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!