Here's Your Brain on 7 (continued)
These mind-boggling choices have given rise to two well-known acronyms: 1. MEGO (my eyes glaze over) and 2. KISS (keep it simple, stupid). It’s no wonder people are searching for simpler alternatives. The success of Real Simple, a magazine that shows people how to organize everything from their closets to their first dinner party is evidence of this trend. Netflix is another example. They use a filtering algorithm that recommends movies based on the selections and reviews that customers have already filed. The result—you don’t have to go through the more than 90,000 titles to find the handful of movies you want.
Although these overwhelming numbers have become the enemy, there is one number that can actually be your David against that numerically daunting Goliath. In fact, your mind, like the Netflix algorithm, has this built-in mathematical filter that allows you to retain or reject information. That “magical number,” according to one of the fathers of cognitive psychology, George A. Miller, is 7. He determined that among young adults, the memory span was around 7, regardless of whether those elements were words, numbers, or objects. So the next time you can’t remember where you left your car keys, chalk it up to your inner math being on overload. You were probably juggling more than 7 things that essentially deleted your short-term memory.
Consciously employing the number 7 as a tool to accomplish goals and manage your life is not a new concept. After all, both God and Shakespeare thought enough of 7 to use it in dramatic ways: God to create the Universe (we’re including the day of rest, which no doubt was the inspiration for the modern trade union), and Shakespeare to identify the Seven Stages of Man: infant, school-boy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon, and second childhood. However, we will never assert that 7 is a magic bullet. We can imagine that if Shakespeare had had the time or the inclination to identify the stages of woman, for example, he would have easily come up with 10: school-girl, lover, mother, housekeeper, teacher, nurse, help-mate, career-supporter, divorcee, silver fox. And just because God did his master work in 7 days doesn’t mean that the 7-day week isn’t completely arbitrary. It is.