Why Arbitrary Numbers Can Be Very Motivating


There’s nothing fundamentally different about a marathon that takes four hours and one that takes four hours and two minutes. But as the data show, runners will do everything they can to hit 4:00 instead of 4:02.

This isn’t bad. It’s good!

I thought a lot about arbitrary numbers when working on the goal to visit every country. My goal was “193 by 35”–all 193 countries by my 35th birthday.

Without the deadline, which was technically arbitrary, I’m not sure the goal would have mattered as much. It would have been more of a life dream—”someday, go to every country”—instead of a mission that I structured my life and calendar around, eventually ensuring its success. Hammering down the deadline made all the difference.

This also raises the question: if something has meaning to you, is it really arbitrary?


Image: Richard

Subscribe now and you’ll get the best posts of all time.