35.99. This number was discussed frequently during a conversation between Tim Ferriss and Jim Loehr on the former’s eponymous podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. Jim Loehr is a psychologist who works with some of the most high-performing individuals in the world. In the case of 35.99, this refers to 35.99 seconds. Loehr was discussing how he had encouraged one of his clients, Dan Jansen, a speed skater who had met a number of setbacks in his career, to break the 36-second barrier that had long stood in the way of skaters trying to break the 500-meter race record. Somehow, over a period of time with a lot of grit and determination, Jansen was able to overcome the mental woes of losing his sister at a young age and eventually go onto achieve his dream of winning an Olympic gold medal. He attributes a lot of his success in bouncing back to Loehr and the psychological strategies he employed. Loehr convinced Jansen to write out 35.99 on the top of his daily logbook for recording his skating times in training. Every day he would write it out, and sure enough, by repeating this practice every day and visualizing himself actually breaking the record and creating neural pathways that made him believe that he could, it actually became a reality!
While listening to the podcast and hearing 35.99, my mind immediately jumped back to when I used to practice medicine back home in Louisiana, a period of my life largely dominated by the passing of my father. My veterinary license number at that time was 3599. While it is not a number that I think of or write on a daily basis now, hearing it immediately triggered the memories and feelings I was going through at that time in my life. We often cling to numbers, be they prices of objects or services or results of blood tests. At the end of the day, these values only take on meaning through the standard meaning we give them. Each of us has our number and our own reason for striving to accomplish goals for ourselves or quality of life goals for our patients who others may think may be out of reach, even for geriatric patients whose “numbers don’t look good” or whose age is on the wrong side of 16. Though we can often be our own strongest doubters, there exists within us enough knowledge, effort, and psychological convincing that we can accomplish any of our goals.