurship.

My copy of "The Game of Numbers"

What is that principle?

It’s the idea of detaching yourself emotionally from the ultimate outcome of any enterprise (“I gonna win the Nobel Prize!” “I’m going to humiliate myself in the eyes of everyone I love!”) and focusing instead upon one simple, controllable object (“I’m going to sit down this day and work for three hours.”)

I want to introduce you to a book that articulates this concept better than any I’ve ever read.

It’s called The Game of Numbers by Nick Murray.

(Full disclosure: Nick has become a great friend and I’m a huge fan of all his work. Second full disclosure: Nick’s book costs forty bucks.)

The Game of Numbers is not about writing. It’s about “prospecting.”

Nick Murray is a guru and mentor to financial advisors. He writes a popular newsletter, as well as magazine articles and books. “Prospecting,” in the sense that Nick employs the term, means looking for clients. Cold-calling. It means approaching strangers and asking for their business.

Know that, for the purposes of this book, there are only two states of being [for a financial advisor]: prospecting and avoiding prospecting.

Is this starting to ring a bell? Hint: where Nick uses the word “prospecting,” substitute “writing.”

This is not a how-to book. It’s a how-to-not-stop book. Or, if you prefer, it’s not about prospecting; it’s about the fear of prospecting. And how to defeat that fear.

What I call Resistance, Nick calls Avoidance. There’s no difference between the two.

Any technique will work, so long as you relentlessly work it. It’s a numbers game. That is, success is a pure function of the law of large numbers.

What is Nick’s rule for prospecting/writing? It’s a lot like Rory McIlroy’s “process” and “spot.”

The rule is: Pick a constructive aim that you can control; then do it and keep doing it, regardless of immediate success or failure. In the end, the law of large numbers will kick in and you will win.

It’s critical to remember that those are what you’re going to count: approaches. An approach is a genuine attempt to start a conversation with someone which might lead to his enlisting our services.

The outcome of such an attempt is outside our control, and for that reason alone must not be how we keep score. The only thing we can control is the one thing we must learn to control, and that is our own behavior. What the person on the other side of the door does or says—or whether the receptionist will even tell him you’d like to see him, or even whether he is there at all—are variables beyond your control. There is only one thing you can control, and that’s whether or not you knock on that door. This is the only thing we count, because it is the only thing that counts.

For the young financial advisor seeking to develop a client base: Make five approaches a day. Don’t be discouraged if you get no clients today or tomorrow or for the next six months. At the end of each day, ask yourself one question only: “Did I make my five approaches?” If you did, you have succeeded. Simple as that.

This, I believe, is the supreme secret of successful prospecting: it doesn’t matter whom you prospect, how you prospect, or what you say. It only matters that you prospect, and never stop short of your goal. Everything else is just technique, and technique is nothing more than the refinement of your most fundamental prospecting beliefs and behaviors.

For the young writer: write your pages every day. Do not judge yourself or your work. At the end of the day, ask yourself one question only: “Did I do my pages today?” If you did, you have succeeded. Simple as that.

Then for both writer and financial advisor: Keep doing it.

What makes The Game of Numbers so valuable, in my opinion, is that Nick gets into excruciating detail about the psychological and emotional state of mind that’s necessary to successfully play this game. He gets into belief; he gets into behavior. He goes far more deeply into these than I did in The War of Art.

The Game of Numbers is not a motivational book or a self-help book. It was written for a readership of professionals, i.e. men and women whose livelihoods depend on seeking and finding clients. Hence the $40 price tag. The book was not written to be charming or to make the reader feel good. It’s a hard-core, no-nonsense work whose aim is to help the reader survive and prosper.

You can order it at www.nickmurray.com.

My bottom line (and I don’t mean to sound egomaniacal when I say this):

If there is a single book other than The War of Art that I would recommend to any writer or entrepreneur, The Game of Numbers is that book.


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1


A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. Mary Doyle on August 13, 2014 at 6:19 am

    Nice showcase for this book! I like the parallel between Avoidance and Resistance and will definitely pick up a copy. I loved the last book you recommended, Improv Wisdom. As always, thanks.

  2. Kara Lane on August 13, 2014 at 7:08 am

    This article could not have come at a better time. I’ve re-read The War of Art several times, so I was familiar with Resistance (aka Avoidance). I fought Resistance and won in the writing and publishing of my book…where Resistance was winning was in marketing the book. It is disheartening to reach out and reach out and still watch your book sink in the Amazon rankings. Your post today reminded me that what I can control are the number of approaches I make. The results are out of my hands. Thanks, Steven.

  3. Tony Wright on August 13, 2014 at 7:57 am

    OK I bought the book! Truthfully, thank you for the strong recommendation to read it, I am really looking forward to it.

  4. Alex Cespedes on August 13, 2014 at 8:44 am

    I can see why you’re good friends with Nick, you both share the same core beliefs about your professions.

    The line that really hit home: “only matters that you prospect…Everything else is just technique, and technique is nothing more than the refinement of your most fundamental prospecting beliefs and behaviors.”

    Kinda sounds like your “Authentic Swing” concept, which we can only attain after putting in the work without regard to accolades/victories. Work shall set us free.

  5. stephanie Gorman on August 13, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Hi, if anyone else is thinking of going to Amazon to buy “The Game of Numbers”, just letting you know it is a whole ten dollars more on Amazon. Go to the nickmurrayshop.com as linked in the blog. Can’t wait for the book.

  6. Brian Ellis on August 13, 2014 at 9:40 am

    $40.00 equals “Resistance” or “Avoidance” unless I can borrow “The Game Of Numbers.”

  7. Sharon on August 13, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Pick a constructive aim that you can control; then do it and keep doing it, regardless of immediate success or failure. In the end, the law of large numbers will kick in and you will win.

    As a writer and violinist I know about numbers. I know that 1 hour of practice
    supersedes 10 of theory. Reading about isn’t the same as doing. It might take me 20 hours to read Nick’s book, if I chose to budget dollar numbers for it.

    These are hours and resources spent not writing.

    I recently improved my numbers odds by rebooting how I do the work. One new aspect is I don’t keep reinventing the wheel by reading more self-help. I’d enjoy and benefit from The Numbers Game and a copy may cross my path one day and thanks to you, Steve, I’ll know to read it. Until then, those precious hours count toward my WOP.

    Thanks for post that reassures me I’m on track in recent resolve to spent more time typing “all kinds of crazy crap” rather than as much time as I used to making notes, brainstorming and piling up drivel I’ll never get around to publishing.


    • Gordon Mathieson on August 13, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Every book is helpful but $40 needs to be discounted for wannabe authors. But my point is we can easily condense the concept of Avoidance/Resistance….with the old adage.
      “You can’t win if you don’t show up!”
      Says it all!

  8. Kabamba on August 14, 2014 at 4:11 am

    A couple of weeks ago, I set a goal to practice guitar everyday for 365. You can imagine how validation this post is. Thank you very much.

  9. Antreina on August 14, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Amen! Its the bottom line… be present.. Do something… Thanks again!

    @Stephanie Gorman thanks for sharing

  10. Monika on September 27, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    I purchased the book the game of numbers by Nick Murray. It is well worth every cent i spent and more.

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    And when you finally conquer a particularly treacherous slope, the sense of accomplishment is as sweet as a mug of hot cocoa on a snowy day.

  17. bcgame on June 12, 2024 at 1:16 am

    Your message soothes my fears, thus I’m grateful. My new goal of devoting more time to writing “all kinds of crazy crap” instead of the time I used to spend thinking about ideas, taking notes, and collecting useless material that I’ll never publish is keeping me on track.

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