They call us chronic loggers: those who focus on writing down caloric intake, logging miles when exercising or tracking hours when honing a hobby or skill. Our increased numbers are probably the fault of Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and best-selling author who expounded of the immutability of the “10,000 hour rule” in his book, Outliers. Ever since ambitious types laid their eyes on this principle, the emphasis on the quantity of time put into an activity skyrocketed.
OK, it isn’t Gladwell’s fault. The weight of numbers has been around as long as the black hole. But just how effective is it at living?
It’s easy to see how people are loyal to the digits; it has become the primary barometer of our effectiveness. Ever since grade school, we’ve been attuned to the importance of reaching that number, a figure that propelled us to increased recognition or, at least, to the next grade.
Bank statements are here to remind us of how much we do and don’t have. Intelligent quotient (I.Q.) tests of many variations are used as “objective” measures of how acute one is.
Counting calories has become an American pastime, to the point where scale fluctuations dictate the next move, as opposed to the lifestyle of wellness. “Getting to 130 pounds” is more at the forefront than “I want to become fit and have more energy.” Forgetting that there are multiple tools of measurements, round numbers catch our fancy–whether it’s how many kilograms we weigh or what time we have to be at a meeting (nobody ever says, “let’s meet at 9:37 a.m.”).
Even on a more juvenile level, we use sexual body counts to gauge how chaste or impure one is. Or on a more common level, socioeconomic status is a qualifier to a fulfilled life.
We tend to approach birthdays with dread and contemplation–kicking and pressuring ourselves at what we haven’t accomplished, instead of the fact that we’re still sucking air.
It’s impossible to extract progress or regress without numbers. After all, we were born on the, say, third month 28th day in 1985. We keep track of this figure to guesstimate how far we are away from death, drinking legally (yes, people still wait until their 21st year to sip something; don’t know where, but I imagine it happens), renting a car, and so forth.
Also, there are a certain amount of hours in a day. When we slice up time for activities, one could argue, it is our way of respecting a finite resource to maximize our existence. To not be conscious of time is to neglect time management, and that ultimately leads to ineffectiveness. There is merit to this point, but I would counter that time management and embracing quality is not mutually exclusive.
If numbers can’t be done away with because of its irreplaceable value, our overdependency on them can. Constantly quantifying tasks can detract from the capacity to actually live and enjoy and take away from giving our full weight to the moment, which produces the best results anyway.
When meditating, praying, or decompressing, there isn’t a time limit. When spending time with loved ones, there usually isn’t enough time. As with reading a novel. Each of these activities is enhanced when the tick-tock is not a factor.
When dealing with daily tasks and goals, numbers are excellent signposts on the way to a destination. Accordingly, engaging with the constant present should be the focus. The journey–the scenery, music, gas station stops, traffic–is where the learning lives, with each moment suspended in time.
The problem with setting a standard “10,000 hours” as a sine qua non for mastering a subject or hobby is that it implies that we all learn at the same rate. We don’t. That standard is as culturally – dare I say individually – biased as standardized tests.
In a recent piece titled, “Why The World Is Run By Bean Counters,” Steve Denning elaborates on how, in business, the quantitive-over-qualitative focus on the bottom line, while once effective, is simply antiquated in the more democratized era of internet commerce.
Immeasurables such as customer service, ease of functionality, and brand rep are a more and more accurate barometer of a company. Likewise, as individual brands, constantly looking out for the “bottom line” robs us of the moment. The importance of metrics is inescapable, but it shouldn’t supersede intuition.
How can a three-month rule be applicable to every new couple? Twenty sit-ups for me and you could have different effects. Some people function better off six hours of sleep. But we could never know what works best for us if we stay reliant on “objective science.”
As Albert Einstein once said, “the intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Our gift is the moment. Everything else is a subordinate.