Less numbers and real effort will get you higher

We are obsessed with numbers. We measure it all; likes, followers, subscribers, leads, sales, revenue etc. Numbers are important. They tell us if we are reaching our goals, which are SMART and measurable. Reaching beyond your goal makes you a high performer.

When we reach our measurable goal we get our reward. Either it is a bonus, more followers, subscribers or likes. Once that goal is reached, we need a new goal, a new number to run for.

As Jullien Gordon mentions in his linkedin post on high performers vs. workaholics, high performers work hard in healthy sustainable ways and feel happy and inspired. Denise Cummins took his post a little further to explain the research behind and the empirical proofs. She pointed out that strong competitive incentives induces people to work harder but not necessarily smarter. The conclusions she found was that we need to allow ourselves to feel the satisfaction that comes with the successful reaching of our goals. I agree, however I think there is an even higher goal to strive for.


Several ways to get a rush

When we reach a goal and receive our recognition or reward our dopamine level increases in our brain. Additive drugs, sex and food also increase the dopamine level, and give us that rush of pleasure. Dopamine is a high motivator chemical that also activates the learning systems in our brains, to make us run towards a higher goal next time.

Dopamine is one of four neurotransmitters that fuel our sense of happiness. The others are Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins.

Serotonin is a connection chemical that flows when we feel significant and valued. When someone expresses gratitude to you a rush of serotonin flushes through your brain. People with low serotonin often feel depressed which is why antidepressants are often based on raising serotonin in the patient’s brain.

Oxytocin is also referred to as the “cuddle hormone” due to its relation to intimacy and trust. It is a chemical that motivates us to build long lasting relationships and is released through physical connection with others.

Endorphins are released as a response to stress, fear or pain, but also when we laugh or have sex. They block pain to let you run faster or longer. Endorphins also release a feeling of pleasure. Unlike dopamine endorphins are not additives, however a lack of endorphins may be responsible for compulsive disorders.


Numbers are quick fixes

Our constant focus on numbers keeps us running after the dopamine rush. That rush is quick. It is also slightly dangerous because dopamine rushes, makes us want to do it better and faster next time to reach a higher result. If we are not encouraged to enjoy our success as Denise Cummins suggests, we might end in a negative spiral of reaching higher and higher goals.

To reach healthy and sustainable happiness we need to focus on more than just numbers. Instead of focusing on your amount of friends, perhaps consider the depth and quality of your friendships. Instead of just focusing on amounts of followers, find out which followers are relevant for you and give them your full attention. Instead of just focusing on your profit or income consider what your purpose is and add that to your strategy.

Oxytocin is released through the longer and honest efforts. You can get a quick rush of serotonin if you donate money to a foundation. However you can get more from time and effort. As Simon Sinek mentions in his book “Leaders Eat Last” money is an abstraction from real effort. You will feel a stronger bond to the friend who actually helps you pack, carry and drive your van when you move, than the friend who transfers money for you to hire a moving company.

The effort of actually helping someone is rewarded through serotonin when you feel the gratitude from your friend. You get a rush of dopamine when you are done working and enjoy a beer or pizza afterwards. It also rewards you with oxytocin through the physical connection with someone you care for, and even endorphins from the hard effort of carrying and moving the many boxes and furniture. Now that is a full reward with the highest high possible.


The full rush junkie

It is easy to be blinded by the dopamine rush at work and then go for a bit of endorphins when we go for a run after work. And a bit more dopamine when we post the route we ran onto Facebook to get a few likes. But imagine how much higher you could get by setting your goals right.

Next time you look at your business or personal strategy, consider which goals are most important to you – both the measurable and non-measurable ones. What is truly important to you, more time with friends and family or working harder to get that bonus? What is truly important to the company, happy employees and customers or quick profit? What will a long chat with a friend give you that 100 likes on social media can't?

In my strategy I have added a focus on human connection. I could probably earn a lot more from webinars or other digital solutions, but right now, I want to focus on connecting with people, preferably face to face. It might not be cost effective but it is meaningful to me and I am a full chemical rush junkie.


Amagertorv 27, 2. sal, 1160 Kbh. K
+45 30 25 19 00