Thinking in numbers

Recently, I have been trying to get rid of some mental and emotional clutter. Things occupying my mind which don't serve me moving towards my current goals — these goals being:

  • Be healthy
  • Be a good partner, son, brother, and friend
  • Use money to buy freedom (more on this in a later blogpost)
  • Create something meaningful daily
  • Consume good things (books, movies, video games, music) aka never stop learning

I have tried multiple ways to achieve this, but a few have worked exceedingly well. Today I'd like to talk about one in particular: thinking in numbers.

Before we start, I'd like you to calculate what you make in one hour. Take whatever your company pays you per month, and divide it by 173,2 (40 hours * 4,33 weeks in one month). That's your hourly salary.

Let's use a nice, rounded number: 25 eurodollars to simplify the math below.

When thinking in eurodollars

I use two filters whenever I want something a bit more expensive. I will wait a few days before buying (especially for online purchases), depending on the price. This way, I can detach myself from my emotions and my omg-shiny-materialism and go from system 1 into system 2 thinking (read Thinking, Fast and Slow if you never heard of system 1 and 2 thinking).

Sometimes I forget I wanted a thing, other times, I have found either a better or a cheaper alternative and happily take that. The amount of time I wait is arbitrary, but it keeps working.

The other filter: I calculate how many hours I'd have to work to get the money to buy the thing.

Let's do an example with the numbers mentioned above. Suppose I make 25 eurodollars an hour and would like to buy a pair of jeans for 125 eurodollars.

125 / 25 = 5

I'd have to work five hours to be able to buy this pair of jeans. Are the jeans worth five hours of my day? Do I need a new pair right now, and is fashion something I care about?

If the answer is yes, I'll go for it. If not, I'll pass.

When thinking in kcal

For my weight/health goals, I am currently working on two things: becoming leaner and more muscular.

To become leaner, I have to pay attention to my diet. After all, losing weight can be broken down to a simple formula: more calories out than in. (Before anyone tries to slap me with a book on nutrition, I know this is simplified.)

I eat more or less healthy most of the time because I enjoy it. It is thankfully much easier to go for a salad instead of a burger if you prefer the salad in the first place. And damn, I freaking love salads.

But sometimes, I crave something unhealthy. Mostly when I had something unhealthy, to begin with. Funny how much of a vicious circle this is. If I eat a greasy pizza as a meal, I tend to want a dessert.

How do I solve this? Easy! How many hours of exercise do I have to do to burn off the extra calories.

According to my Apple Watch, I burn 400 calories per workout session on average. And I currently go to the gym twice a week. But I loathe exercising. I hate starting it, I hate doing it, I only adore being done with it and feeling the runner's high or whatever the equivalent for weight training is.

So if one medium chocolate chip cookie (and come on, when do we limit ourselves to one?) has 150 kcal:

150 / 400 ≈ 0,4

That's approximately 25 minutes of exercise for one single chocolate chip cookie. And I don't even like chocolate!

Of course, I allow myself a cheat meal once in a while and have an extra dessert. I am not a monster, I love eating! But these are usually the days I'll put more weight in my rucksack.

When thinking in pages

Finally, and this is my favourite way, is thinking in pages read. If I can trust my Kindle, I read between 50-60 pages an hour. Let's say 50 as it's the prettier number. If your average book has 350 pages, it'll take me seven hours to read through it.

How do I get this time? I have to take it by not doing the things that give me less value.

If I waste two hours on Twitter and Instagram every day, I can't read 100 pages. If I had spent an hour in a meeting, that clearly could have been an email and didn't need me in the first place, I could have read 50 pages.

At least to me, it's an easy choice. Or at least, if I end up spending an hour on Twitter, I know what else I have missed.

672.000 hours in a lifetime

According to a very popular book I read recently, we have around 4.000 weeks in a lifetime, depending on your lifespan.

That's 672.000 hours. Of these, we probably spend a third asleep. (Do NOT take this as an excuse to sleep less than what is considered healthy. It'll only reduce the number of hours you have at your disposal!) Fifteen per cent we will spend working (if you retire after 40 years of labour).

If I didn't mess up my calculations, we would have around 380.000 hours at our disposal to do what we deem meaningful during a lifetime.

Sometimes, wasting time is not wasted time if it makes you happy. But don't mistake what makes you happy at the moment for what makes you happy in a lifetime.