Dec 29, 2020

Why do numbers influence our behavior?

 Sometime in mid-Dec, I realized that I'm 10 posts away from crossing the highest blog posts count for a year (94 posts in 2017) and 15 posts away from hitting the magical number of 100 posts this year. Ever since I became aware of this number, I have been consciously working towards hitting this target. I've been thinking about topics to write and investing a good amount of time every morning in writing. This afternoon, as I looked at the number, I still needed 2 more posts to cross the milestone. Of course, one of them would be my review of 2020. As I was walking on the terrace this evening and thinking hard about this penultimate post topic, this question hit me hard - "Why am I focusing so much on the number #100? So what if there are 99 posts this year?"

As I pondered over this question, many instances that I have observed these days came to the limelight. 

The nights when K used to go for a walk to hit that 10K number on his step counter, 

The evening when FIL skipped his evening walk because his BP reading showed a slightly higher number, 

The times when people push themselves hard in the gym to hit the target heart rate,

The days when people track their food intake to the minute detail to stay within their target macros.

A few years back, the phrase "Quantified self" picked up big time. Wearables that record every single activity are all the rage these days. Though I consciously stay away from using a step counter or a smartwatch, I couldn't help but notice that I'm driven by numbers too.

All these instances bring me to this question "Why do numbers influence our behavior?" I plan to read up more on this from a psychology research point of view. 

At this moment, the answers that came to my mind are the following:

(1) Numbers are tangible. We can measure any quantifiable metric. 

(2) We can compare and contrast them against a target - either our own or set by someone else.

(3) Numbers have a certain value attached to them. "I walked this evening" is a vague statement as compared to "I walked 4500 steps this evening".

(4) Numbers are respected by ourselves and our society. 

(5) Decision making is easier with numbers. There are medications people are asked to take when their BP is high / pulse rate is low / sugar levels are high. Without measuring the number using an instrument, it is hard to decide whether to take the medication or not.

I'd also like to understand if this uber focus on numbers biases our behavior. If so, how can we prevent it?

How do numbers influence your behavior? Share your experiences. I'd love to understand this deeper.

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