12/08/2014 06:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

When Stupid, Ugly Numbers Freak You Out

So I got my credit card statement yesterday.

Immediately my heartbeat picked up speed. After all, my spending has been a bit... shall we say... active during my recent travels.

And so I did what many of us would do.


I shut my eyes and willed it to go away. Which, of course, didn't work.

It was easy to freak out. After all, I'd allowed myself to live in blissful ignorance about the cost of the trip right up until I got that statement.

Right up until I saw the numbers.

That's when my mind started spinning with dizzying speed about what an irresponsible spender I'd been... how the bills would start piling up... how things would only get worse from here.

None of this was true, of course. But the freak-out came anyway.

Stupid numbers.

Many of us have a long history of tension and angst with certain kinds of numbers... numbers like our SAT score, our age, our weight, our salary, our bank account balance.

These are the kinds of numbers that completely mess with our minds, our emotions, our sense of self-worth:

  • We hit our monthly work goal, but only perform better than 60% of our co-workers... so we feel like a failure
  • We attend a networking event where our age of 41 surpasses all of those 20 and 30-somethings... so we feel old and irrelevant
  • We complete our 5K run in less than a half hour, but tons of people get it done in 25 minutes... so we feel like a slow, lazy loser

We give numbers a ton of power over us. And even if we don't, our society does, using them to measure every person's worth against everyone else... until we all come out behind.

But not anymore.

Now, before we go on let me say that -- yes -- numbers are important. It's helpful to know where we stand in life so that we can determine where we want to go from there... how we can grow and learn and improve.


We cannot use this information to beat ourselves up, to allow ourselves to feel less worthy.

That's the stuff we need to stop, yes? A few thoughts on how...

First... know what a number really is

By definition a number is actually quite innocent. It's a symbol used to represent something... like a sum total of a bunch of units, or where something falls in a sequence.

It's supposed to be a value we place on something... not a value we place on ourselves. Yet that's what so many of us do. Somehow stupid, ugly numbers turn into stupid, ugly us. Until now.

When you're getting ready to get a number, remind yourself that a number symbolizes a piece of information. Nothing more. Nothing less. Your interpretation from there is completely up to you.

Then... know what a freak-out really is

Freak-outs are fear-based concerns about something scary that might happen in the future.

When we're dealing with a crisis in the moment, we're not thinking all kinds of thoughts about it. We're handling it.

But when we get a number that we don't like, we freak-out because we think of the potential consequences. If we're not as productive we fear we won't be as respected by our boss... if we're too old we fear we won't be included in groups that matter... if we're not fast enough we fear we won't be as impressive to others.

The thing is that -- when you're freaking out -- chances are you're actually okay right in the moment that you're doing it. So breathe slowly and stay in that moment.

Then... consider these other ideas:

  • Emotionally detach from the number. Imagine stepping outside of yourself, watching how you get and respond to your number up on a movie screen. Make it an objective experience that focuses on information, not a subjective experience that focuses on you. And stop any nasty self-critiques that pop up.
  • If the number starts freaking you out anyway, pretend it's happening to a friend. Imagine what you would say to that person if his or her freak-out was happening right next to you.
  • When you feel calm, determine how this information can help you plan where you want to go from there. If it turns out this information cannot help at all, then mentally throw it away like the trash it is.

Okay, this one is really important

Do NOT allow yourself to talk down about yourself to others regarding the number. Don't make fun of your own weight or age or money situation. If you don't treat yourself well, then it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. You'll be too miserable to hear it anyway.

If nothing else, take solace in the fact that we all freak-out over numbers from time to time. But if we all understand what we've been doing, we can all get our power back.

Then we can all stop freakin' out all the time. And we can look at the world feeling a whole lot better.

With both eyes wide open.


This week...

Recognize the power you've been giving stupid, ugly numbers. Then take that power back.

Use the information to move your life forward toward even better stuff.

And know that, no matter what the number may be, nothing can change the awesome person you are.