Numbers seem to run our lives. We are constantly bombarded with numbers and metrics that compare us to each other. We create these yardsticks just to make one person seem superior, or twist it to make another inferior.

How much does he make, that house costs more than this one, who had the highest sales, the statistics and surveys…they are all just numbers to obsess over.

The numbers matter so much to many that app developers work in “streak” counters for their apps. I have fallen victim to this one myself. Several apps that I have count how many days in a row, how many weeks in a row that I have used it. When I miss a day, I kick myself a little that the little counter on the app is back at zero.

One app in particular, I had a streak of over 500 days. Then we were on a trip and I wasn’t able to use it for a day and the streak was dead. At first, I was devastated. After some mourning, I came to the realization that it did not really matter in the grand scheme of things. Who did I truly let down? Who was I trying to beat? No one! Sometimes these numbers take too much control over our lives and emotions.

I realized that the number on the app did not matter, but for some, the constant comparisons to others can lead to anxiety and depression. It can distort their self-image, leading them to believe that they are not good enough.

Running the numbers

The number obsession applies to running also, they can be the most dangerous thing that most runners deal with. These constant comparisons to other runners can lead someone to over-train or hurt themselves.

Some will plan out their weeks and try to make room for as many miles as possible. Spend hundreds of dollars on a watch to tell them the numbers, then realize that its not accurate enough for them, so they spend even more to get better numbers. They adjust the pace to make a particular heartrate zone, hoping it will maximize the fitness level.

From paces in workouts, number of intervals, or race times. Lately, I have even seen runners comparing their total number of races. Any number available to make ourselves feel better.

I’m not saying that these numbers don’t matter or don’t affect results, on the contrary, they provide great yardsticks for improving performance. They become a problem when they become an obsession.

The numbers that matter

In the movie “City Slickers” there is a scene that always spoke to me. The main character, Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, is a sales executive from New York. Mitch is looking to decompress from his mid-life crisis by taking a trip with two friends. They go to a dude ranch style cattle drive.

This cattle drive is led by Curly, played by Jack Palance. Curly and Mitch don’t exactly see eye to eye, but after a series of events that force the adversaries together, they begin to form a bond.

Having seen many others in the same emotional state, Curly offers some sage advice for Mitch:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [pointing index finger skyward] This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”

Curly[smiles and points his finger at Mitch] That’s what you have to find out.

That’s great advice for anyone, even a runner, but what’s the one thing? According to Curly, that’s for you to discover. But I have a starting point for you…the mile.

Not your mile time, the mile, you know the one mile that you are currently running. Stop thinking about how fast or slow you might be going and just run this mile. Stop ruminating on the next hill and just run this mile. Stop kicking yourself over that last split and just run this mile.

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