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In this week’s episode, I wanted to talk about numbers and data.

In the information and web-based age that we live in, numbers are used in so many ways.  Hours of training, number of miles ridden, number of followers, number of likes, heart rate, power, HRV, number of emails left unanswered in a day, a race time, etc. I’m sure you can think of some ways that numbers are a part of your daily life. It can be really easy to fall into a trap or habit of assigning something as good or bad, as a success or failure based on a number.  Numbers are useful tools to help us measure what we are doing so we can improve and are necessary, but the importance of them can be overemphasized. They can affect our happiness.

I’ve created a couple of categories to help you (and of course, me) keep some perspective with numbers. The elements are purpose, quality, and comparison.

The first is asking “does looking at this number this much help me fulfill my purpose or my reason for doing this? I’ll give you a couple examples in my life.  First is instagram.  Many years ago, I gained a lot of followers relatively quickly but in the last couple of years, the growth of my instagram account has been very slow.  This is a pretty common observation for most people.  I also used to be really focused and even addicted to checking to see how many likes a photo received. Part of it was to see what my audience enjoyed so I could do more of it, but to be honest, some of it was purely driven by ego of “People like me” not “people like my picture” and looking for validation from others.  When things with the platform started to shift and I was getting less followers and less likes on my photos a few years back, I felt bad about myself.   Why didn’t people like me as much as they used to?  I realized some of it was out of my control, but I took a step back and asked myself truly WHY I am using social media.  The answer came easily: it helped me contribute to my purpose of wanting to connect with people and be a mentor, a motivator, and get more people out on their bikes.  I had to take a step back and remind myself that I wasn’t doing this for likes, so I was going to stop checking them.  I could post something meaningful that could potentially change someone’s life and not get thousands of likes.  And on the flip side, people post pictures that get thousands of likes, but aren’t changing lives. Which one would I rather have?  There is a difference between “influencer” and “influential” and no doubt, those venn diagram circles overlap.  Each time I felt compelled to check how many followers I had lost or gained, or how many likes I had, I reminded myself that’s not why I’m doing it.  It took time to rebuild the habit, but I only actually look at the number of likes or followers once or twice a day now. I’m way more focused on answering DMs, responding to comments, and also using the platform for enjoyment and motivation myself.

The second element is quality, and this can be more related to things like number of hours worked, number of hours spent training, etc. Again, I think it is good to have a goal or a standard to which you want to hold yourself.  However, it’s realizing when it starts becoming an unhealthy or obsessive relationship. I would say that I probably struggle with this one more than social media followers!   I’m going to use training hours in a week as an example.  First, try to figure out why you are stuck on a number. For me, it’s an identity or imposter issue- I feel like less of an athlete if i don’t hit a certain number of hours in a week. I want to train 15 hours a week, but I honestly usually am around 12-13.  Why do I want to hit an arbitrary number of 15? Because of comparison.  It doesn’t matter how many hours someone else is training, how many intervals sessions someone else did; it matters what you can do. And the first goal should be quality over quantity, but that is hard sometimes when people can look up your training weeks on Strava or TrainerRoad.  Or you can feel like your ride wasn’t good enough if you didn’t climb a certain number of feet. or that your training isn’t as good if you don’t do a certain number of intervals per week.  For the quality aspect, I continually try to shift my focus to ask myself the following questions at the start of each ride:

How am I feeling?  What inputs am I dealing with in terms of life?  (travel, stress, sleep).  How do I actually feel on the bike? And here’s an even harder one to decipher at times, “Am I enjoying myself?”  I experienced extreme burnout last year and I actually stopped enjoying riding my bike.

After I answer those questions, I make a decision if I should cut my ride short.  I look at the success of my ride as making the best of what I had that day, listening to my body, and trying not to assign a certain number of hours as good or bad, but as quality time for what I was realistically capable of doing that day.  And during race season, most of my rides don’t involve much intensity because long races in particular wipe you out.

I’m sure you can make this more specific to fit an external numerical factor that is bugging you.  Basically, what are your habits and processes telling you? The number is just an end result- it isn’t the true measure of success or failure.

And the last piece is comparison.  Did you decide your number is good or bad based on someone else’s numbers?  Because I can tell you, someone with 20k followers feels like it’s not enough because they are comparing themself to someone with 100k. And someone with 100k is comparing to half a million.  Or if you compare your training hours to someone else, don’t do it.  Just because someone is riding more than you does not necessarily mean they are better.   Try to be the best version of yourself and focus on that instead.  And again, if you get stuck on numbers, go back to your purpose for doing the thing and also remember the quality of what you are doing is more important than hours worked, ridden, or whatever else you may be measuring.

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