When my children were young, I registered their growth on the hallway doorjamb with pencil marks and knife notches.
Next to each was inscribed a date and name. Since those statistics are most likely meaningless to the latter owners, I assume sandpaper and lacquer have removed that chronicle; yet I wonder if they left those markings intact, pondering periodically where went “Daniel, January 28, 1988” or “Brandon, April 7, 1989.”
Numbers are the language by which lives are recorded; history is kept; and even how the universe communicates. This does not denigrate the clout of intuition, emotion, nor hunches; yet, the bottom line — quite literally — is what the numbers say. Whether checking the weight of a newborn; success of a business; leadership of a country; or the future of our planet; it’s “in the numbers.”
Our language is strewn with numeric references. We hope no one “does a number on us,” or that our “number is up.” We “dress to the nines” for elegant receptions, but refrain from becoming “three sheets to the wind.” There are “no two ways about it;” numbers count (um, pardon the pun).
It therefore stands to reason that that which we monitor expands our awareness, affording concern or confidence. So logically, if we want to change something about us, we must establish a baseline and “keep score.”
This process starts before we can count, as illustrated by how the amount of gold stars on a refrigerator can be extremely effective in fine-tuning a child’s behavior. As adults, step one in altering our lifestyles might involve tracking our accumulation of wealth (or lack thereof), or when we anticipate joyful occasions, “counting the days.”
Of course, that means should better health be the objective, we must track the behaviors associated with those goals. A smoker can become an ex-smoker by paying attention to how often he lights up and setting targets to lower that count over time. If physical fitness is the desired outcome, we can write down how often — or how far — we walk or run. We record our blood pressure. We check our weight. We can even monitor our attitude.
All this has been a preamble to one question: “If we agree that keeping track can make our lives better, why don’t we do it more often?” What’s the resistance?
There are only a few reasons why we don’t:
- We didn’t realize the value of tracking
- We didn’t know how to do it
- We really don’t want to change
- We think it will take too much time
Hopefully I’ve debunked numbers one and two. As for the third option, that’s a discussion too intensive to be limited to the 600 words to which I am limited in this venue.
However, as for number four, let’s be honest, shall we?
How much energy does it take to pull out a pad of paper, write the date on the top of each page, and put tick marks on it when we observe a behavior we want to encourage or discourage? What’s that take — a couple of seconds a few times a day to improve your life? It seems like a worthwhile trade off. Even if we make it more complicated (which begs the question, “Why?”), it might inaccurately seem laborious; but when weighed against how much energy it takes to feel bad all day long, the numbers don’t really add up.
Notice: As of this column, I am pleased to announce that I am now recording my columns as podcasts! Each column includes a bit of the background, as well as me reading it. You can find this particular podcast here.