10 minute read.
Think about this for a moment. Where would we be without numbers? You plan your whole life around numbers. It seems that we as a human population are obsessed with measurement and numbers.
When you wake up in the morning, what do you see first? Most likely an alarm clock. What do you do next? You get ready to go to work or school, and if you drive a car, you see gauges with numbers. How fast are you going? Your speedometer will tell you. You drive down the street and you most likely see street numbers and building numbers.
When you get to your building, you go to an elevator that takes you to a numbered floor, or you go to a numbered classroom. When you want to plan for appointments and meetings, you need a calendar.
When you buy something, you need to know how much it costs. When you sell something, you want to measure your success, so you definitely need to know your sales numbers.
If you are giving a presentation or demo at work or engaging in public speaking, you have know how much time you have, how many slides to cover, and you’re constantly watching the clock.
How cold is it outside? How warm is it? Your thermometer will tell you before you leave the house if you need an extra sweater or not. It’s enough to drive you crazy sometimes.
We can bitch all day about how much we despise being obsessed with numbers.
But try to live without them in society and you are lost. There is no avoiding it. Dare we even say that it’s a compulsion? Indeed, there are people out there who count everything, and I mean EVERYTHING!
Some people have an unhealthy need to count every little thing in extreme detail, otherwise they freak out in a full blown panic. Why this happens, we are not entirely sure. But hopefully you are not one of them. Can you imagine how much time you would waste doing that all day long, every day?
Assuming you have a healthy perception of numbers, take the numbered list for example. How familiar are we with lists? It is woven into the very fabric of our daily lives.
You see headlines in newspapers, books, commercials, blogs, and websites like:
10 Great Tips for Planting the Perfect Organic Garden
7 Proven Ways to Overcome Anxiety and Ace Your Next Speech
5 Ways to Land Your Dream Job
8 Amazing World Tourist Attractions
7 Myths and Fears of Public Speaking and Ways to Overcome Them
10 Best Guitar Players in Music
3 Ways to Make the Best Southern Fried Chicken
5 Best Fashion Designers Who Ever Lived
7 Top CEOs Share Their Best Kept Secrets for Success
9 Best Ways to Spend Time on a First Date
6 Presention Principles of Finding your Voice and Delivering Your Message
David Letterman brought international fame to the Top Ten List, and it became a cultural phenomenon.
Here is one of my favorites!
Lists are endless.
But they have one specific purpose.
When we see a list, the number gods suddenly smile down on us, and for a brief moment, all chaos in the universe is gone and the heavenly stars align in our favor, because we now have a clear defined path of easy to understand actionable steps.
The List in all it’s glory is our courteous and friendly travel guide in a scary and unfamiliar foreign country that leads us to orderly and organized knowledge.
But not all lists have the same level of importance to us. Some lists work better than others. Between 1 and 10, there is one number that grabs our attention more than any other number and outperforms all the rest.
What is that number?
Let’s examine why.
One of the most important works in the field of psychology is the “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.” It was published in 1956 by the cognitive psychologist George A. Miller of Princeton University’s Department of Psychology in Psychological Review.
It is often interpreted to argue that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 plus or minus 2. This is frequently referred to as Miller’s Law.
Miller’s research on short-term memory and working memory revealed that memory span is not a constant even when measured in a number of chunks. The number of chunks a human can recall immediately after presentation depends on the category of chunks used, which is a span of around seven for digits, around six for letters, and around five for words.
If we take a look at how the number 7 has permeated our culture…
Here are the top 7 reasons why we like 7 so much:
1. We Associate it With Magic
The number 7 goes back thousands of years in spiritual and religious literature. Have you heard of the 7 deadly sins?
If you haven’t, I suggest you take a look at the trailer for the movie Se7en, a thriller with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. I love watching Morgan Freeman! This movie will have you hanging on the edge of your seat.
We also have the 7 wonders of the ancient world:
1) The Great Pyramid of Giza
2) The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
3) The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
4) The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
5) The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
6) The Colossus of Rhodes
7) The Lighthouse of Alexandria
We associate these monuments with mysticism and fantasy. When we see them, it momentarily takes us out of our boring mundane existence and transports us into a world of wonder and vivid richness.
2. It’s “Lucky”
Where would we be without the stereotypical lucky number 7? Don’t tell me you’ve never seen the number 7 in the gambling world? If you’ve ever played a slot machine, you might have seen 3 big number 7’s pop up on the screen to get the big payout.
Number 7 has a long history of superstition as being lucky or unlucky dating back to medieval times and even further back (as in the case of breaking a mirror brings 7 years of bad luck).
Also, have you ever seen products on the internet priced in 7’s? “It’s only $7! Buy now!” I’ve also seen $47, $97, $197, $297, and $997. People eat this up! Why? Because it’s not $10, $50, $100, $200, $300, or $1000.
It’s a safe distance away from those big scary round numbers, which suggest major commitment. It’s very subtle the way online marketers use the psychology of 7 to help us associate their product with feeling safe and lucky.
How many points do you get for a touchdown in football? 6. But what if you make the extra point? That’s right, 7. How many games does a tennis player have to win in a set (vs. match) to beat the opponent? 7 (when it’s 6-6 and you need a tie break).
You rarely ever see a tie, but if you do, there is always one more point for deciding the outcome. 5 doesn’t quite seem like enough. 9 is just a little too much (just watch baseball sometime…yawn!)
7 just feels right.
Also, in the NHL, MLB, and NBA, it’s the maximum number of games played in a playoff series.
Lastly, the number of players in the starting lineup for a water polo team is 7.
4. Patterns in Nature
You’ve probably heard of the 7 seas. There are obviously many more, but we love manageable content. There are actually over 70 large bodies of water called “seas”. But these are the 7 largest seas and were used as primary trade routes for world empires, so they got the most attention.
1) Adriatic Sea
2) Mediterranean Sea
3) Black Sea
4) Caspian Sea
5) Persian Gulf
6) Arabian Sea
7) Red Sea
There are also 7 continents, 7 colors in the rainbow, and 7 days of the week. Well, we made that last one up, but the other 3 are all natural.
The 7 days of the week was actually a system of time measurement invented by the Romans because they wanted to honor the names of the classical planets in Hellenistic astrology, which were named after contemporary deities of their time. Even though it was an invention, they must have realized something important about grouping days into 7’s on a subconscious level.
Tuesday: Mars (Ares)
Wednesday: Mercury (Hermes)
Thursday: Jupiter (Zeus)
Friday: Venus (Aphrodite)
Saturday: Saturn (Cronos)
The names as we know them today were derived from Latin and Norse origins relating to their Roman and Greek counterparts, then took on Germanic form, Anglo-Saxon, and eventually became Americanized.
5. It’s a Chunk of Memory
George Miller figured this out a long time ago. We can only handle so many short-term memory units. It’s 7, plus or minus 2. Our brains are literally hard-wired to remember chunks of 7.
You can pretty much remember an infinite list of words, tasks, or facts if you break into 5 to 9 chunks, but 7 is ideal. Why can we remember phone numbers so well? They are in chunks of 3-3-4 (in America at least). That’s 7…plus 3. So okay, we messed up a little on that one, but it’s close enough.
6. It’s Used in Science
In 2008 a study was done on neurons in the the hippocampus. It showed that they produced the best information when dendrites (the branches that receive stimulation) were numbered in 7. Coincidence? Maybe. Or it could mean that our brains are just able to store information best in 7’s. If you like reading that kind of scientific stuff, knock yourself out.
7. It Just Sounds Good in Titles
Snow White and the Two Dwarfs. Snow White and the Eight Dwarfs. Snow White and the Twelve Dwarfs.
Snow White and the SEVEN Dwarfs. Now, that just kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
Is it any wonder that the greatest secret agent in film history is 007? Interestingly enough, at present, seven actors have portrayed Bond in twenty-six feature film productions. Following Sean Connery’s portrayal, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig have all assumed the role.
Also, you might want to check out “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”, “The Magnificent Seven”, “The Seven Year Itch”, and “The Seventh Seal”. These movies rock!
FUN FACT: How many parts make up the Harry Potter book/movie series? Why do you think J.K. Rowling did that?
When we remember more information, we also learn better.
We can only handle so much of a cognitive load, so we need to minimize the amount of information we keep in consciousness or working memory until we gain familiarity and expertise.
Some experts say it’s 45 days to make a new habit stick or 10,000 hours to master a skill, but it’s really just about breaking things down into 7’s and then repeating over and over again. The number of hours or days seem irrelevant when you look at it that way. You are just not aware of it most of the time.
This applies to all sorts of things we learn such as instructional materials, PowerPoint presentations, diagrams, public speaking, and the way we communicate with friends and family. We need to present information in the easiest form possible or resources become depleted.
Here are a couple of helpful hints when making your next PowerPoint presentation at work or a map for Social Studies class:
1) Place the labels in the diagram, not in a legend on the side.
2) Also, place names where they belong on a map. This is especially helpful for people who are “directionally challenged.”
Otherwise, you are just wasting precious mental energy trying to place words with pictures.
And just to give you a grand finale to this post…
Here is a fun but very powerful little video that makes a person stop and think.
After you watch this, ask yourself this question:
Do numbers really matter?
Really, go ahead and watch this.
I’m serious. Watch it.
This video is absolutely amazing.
See what I did there? I gave you 7 lines of Call to Action after the heading to entice you to watch the video. Did it work?
Let me know what you thought of the video in the comments section. If you found this post helpful, please subscribe and share it on your favorite social media app, and let other people know you found value in it. I read all comments.