Checking Stats: The Deception & Addictiveness of Simplicity

I noticed an interesting event a few mornings ago when I looked at the clock the second I returned from a dog walk. “Aw, 10:15 already?” I said, but a nanosecond before looking at the numbers, my mind said “you’re going to think it’s late.” I realized that no matter what the numbers on the clock were, I was going to think it was late, because I was feeling rushed. It had nothing to do with the numbers.

Numbers affect me. I’m competitive in some ways. If we start playing a card game, I’ll want to win really, really bad. Not for any good reason. If there’s a game of me versus myself, I’ll still want to win. And that is where the stats come in.

Noticing the Impact of Stats & Numbers

Many of us use WordPress Stats, and any other social sites you are on may also have them. The musically oriented Soundcloud, for example, recently added one big box that just says “Views today” and “Views Yesterday” side by side. You can see in one nanosecond whether or not you had more views today or yesterday. That shift really caused me to see how much my brain is attracted to and affected by rather meaningless numbers.

It happened instantly. I wanted the number to be bigger today than yesterday.

The same happens with the Facebook page for my blog. There are even red and green arrows showing how many more or fewer people saw my posts each week, and they affect how I judge myself, the blog, and the value of it all. It’s not always conscious, but I want to be told “Good Job!” by the numbers just like I tried to always get A’s in school. I don’t like red arrows pointing downwards and telling me that I did worse today than yesterday.

The Difference Between Stats & Meaning of Stats

Maybe yesterday I got 800 blog hits and today I have 12. Maybe today though, someone sends me an email and tells me that because of reading my blog, they realized they wanted to stop harming themselves. Or maybe that happens and they don’t tell me.

According to the stats and my stat-focused-mind, the 800-hit day was better. According to my meaning-focused mind, the 12-hit day was better, unless I don’t know about that person and their decision. According to the dog, the best day was whichever one included bacon.

The world is bigger than those stats but it shrinks to their size pretty darn fast. They can seem to eclipse all else, at least for me, especially if I’m already in “a mood.”

What does this mean? I don’t know. Just that it’s something to pay attention to.

Why Do Some Of Us Love Numbers?

My guess is that it’s because they are concrete at first glance. It’s easy to look at Soundcloud now and say “Yesterday I did better than today” because of those huge in-your-face numbers that you can’t get rid of.

I can go to my blog’s Facebook page and look at the red arrow pointing downwards telling me that I have 357 fewer views this week than last week and feel like I did “worse” this week. This week was “bad”.

Good/bad, right/wrong, dark/light, sick/well, these things are addictive because they are deceptively clear and simple. They let us ignore the feeling of being uncomfortable, of stepping into new territories, and of facing the moment in an authentic way that does not rely on duality for judgement. stats 2

And I think the developers know that. Numbers cause an instant reaction. I get a slight rush when the numbers go up, almost regardless of what they actually indicate. A minute ego-boost happens when they go up. When they go down, I want to fix it. Like a rat in a cage trying to get pellets.

Using This In A Useful Way

On that morning I realized that the clock was going to be “too late” no matter what time it said, I made a decision inside. That decision is to pay attention to how numbers affect my mind. To remember that the picture is always bigger than the numbers, even if that’s less comfortable to perceive or acknowledge.

Since I know that my particular brain is prone to latching onto the numbers in their alluring simplicity, I can keep a special eye on that. My world doesn’t need to be reduced in that way, regardless of what imaginary safety that provides in the moment. This is not restricted to statistics.

This goes for feelings of success/failure, good/bad, awesome/sucky. Any time I attempt to judge myself in this black or white way can probably be looked at more closely because in reality, things are never quite that simple. I’m going to see if this shift helps me to react less to these numbers and to let go of some of the habitual overly-dualistic thinking and self-judgement patterns that don’t quite serve me.

Your Turn:

How about you, do you have a huge tendency to check stats and numbers? Do you have a Facebook page with those red and green arrows, and do you use them or try to ignore them?

Have you found ways of making real use of the numbers and stats for your overall purpose on this planet, whether it’s to help people or make money or make art or anything else?

Are the numbers useless?

Are the numbers just here nor there for you and they are easy to ignore or look at without getting too attached?

 

Related posts for inspiration:

A Lateral Plunge: The Natural Laws of Blogging

The Therapy Booth and their Facebook page with the Don’t Worry Clock!

Food for Thought: Are Bite-Sized Writing Tips Leaving You Hungry?

I like to think of myself as an adult in many ways; I especially love thinking of myself as Sam Elliott. One of my favorite parts of being an adult is that I like to cut up my own food. I even like to chew it.

We’ve all seen these blog entries:  “The Top 10 Ways to Get More Readers From Twitter” or “The 5 Traffic-Building Tips You NEED to Know!!!” and the like.

These lists have been bugging me for some time, and I think I’ve finally put my finger on why. It’s like I ordered a Portobello sandwich and the server decides to cut it into bite-size pieces for me. Not only that, but they’ve taken the liberty of pre-chewing it a little as well.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do feel like those lists have a place and that some of them are genuinely useful, as the authors are far more experienced writers than I am. It’s just that the bulk of them feel like a strange shadow of heartfelt or even truly informative writing.

No matter how promising and informative they appear while I read or before I click on the title, the stuff doesn’t seem to stick.

It leaves me wondering- was I just fooled in some way? Did they get my click without giving me something in return? Perhaps there is another explanation.

Why Doesn’t The Stuff Stick?

Maybe it is that these “4 Big Ways to Make Your Blog Burst With Flavor!” articles don’t let me creatively organize and process the points that matter to me.

Reading Stephen King’s On Writing and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing have given me kernels of knowledge and wisdom that roll around and around in my head, sticking with me long after the fact.

Neither of these books is organized in list-fashion.

Neither of them even attempt to slice up the ideas neatly into bite-size pieces. They let me cut, let me chew, let me sort it all out like an intelligent adult.

Little chunks of those books will pop up as I sit to write or as I walk around outside. That has never happened with Item #4 of “5 Reasons You Aren’t Getting More Traffic on Your Blog.”

Maybe It’s a Learning Style?

I’m wondering if perhaps this has something to do with learning style. Perhaps some people learn more effectively when the main points are all laid out, and others learn though the experience of figuring it out and learning what works for them.

Maybe I would retain more items if I wrote them down. Maybe if I put more energy into finding good posts or articles, more of them would stick. Maybe I am already learning from them and it is just such a smooth and flawless process that it slide right by my awareness.

I’m not sure. But at least I put my finger on my annoyance and have a direction to go in- which is towards more non-listy inspirations, books, and blog posts. These are more useful, memorable, inspirational and informative to my particular mind.

Do you like articles like that, have you written any that you are proud of?

What types of information seem to stay inspiring to you, and which kinds seem fun at first but then quickly fade, never to be thought of again?

And, what’s the sky look like right now?

Finding The Beauty of a Mess

Sometimes I get grouchy. Some fits of grouchiness are preceded by me noticing a mess somewhere, such as this one that has been accumulating by the fireplace.

Because we just moved, we don’t yet have fancy things like shelves and book cases. Art supplies have their designated corner-of-floor and so do the books.

Within this one mess, there are a lot of things going on. In the foreground, we have envelopes for some Martin guitar strings that my dear friend gave me on my recent trip to Connecticut. I just got around to putting them on my guitar (seen in the very background!) last night, which is why they have an elegant place in this mess at all.

Next to them are a pair of Alpaca socks from the very same friend. I opened those while on the road to Austin many months ago. They still feel like that adventure and joyful transition when they are soft against my feet.

Behind them, we have some pliers on top of a box of beads. One of the pliers was given to me by a friend in Northampton; we were both in the same alternative healing arts class at the Pangaea school which I think is no longer in existence. The other pair I have had for years, back when I sold jewelry in Colorado and across the country. They work just well enough to justify keeping them.

The rolls of green string called Power Pro on that same bead box are from Hawaii, which is the only place at the time that you could get that string. It’s heavy duty and doesn’t break; ever. I still remember the long hot walk I took trying to find the store that was selling it, feeling the big sky above me and thousands upon thousands of miles away from my close friends and lands I knew.

The bead box itself is from my mother’s boyfriend and is filled with colored copper wire that he got for me when I was experimenting with wire wrapping. The bottom has red felt and it makes me happy just to open it.

Behind that, we have the Writer’s Market book that comes so highly recommended by Stephen King, or so they say. That heavy thing was given to me by my mother because she believes in me and my skills as a writer. Behind that, we have a stand that my sister recently gave me for displaying jewelry I made; and on it, some jewelry I made!

This mess is beautiful when I look at it this way. That is, when I take the time to look at it this way. At first glance, it’s a big mess. Just like a bad mood. At a glance, it is unmanageable, unattractive, and a big nuisance.

But at a more detailed and slower glance, it is made up of parts. Little parts. Manageable parts. Parts that have fuzzy warm memories or icky memories. Parts that are much more manageable.

Messy Moods

When I’m grouchy, there are lots of parts. How can I apply the beauty I find in the mess to the mood? The key seems to be to break it down somehow in the heat of the moment. Here are three ideas that might work:

  1. Pick some body parts. Hands. Feet. Forehead. How do they feel?
  2. Pick a thing to look at through the lens of that mood. Like the coffee mug, the wall painting, the dog. What do those things look like through that lens? What if I look at them for five whole minutes without doing anything?
  3. Maybe the mood has a recipe. What exactly is it composed of? Maybe 1 part anger to 2 parts irritability, or 1 part bitterness and 2 parts impatience? Maybe one part insult and two parts insecurity. It’s always different.

Of course, during the moment of the grouchy fit, these three things are going to be hard to remember to do. Maybe I can pick one tiny thing to remember. Like my feet. Next time I’m grouchy, I will pay attention to how my feet feel. Warm, cold, neutral, sore; who knows. I’ll have to see. Then I can try to work in the other things on the list if possible.

How About You?

I have a fantasy that you guys will find a mess within eyesight and tell me about it in a creative way. Any chance of that happening?

If not, it would be fun to hear any ways you have of talking yourself out of grouchiness…unless you have magical grouch-repellant, in which case, do share the recipe.

Or just anything you feel like sharing in regards to these ideas would be most appreciated. Your words always stick in my head for so long and bring plenty of joy, so thank you!

 

Mediating My Media: Am I Old, or Am I Sam Elliott?

If I picture that I’m Sam Elliott, somehow Pinterest becomes less annoying.

The other day I wrote an article on an herbalism website with a cute picture of my dog. I proceeded to pin the picture, and then tweeted the pin.

I realized that if I was more skilled, I’d probably have facebooked the tweet of the pin of the picture. Or maybe that’s the dumb thing to do. I’m not sure.

And that’s what makes me feel old.

I have nothing against technology itself. Not a darn thing. I don’t have a problem with the act of facebooking a tweet of a pin of a picture, but…what if someday there are more?

What then? Can I keep up for forever when I’m barely hanging on a thread now?

How Do The Kids Do It?

The kids do these things so seamlessly; it’s as if their very blood and brains are pumping with html code and built-in photo filters.

(Once, I had a dream that the world started to look like Instagram to save everyone trouble. It was horrifying.)

Last night I had a revelation. The fast-growing importance of the Internet is scary, but not like horror movie scary or even Lifetime movie scary.

It’s more like the wild frontier. The buzzy glowing pulsating world of the Internet is unfolding before us in previously unknown glory, and it is up to us to make the most of it.

Sure, there are some strapping young cowboys and pretty maidens that have an easy time fighting off plagues and jumping from rock to rock over the swift chilly rivers of change, but that’s okay. Good for them. There’s also Sam Elliott.

And he’s not young. But he is awesome.

How Can The Old Folks Do It?

There are plenty of writers that have embraced technology and seem to be dancing over the rocks on that river. Jeff Noon, for one. His blog Metamorphiction is pretty amazing. It is as if he is living in the realm of the Internet and manipulating all of its features like play dough.

Probably because he isn’t afraid of it. Isn’t afraid of learning, isn’t afraid of letting it all in and not resisting the shifts that are happening.

The Truth

It’s time that I fess up that many of the grievances I have towards technology are really my insecurity. Well, some of them at least. I’m afraid that things are progressing so fast that I am having a hard time maintaining speed, and if I fall too far behind at any given moment, maybe I’ll end up in a stampede of gigabytes or an avalanche of megapixels and never find my way to the gentle warmth of the sun again.

Worse, I fear my writing will never find its way to an audience because I won’t know where to put it. I’ll be sticking the newfangled CD into the familiar old VHS slot, when really neither are working because it’s the wrong television set entirely.

So there. I got that off my chest, and also shared my secret.

When in doubt, just be Sam.

Your Turn!

Now, how about you? Is it easy to tweet your pins of Facebook updates, or whatever it is you do?

How many sites do you think we will have to maintain in the next year, four years, five years?

Or are things just fabulous either which way and none of this matters and good writing will find an audience even if the writer is just pretending to understand how to use social media?

If You Don’t Want to Be A Zombie, Wake Up!

Have you ever been talking on the phone with a good friend and they start laughing for no reason, then get very focused on something else, and then their voice trails off mid-sentence…and it all seems to have nothing to do with what you are saying?  You suddenly aren’t sure if you are crazy or if maybe they are.

Your Friend is Not, In Fact, A Zombie.

You find that they are actually playing a video game, watching a show, looking online at videos, or texting someone. It dawns on you that you could have better spent your time talking to the dog, because at least he would be paying attention. You feel silly for having been talking at all; duped out of some of your precious minutes on this planet talking to a zombie that temporarily took over your friend.

Our ability as humans to multitask is rather phenomenal. But I fear it can get out of control. Have you seen the movie Wall-E? In it, people are riding around on hovering chairs, talking on the phone to each other even if they are a foot away. Food gets served automatically, and their feet never touch the ground. They don’t have to use their muscles, and they are doing everything all at once.

Have you ever texted someone just because they were downstairs and you didn’t want to get up? I have. It starts there, and only gets worse.

I was talking to my sister about making this very post, and as I was talking to her I was also writing a zip code on an envelope; my voice trailed off and the taste of hypocrisy rushed in. She hardly noticed of course, because she was playing a game on her new iPhone and listening to some horrible music. Zombies talking to zombies.

What to Do?

My goal is to start to become more aware of when I am multitasking and when I am not so that a choice can be made.

Maybe I’m fully capable of talking to someone while checking my WordPress stats and also looking at Facebook and researching something for my job. But what about just talking to my sister, what about just looking at Facebook, what about tasting the feeling of one thing at a time? I can choose to do this more often than not if and only if I am aware of the difference. But why is this effort even necessary; why not just live in a multitasking frenzy?

Writers Need To Experience Things

The best writing, to me, is in tune with reality. Whether it is fictional, fantasy or non-fiction, it is using elements of reality to evoke a response.

Details are going to come through in my writing more successfully when I witness them fully. I want to be aware of how it feels to speak to my sister, to hear the nuances in her voice, to listen to what she is saying and how her voice rises and falls depending on the topic. I want to feel my own heart beat faster as we start laughing about something, to feel the edges of my face lift in a true smile as she tells me about one of her accomplishments. These are things I cannot notice if I am half-listening to her and half-checking to see how many people are clicking on my blog’s fancy new Facebook page (hint, hint).

Let’s Look Out For Each Other, Shall We?

This can be a community effort, on some level. Your friends don’t want to disrespect you. They don’t want you to hang up the phone feeling awkward and misled. But you need to tell them how this makes you feel; we need to stick together so that we don’t end up as a bunch of osteoporosis-riddled people on hovercrafts with no ability to look each other in the eye.

In order to be a good writer, you need to be willing to live, to listen, to experience. Otherwise, all you have to go off of is hearsay. And that is boring; even a zombie could do better. Let’s not let that happen.

Do you prefer to multitask and get lots of things done at once?  Does that somehow help you improve your skills as a writer, blogger, mother, artist, or any other talent?

Do you think that you have a good ability to do one thing at a time?

Do you think it really matters, or am I just bonkers?