As accountants, we’re all about numbers and metrics.  Accounting metrics and KPIs are critical components of business management, and a proper record of the cash flows, expenses, and gains is incredibly valuable to the companies we serve.

Some metrics and KPIs we measure include Operating Cash Flow, Working Capital, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Gross Profit Margins, and Net Profit.  These metrics help businesses decide what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change.

To make it easier for us and our clients to be aware of the important metrics, we create dashboards in our software programs so that, at any moment, we can see how the company’s metrics measure up against forecasts.  As long as the accountant has done their job and the data is up to date, the metrics can be a valuable tool for many businesses.

While metrics can be an important measurement of success for our work as accountants, how many of us are using metrics against ourselves as women?  In other words, how many of us compare ourselves to others without deciding what success looks like?  How many of us have allowed other people’s metrics to dictate what we do and don’t do?

In this age of technology, it’s easy to compare ourselves against others, especially as they flood our screens with images.  We are bombarded with often photo-shopped versions of other people’s lives and wind up measuring ourselves against some made-up standard.

The problem is that when you compete against others, you judge yourself based on their values and metrics.  The irony is that even if you win, you only do something important to them, not you.  

This is particularly challenging for women because our society has taught us, for example, to focus on our outer appearance much more than men.  While it’s acceptable for men to go grey and gain weight as they get older, a woman’s worth is measured based on how thin she is, how few wrinkles she has, what clothes she wears, and how attractive her hair looks, no matter what her age. 

We use many metrics against ourselves without even realizing we’re doing it professionally and personally.  While some metrics are important to bring awareness to changes that need to be made, such as the percentage of women versus men in leadership positions in the accounting profession, more often than not, there are mental metrics we use against ourselves.

These mental metrics make it even more challenging to have a successful accounting career and the happy life we deserve.  These metrics are sneaky, so stay tuned so you can gain some awareness and stop using metrics against yourself.

This week I’m going to discuss why we use metrics against ourselves and what to do instead. 


Why we use metrics against ourselves


The reason that metrics are so appealing is that our brain loves numbers.  Even non-accountants use metrics, whether they realize it or not because the human brain loves numbers.

It loves numbers because they provide a sense of competition, allowing that innate drive for survival of the fittest.  Numbers offer a great way to answer the question, “So, how am I doing?” Unfortunately, we tend to use numbers to ask the questions like, “So, how am I doing compared to others?”

Research has shown that the human brain can be thought of as having a “sense” for numbers and that we, like our evolutionary ancestors, are neurologically hardwired to perceive all sorts of quantities in our environments.  Whether that serves for selecting the bush with more fruit on it, recognizing when a few predators on the horizon become too many or telling from a show of hands when a consensus has been reached, our brain is drawn to perceive numbers.

Some scientists assign this number sense an even greater importance, claiming that it’s the foundation for humans’ capacity for numerical reasoning and arithmetic.  They have shown that there’s a connection between our ability to recognize the number of flowers in a vase quickly and our ability to understand why 2 + 4 = 6.

The fact that our brains love numbers is also why gamification is so powerful.  Gamification is a term used to describe adding game mechanics into nongame environments, like a website, online community, learning management system, or business intranet, to increase participation. 

Web designers use gamification to insert gameplay elements in non-gaming settings to enhance user engagement with a product or service.  For example, the language learning app, Duolingo, is the best-known example of using gamification.

The designers of the app use gamification to make learning fun and engaging.  Since language learning can be boring and takes a long time to see results, using streaks, daily goals, and a finite number of lives motivates users to log in every day and continue learning.

With gamification, the metrics you get help to motivate you to continue practicing to learn the language you’re studying.  So, on the one hand, metrics can help you identify how you are doing and what to focus on, but on the other hand, we’re often abdicating our definition of success to those metrics.

Consider how many metrics we measure our lives on – money, weight, grades, likes, views, followers, calories, workouts, and clothing size.  If you think about it, numbers define our lives starting from early childhood. 

From the beginning of our schooling, our intellectual capabilities were evaluated by the marks we got on tests and assignments.  Plus, the fact that we gravitated toward the accounting profession makes our attraction to numbers even stronger.

The fact is, our brain is hard-wired for comparison. Without a tangible framework of reference, we wouldn’t be able to categorize our performances, degrees of education, progress, growth, or net worth.  To our brain, everything has to be quantifiable to be comparable.

Unfortunately, if we’re not careful, we can begin to use metrics against ourselves, both professionally and personally.  For all the overachievers who thrive on metrics to measure success, you might want to take a look at how those metrics are actually hurting you.


How to use metrics for yourself


Let me start by saying that using metrics isn’t all bad; you just want to be more aware of the metrics you’re using and how they could be more of a problem than you realize.  There is a way to use metrics for yourself instead of against yourself.

The first step is to get clear about what success means to you by starting with the end in mind.  What is your definition of success, not other people’s?  At the end of your life, what would you like to look back and see?  

For this first step, If you couldn’t use numbers to define success, what could you use?  Consider thinking about success in terms of a lifestyle – what lifestyle would you like?  How would you like to feel about work, your career, your family, your health, yourself, and your legacy?  How would you like to spend your time?  What would you like to do and see?

What are your values?  What would you like to prioritize?  What would you like to stop measuring for your success?  What metrics are you currently using against yourself?  What makes sense to let go of?

If you are measuring yourself against “industry standards,” you’re setting yourself up for disappointment because your life won’t be aligned with your own personal metrics of success.  You have to get clear about the metrics that are really important to you.

For the second step, once you’ve got the end in mind and see the picture of what you’d like to create with your life, it’s time to focus on the numbers by reverse engineering.  As I said before, your brain loves numbers, so let’s put that smart brain of yours to good use by creating metrics for yourself instead of letting other people’s metrics matter more than your own.

What is it that you really want?  What should you measure to create it?  What does your ideal day look like?  What does a healthy lifestyle look like?  Who are your most important relationships, and how can you use metrics to improve them?

Based on getting clear about the lifestyle you want to create, how much revenue do you need?  How much time do you want to spend in the various categories of your life?  Do you want to stay an employee or go out on your own? 

What would enhance the quality of your life?  Do the number of likes on a Facebook post matter?  Does the car you drive matter?  What matters most to you? 

The final step in how to stop using metrics against yourself is to understand that metrics do not determine your worth.  If you find yourself quantifying your self-worth and keep wondering why you are so unhappy, then stop defining yourself by numbers and start focussing on how life feels to you instead.

If you feel overwhelmed and unhappy focusing on numbers, then stop and deliberately choose how you want to feel instead.  The truth is that numbers can’t make you feel happy or unhappy; numbers don’t mean anything until we make them mean something with our thoughts.

How you feel is 100% within your control when you understand that your thoughts are the only thing that creates your feelings.  So instead of asking what you can do today to achieve some metric, ask how you want to feel today.

If you want to feel focused, choose an optional thought that creates the feeling of focus.  For example, my go-to thought when I want to feel focused is, “This is the only thing that matters right now.”

If you want to feel happy, choose an optional thought that creates the feeling of happy.  For example, my favorite thought when I want to feel happy is, “I love my life.”

While creating personalized numeric metrics is important, the non-numeric metrics are sometimes the most powerful.  Either way, even though our accountant brains love numbers doesn’t mean we’re using metrics in the best way possible.

So decide what your metrics are, what’s important to you, what you value and stop using other people’s metrics against yourself.  Start discovering your own metrics that give you the life you truly want and deserve.




The problem is that when you compete against others, you judge yourself based on their values and metrics.  The irony is that even if you win, you only do something important to them, not you. 

Unfortunately, if we’re not careful, we can begin to use metrics against ourselves, both professionally and personally.