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The Number Game

Kamlesh Chandnani
June 17th, 2021 · 2 min read

I was listening to Atomic Habits this morning and got stuck at a point (Chapter-16: How to stick with good habits everyday) where the author was talking about how we should maintain a progress tracker and track our habits. By doing this our brains gets an instant reward(a.k.a dopamine hits)and then it’s tricked into doing that thing again and again. But what’s more interesting is this can act as a double edged sword where it might backfire. So we need to be cautious about what and when to measure.

The author goes on and says in this “data driven” world we sometimes chase numbers so much that we actually forget the original purpose of our habit as our brain is tricked into a number game where it tries to win always. This sometimes also might lead to chaos as we’ll be achieving numbers but the purpose of our habit goes for a toss as our brain is so busy chasing numbers.

This got me into thinking that this theory doesn’t only works with habits but also applies to everything we do at our work(personal/professional). Sometimes we focus too much on numbers(Sprint plannings, OKR meetings, Kanban boards, Todo Lists, 1:1s, appraisals etc.) and chase it so badly that the actual purpose/motivation of our projects just goes for a toss because our brain is just chasing numbers and it will try to do every damn thing to achieve it.

So should we not measure at all? No, the idea is we shall measure whatever is required but we should not overdo it. If somethings can’t be measured doesn’t mean it’s wasteful. We just need to be sure that we are not overdoing it and prevent ourselves from gambling into this number game. Don’t take outcome based goals. The goals should be something that defines your identity(Chapter-2 describes about how we should be focussed on habits that shape up our identities and avoid habits that are outcome based). If it’s part of your identity you’ll always be able to meet the numbers without thinking about it.

Ask this question to your self “What happens once you achieve those numbers?” Do you stop after that or do you move on? In the end the purpose that you started the project with should be served and it should be served with the same enthusiasm. If it’s not then you should stop measuring it at all or re look at your measuring strategies.

💡 Remember: Not everything can be measured, and if things can’t be measured doesn’t mean it’s wasteful. So don’t overthink about numbers use it as a way to nudge you to progress but not to kill the purpose. And sometimes if you can’t meet the numbers then it’s absolutely okay there’s nothing to feel guilty about it.

Have you faced challenges with number game? Don’t mind sharing them, I would love to hear them. You can write it to me or you can DM me on Twitter.

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