It’s a Numbers Game
Numbers. Useful little things. We rely on them for all kinds of information. But that information is not always as beneficial as it seems. In fact, relying on numbers can become an addictive crutch, or even cause undue stress. Join me on my new quest to go on a “Numbers Diet”!
Loss of the Count
It all began with a news-feed reader. Google was retiring their reader app and I needed to find a new one. For those not familiar with news-feed readers, they allow you to track your favorite news sites and blogs, and read through all the postings. Kinda cool. Google’s also featured a “Count” of all the unread stories displayed by the feed. The new reader I chose (Feedly) didn’t have a count of unread stories.
… and that’s when I realized how much anxiety that little number was causing.
With Google’s reader, I found myself constantly checking the news to clear out that count. I felt like I was behind, or late for something as the numbers rose.
After switching to Feedly, with the loss of “The Count“, that anxiety was gone. I could once again enjoy the news on my own terms, and actually found that I was reading less news overall, but getting more information out of it.
How many other things have counts? And did I need them? Were they useful in some way – or just caused more tension in my life?
Numbers and counts are everywhere. It’s become a central part of our data-centric new-age lives. Facebook “likes”, YouTube “views”, “hits”, “counts”, “plays”, etc. AAAAAHHHHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAHHHHHH! They’re every-freakin-where! Time to clean house… and step away from the numbers!
I found that the less I looked at the numbers, the more relaxed I felt, and the better I could focus on other things. Things like improving myself, my relationships, and the world around me.
No Metrics? Are You INSANE?!?!?
Some numbers are useful and provide “Positive Information“. I define “Positive Information” as any information that ultimately helps me in my business and adds to the amount of real, useful knowledge that I need.
The ones I’m interested in eliminating are the ones that only give “Negative Information“. “Negative Information” I define as any information that either raises more questions than it answers, or doesn’t answer any questions at all. When I focus too much on “Negative Information“, it’s not only a waste of time and effort, it also feeds into a sense of anxiety.
Here’s a real-world example from one of my voice actor friends. The idea is to track who listens to his audio files (demos, auditions, etc), and how many times they click on them. On the surface, this would appear to be useful to know. However, let’s look at a few examples that show how this is really “Negative Information” in disguise:
- Someone listened to your audition 17 times. Why? Did they really like it? Or was it so bad, they played it for everyone in the office?
- Your audition wasn’t listened to at all. Why? Was the project cast before they heard yours? Did they cast their cousin? Did they cast a guy they always use? Was the project cancelled?
- Your audition was listened to exactly once. Why? Did they only need to hear it once and you hit the nail on the head? Or was it not what they were looking for at all? Maybe they were interrupted while listening and forgot about it all together…
Without knowing “Why?”, knowing how many times someone listened is just preventing me from moving on to the next audition or job. It mires down my mind with too much information, little of which is useful to me. In other words, the data provides me with “Negative Information” – it only raises more questions, and my anxiety.
Instead of looking for meaning in meaningless data, I prefer to rely on personal feedback. This comes in many forms. Sometimes it is offered after auditions or jobs. Sometimes I’m put on avail or short-listed. Sometimes it’s a studio audition and the feedback is during the audition. Casting directors, Agents, and Production companies also send me notes directly. Perhaps I’m lucky. Occasionally, I’ll ask for feedback. In any of these scenarios, personal feedback provides me with “Positive Information” that is directly applicable to my business.
Many times, numbers, metrics, and even feedback aren’t really needed. Each of us has an internal sense of where we are and how we’re doing. It takes a bit of practice, and a lot of personal honesty, but it’s a much more organic way of approaching a business.
Con Game vs. Confidence
A large part of how social media and Pay-To-Play sites operate is by creating ways for you to spend as much time as possible on their site. They do this by playing with our obsessive nature and our search for approval. FaceBook, Twitter, and other similar sites thrive on you checking in to find out what others are doing, and how many pay attention to you and your posts. They instill a need to feel like you’re valued and “not missing out on anything“. For Pay-To-Play sites, the goal is all about the “missed opportunity“. If only you check on their site more often, you might be able to audition closer to the top of the list. That sense of “missing out” provokes an anxiety response that can only be sated by visiting the site. It’s an addiction, plain and simple.
What is the answer? How can the cycle of addiction be stopped? The answer lies partially in realizing that the quality of both life and business does not have to relate directly to how popular or famous one is. The real key, IMHO, is in “Confidence“. When you’re confident in your own talent and abilities, you are less susceptible to fall for the “Con Game” of the popularity contest that our society promotes as success.
Living in the Real World
This “Numbers Addiction” doesn’t only exist online. It’s a very real-world phenomenon. People at all levels of society obsess over numbers from the Stock Market, Unemployment Numbers, Housing Prices, National Debt, Trade Deficit, and on, and on, and on! How much of these numbers actually affect each of us in our day-to-day existence? For example, if you’re not buying or selling your house, does it matter what the housing prices are? The same goes for stocks. The price of the stock only matters when you sell or buy – until then, it’s just a number, and not reality. Selling or Buying is the reality.
The same as in the virtual world, these real world numbers cause undue stress, and suck up our time and energy. Time and energy that could be used to address more important matters. The cynic in me also believes that these numbers and the excessive focus on them allows others to distract us and keep us busy focusing on the numbers instead of more important things. Like a two-year-old watching a set of jingling keys, we don’t even notice the Doctor with the hypodermic needle until he’s stuck us in the behind.
So, I’m on my “Numbers Diet“, and I’d be honored if you would join me. Perhaps together, as former number addicts, we can begin to feel better about ourselves and accomplish more… Both online, and in the real world.
EXCELLENT post, Joe! I read your comments elsewhere regarding the audition tracking system, and I’m glad that you expanded on the idea in this post. I’ve known for a while that I have somewhat of a “keep up” addiction, but hadn’t yet thought about how numbers played into it, especially with things like feed readers (definitely going to look into Feedly). My email program nags me with the unread count in each account’s in-box, and I’m now wondering if I can disable that feature. I’d still like to eventually reach Inbox Zero, but perhaps not having the numbers in my face will make the process less stress-inducing.
Count me in on the Numbers Diet! I’m sure that shedding a few digits would do me a world of good. 🙂
Thanks much, Justin!
Glad to have you along on the journey 😉
I’ve learned to ignore my inbox count (it’s in the hundreds most days).
Space is plentiful, and the only real thing to ensure is that nothing falls between the cracks.
You and I have flogged this chicken in PM’s already, so my comments are mostly geared to others who may peruse your excellent blog.
The “metrics” game has it’s place in the pantheon of determining ROI, but you’re right…in it’s present form on Social Media today, it’s overdone, and plays on our insecurities.
I guess it’s how you react to the numbers. You say the pure statistics without explanation is “negative information”, and leads to more anxiety. For me, the numbers alone are exciting, simply because they amount to a bucket-load of more information than I’m getting now…which is nothing.
True, those numbers raise more questions. On the way to discovering penicillin, I’m sure Alexander Fleming created more questions than he had answers for…but it was progress.
Until I start getting daily calls from agents and clients with personal feedback on my auditions, I’d much rather have SOMETHING… and the numbers (for the moment) appear to be the default.
Good thoughts, my friend!
Thanks much, Dave!
Agreed on many points. Everyone’s path is different, and what is useful varies for each of us.
I’m a firm believer that nobody has a full view on the truth, and we learn more by discussions.
As long as the path moves you forward, that’s good enough for me.
I truly appreciate your taking time to read and comment.
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So I just signed up with Feedly and added a couple blogs (including this one). Contrary to what you posted above, it’s showing me an unread count for each one. I checked the settings, but couldn’t find a way to shut off that number. Am I missing something?
I think they added that to the feed list, but I usually only look at “Today” instead.
Much easier. Only shows current stuff, which I can clear out… or leave until tomorrow.
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Joe such an intelligent and thought provoking article. And yes the stock market is a good analogy. The wild gyrations are not based on anything except innuendo and speculation. It’s really a casino such as our VO numbers game. If we let the variables decide who we are our energy will be completely sucked up in this counter productive game. So lets just shuffle the cards and play the game our own unique way.
Absolutely! If they’re playing poker, why not play “go fish” instead?
Sometimes following the rules works, and sometimes you gotta work around the rules.
How interesting. I often look at the numbers and think, ‘great, so what do I do with the info now?’ so perhaps I’ll have a numbers detox for a while. It’s the same with twitter followers though too, every day I’m checking to see if I’ve gained a follower, and they could all be spambots!
Northern Irish voice
Numbers Detox sounds great, Nicola – best of luck!
(You can do it!)
Love it Joe. I have caught myself on the social media checking for comments etc. It’s nuts. Our worth is in our talent not our number of likes. Love your blog.
Thanks, Laura. I try to find little ways to make my days less crazy. Focusing on what’s really important. Hope you like Monday’s new post!