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!

Corporations, Consistency, & Expectations: Lessons From Home-Made Stuffing

The dog doesn’t quite care where the stuffing comes from.

Thanksgiving happened, and for the first time in my life I ate home made stuffing. Usually my grandma makes it with the perfectly square packaged croutons, and she adds butter and things, but this time it was just me and my partner in Austin with no grandma. So he made it without any packages, and it was delicious.

But I have to admit, I was worried when we made the choice as a couple to make home made stuffing and not follow Grandma’s recipe.

It didn’t bother me that we had chicken instead of turkey, or that we didn’t have cranberry sauce or banana cream pie. None of these changes mattered. It was the stuffing.

And that got me to thinking about corporations and how they get so integrated into our family routines and our holidays because of the consistency they provide. It also got me thinking about expectations and how they can literally eat us alive. Let me explain.

We Are Suckers for Consistency

Think about how much we love consistency. There is a whiny outrage every time Facebook changes a single thing in its layout. The lack of Twinkies is upsetting people who haven’t had one in years. At least they were always there.

But what is so desirable about consistency? Why do we love it so much?

The Underlying Fear

My theory is that it has to do with grasping for something that is controllable, since our very foundation as humans is not. During puberty, we are overtaken by hormones that change everything we thought we knew about our existence. As we age, laugh lines start to stay and we blink twice before realizing that it’s not just dehydration this time; it’s for real.

We look around us and more people start to get sick. Our friends lose people, we lose people, the circle of friends and family that we had growing up is no longer indestructible. It gets torn apart by diseases of body and mind, and there’s nothing we can do to help most of it.

But at least Wonder Bread will always taste the same. At least Grandma’s stuffing can be made with things from the store that will always be there. At least we can walk by the Twinkies in the grocery store and think to ourselves “I’m better than that.”

In a world where things are so often not in our control, it’s nice to have some things to trust. Corporations, on some level with their consistency and refined products, provide substance to this illusion. They let us have an expectation that can be safely met.

Living in the Moment & Expectation

We’ve discussed this in other posts, but I can never come back to it enough because it’s always true. Maybe if we look at it through a thousand lenses it will be impossible for it to continue its expert shape-shifting:

The more expectations we have, and the more we are attached to them, the less we are living in the moment. This gets in our way of living a life that feels fulfilling.

For example, if I’ve been keeping up with my sitting practice and I make a plan and it falls through, I’m more likely to notice the air on my face, the breath in my body and to think of what to do in that moment when I find out the plan isn’t happening. I’m not as likely to be upset and thrown off and in a state of shock.

But if I’m attached to my expectations, then I can get quite upset about the plan falling through. That bad mood can easily take over, and a lot of time can pass before I remember to feel things genuinely again instead of deciding that each thing is going to suck because my mood is such.

This all comes back also to Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, which has still been affecting my mental processes and willingness to see things in new ways.

What I’m thinking now is that by noticing expectations and how often they come into play with the little things, like stuffing, the easier it will be to notice it when it comes to big things, like my life.

Can Life Be Like A Farmer’s Market?

Going to a farmer’s market is different than going to the grocery store. You are naturally prevented from having strict culinary routines if you are shopping primarily at local farms because you can’t know too far in advance what will be available. The smallest drought could affect the taste of the strawberries, for example, or the types of greens that make it. You have to work with what is there, and be creative.

Think about your life, and how it’s turned out or how it is turning out each day. Is it what you expected? Is it different than you thought?

Maybe you feel bad that you aren’t doing what you thought you’d be doing at this age.

Maybe you’re happier than you expected to be.

But if you are upset, if you are measuring what is against what was supposed to have been, maybe these thoughts can get some loving attention from a higher place in your mind. A place that can extract the expectations and look around with vulnerable curiosity.

I, for one, am going to make more of an effort to see where the expectations that I have are causing negative judgment to arise, and then I’m going to try to replace it with curiosity and a fresh assessment. I want to spot the habitual ways I approach routines; not just the stuffing, but the way I brush my teeth, the way I put away dishes. Maybe there is room for more present-ness instead of just the pass/fail feeling of expectations.

Without a plan or expectations, the world is vivid and touching because you haven’t already thwarted the feeling of that touch with an expectation for how it “should” be.

How about you?

Do you think that it is easy to live outside of routine and expectation sometimes, or do rely on certain things to keep you focused and grounded?

Do you think you live life like a farmer’s market, with curiosity and adaptability?

Are there routines that you think could use more curiosity and less expectation or automatic reactions?

 

 

 

Falling in Love With Vulnerability to Experience a Wholehearted Life

When you make banana bread, it ends up with those little magical black lines in it. They are always spread throughout and organized so precisely. They are how you know it’s real and that it shall be delicious. Maybe moments of challenge, sadness, heartbreak, and anger are like those little lines in an overall happy and healthy life. Maybe remembering this in the moment can help us to jump in bravely at some opportunities for vulnerability, rather than instinctively shying away from them without realizing it.

This post is about connecting Brene Brown’s work on Vulnerability with the Happiness Trap’s version of “happy.” I’ve been enthralled with both of these notions for the past few weeks and they are helping me to feel that lots of little routines are easier to spot and change, so I’d like to share some of these connections with you guys.

The Happiness Trap

Let’s look at the components so that this makes sense. We’ll start with an excerpt from The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. They start by addressing the fact that we all tend to chase, strive for and crave “happiness”. They mention that the most common definition of it is “feeling a sense of pleasure, gladness, or gratification.” They talk about how feelings of that type of happiness never last, and in fact, “the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more likely we are to suffer from anxiety and depression.” Then they go on to talk about the other meaning, which is something I try to hold in my head a lot of the time:

“The other far less common meaning of happiness is ‘living a rich, full and meaningful life.’ When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeing feeling- it is a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings, it will also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness, fear, and anger. This is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotions.”

Brene Brown’s Work On Vulnerability, Shame, And Wholeheartedness

Now let’s look at Brene Brown’s work. She has several books out, and I’ve been watching her TED talk videos and others that she has on YouTube. There is a link to the first video HERE and you can then find the rest. You would probably enjoy her work if you like this blog.

Basically, she has found through doing work on shame that everyone has shame, but some have less. The people with less shame tend to have more vulnerability, and they tend to be living in ways that are that second meaning of “happy” and wholeheartedness. They have a feeling of being “enough” and being worthy.

The Connection

I see a connection between these two bodies of research. The more that we are willing to be uncomfortable, the more chances we have for happiness of the second variety- the deep, full, meaningful life type. That deep and meaningful life will not always be fun, but it will be rewarding and satisfying. We just have to be vulnerable..but what does that even mean? Are there various types of it, are there different styles? Can we learn it in a book,  and can we master it like a science?

Falling in Love with Vulnerability

I find that for me, it helps to learn a concept by falling in some sort of love with it. Looking at it from all angles, viewing it through a lens of poetry, thinking of it in my spare time, writing poems about it. So that’s what I’ve been doing in some ways with vulnerability- falling in love with it.

Vulnerability is not very comfortable. Sometimes a certain thing, like sharing our feelings publicly or telling someone we love them, is a vulnerable thing to do at first or in a certain context. After that, we get used to that one thing, or we will. But we haven’t mastered vulnerability. There will be something new after that until we cease to change and grow.

That is what I’ve been trying to work on this past week. Embracing my own many flavors of vulnerability and noticing the many areas that it arises for me.

I would like to find and read more of Brene Brown’s work. I’m curious to learn about the types of vulnerability and how they relate with each other. Also, how conditioning comes into play- if you are rewarded for being vulnerable, does it become easier? Can you reward yourself for it if this is the case? And do you get more familiar with the feeling in general or is it always going to be moving to a new place in your life if you overcome it in one area?

Like her, I tend to strive to find a method and a list. It’s harder for me to accept the mystery of the whole thing, an observant blogger Ktismatics artfully pointed out in a comment on last week’s post about priming. I like to pretend that I can gain fully conscious control of my world, but that will never happen; which provides me another chance to openly feel vulnerable and come through the other side with a greater willingness to do it again!

The Results of This Food for Thought

Since thinking about these things, I have noticed changing patterns in my life. I would be more aware of a choice arising in me based on avoiding certain feelings, and often times those feelings were about something bad happening. There were patterns of dog walks that I would take, patterns of places I’d do my work, patterns of plans I’d make for after work. But then I started changing.

I brought the dog to a new trail in the woods that I was previously afraid of. I made plans with people I was shy around, I reached out. I finally cleaned up the piles of mess because I looked at how much a book case actually costs instead of assuming it was too expensive. I noticed some moments when I would feel a sense of pressure based on fear or avoidance, and I would make efforts in such cases to try and step out into those feelings and through them to see what happens. Maybe I get rejected, maybe horrible things happen- or maybe they don’t, and another bar on the cage of routine is seen for the colored mist that it is and evaporated as soon as it comes into contact with my fearless hand. More will arise to take its place, and I will try to fall in love with the feeling of swiping my hand through them just to realize their illusion of solidity, over and over, until the day that I die.

So I invite you guys to watch those videos, learn from that amazing woman, and to read “The Happiness Trap” if such things intrigue you. I know that for me and some of my more stubborn anxieties and avoidant habits, these two bodies of knowledge have been very useful in a rather concrete way leading to action-based change.

How about you?

Have you been aware of Brene Brown’s work in the past? Were you strongly affected by it? Do you recommend her books?

Do you know the places in your life that are a bit caged in by routines, and what would those bars look like if you could see them holding you in place? Would they be made of purple sparkling bars or misty bars or hard steel? A mixture?

Do you feel like you notice when you are moving away from a choice in fear, or is it something that just happens outside of awareness?

Priming: The Science Side of Goals and Intentions

Last week I wrote about intentions and promised to add some science into the mix, and I mentioned the use of priming.

Looks like a giant eye to me.

Priming is basically when your response to something right now is affected by something that happened before. If we spend ten minutes looking at purple things in a book, you might be more likely to see the purple things while you go for a drive in the next hour. It gets much more complicated, and ends up relating to the discussions on intentions.

An Interesting New York Times Article: Priming Experiments & the Subconscious

There is a  NY Times article on priming  which explains an experiment where people held a cup of coffee for a stranger. Sometimes the coffee was hot, other times it was cold. The people then rated a hypothetical stranger that had nothing to do with anything. Those who held the cold coffee were more likely to judge the hypothetical person negatively than those who had held the hot coffee.

That article goes on to explain many little other ways that priming can work. People are more likely to tidy up if they smell a faint scent of cleaning liquid, they say. We are more likely to be stingy if we are playing a monetary game on a table with a briefcase on it than if the table has a backpack.

Priming & Goals

The article goes on to talk about how the “goals” that we have, such as to exercise, drink coffee, or mate, are like “neural software programs” that can only be run one at a time. That’s intense, right? The article itself is very intriguing and I recommend reading it if this kind of thing interests you. Here’s where my brain went with it:

Choosing The Things That Prime Our Brain

There are all kinds of things happening, all the time; the world is a huge collage of life and mess and beauty and pain. To some extent, we can choose what we want to notice most. The article makes it very clear that we cannot completely control this, and that is not what I am suggesting.

I do, however, think that since none of the cited experiments controlled for levels of mindfulness, there could be interesting findings if “time spent meditating each day” was taken into account, especially in relation to some of these goals. So let’s pretend that there is more hope than they make it seem like there is, shall we?

Right now, I can choose to focus on the sleeping dog, the sound of construction outside, the pretty tapestry on the wall, the bills in a stack that belong to someone else. Anything. According to that article, these things all may affect my actions in subtle ways. They may affect the words I use next, the way I feel about the first person who comments on this, or what I decide to make for dinner. According to me, I get to pick which ones are most important, at least sometimes, if I remember to.

Back to Intentions: What is My Background Goal Going to Be?

One of the ways that I use intentions is to have a vague sense of a goal. If I hold this goal or theme in mind sometimes, then I feel like I’m more likely to notice opportunities for it during my day. I also feel like there are certain times where I know this has happened.

An example:

Let’s say that I have a few goals currently. They include getting more exercise, getting more social contact, finding inspiration for short stories, and working on dog training. I don’t want to do them all the time every day, but they are general things I’d like to work on.

Now the day begins, and I have to get my work done on the computer. I have a few familiar choices. I can do it at home, I can do it at the coffee shop across the street, or I can do it at the coffee shop that is a bus ride away.

If my over arching goal of the day was to get more exercise,  I might be more likely to realize that the coffee shop a mile away allows me to get exercise before and after getting work done if I walk there. If my goal for the day was to focus on dog training over everything else, I might realize that saving time by not leaving the house would allow for extra dog training time. If my goal was to get inspiration, I might realize that the bus ride will be fun because I can people-watch there and at the faraway coffee place.

Does that example make sense? Because of the intentional attention I can pay to the thought “Today I would like to get more exercise,” I can be more likely to notice the opportunity for exercise as it naturally fits into the fabric of the day. This is the best explanation for how to use intentions, and it seems that the experiments are making it more clear than ever that these little things do matter.

How to Control the Little Things

These guys have been blooming for so many months; I adore them.

I guess one of the most daunting aspects of this whole thing is that the stimuli that seem to actually affect our minds are not always things we would even notice.  They say that trying to prime yourself is like trying to tickle yourself and it won’t work if you know you are doing it. However, I like to think of it more like planting seeds. Maybe intending to get more inspiration for short stories won’t necessarily lead to such a thing happening. But it might cause me to have that inclination to get on the bus indirectly, or at least to be more open to having the stories find me.

How do you feel about these studies? What kinds of things do you think may be influencing your subtle awareness at this very moment- a dirty dish near your computer? A clock ticking by your ear? The book you read last night? The video game you played yesterday?

Do you think that you can use the scientific notion of priming to achieve goals more effectively or would you prefer to do things without thinking about experiments?

How does the air feel on your face at this moment?

Morning Intentions For Happiness…Right?

There are a lot of things we are supposed to do in the morning.

We should write down our dreams, eat good breakfasts, and stretch. We should get hydrated, go for a jog, and meditate. Depending on who you ask, you’re a fool if you leave out one or more of these.

But what about morning intentions? Are they useful? Are we all supposed to do them so that we can be happy, shiny people bubbling with cheer and healthy bank accounts and perfect relationships in no time at all?

Here I’m going to re-explore the question of happiness and how to find it through morning intentions. There are no solid answers to be found here, only some things that have been helping me to feel less crazy lately.
Happiness: Hmmmm….

I’ve been reading a great book about happiness recently called “The Happiness Trap.” Undoubtedly, it will show up in more than a few posts from here on in. The main thing I’m gaining from it is the acknowledgement that there are various definitions of “happy.”

A lot of times, we take the word to mean “a pleasurable feeling,” and we seek it out to no end, beating ourselves up if we can’t achieve it.

The other definition has to do with living a meaningful life. Living a life that is in line with your values, and that is fulfilling. Such a life will not always meet the expectation of a “pleasurable feeling”.

Even the healthiest long-term relationship is bound to have some ups and downs, and a healthy life is not going to be bliss and cheer every step of the way. Acknowledging this is important. My morning intentions are not for bliss; they are for living a life that feels real and friendly to the person living it.

Which Things Always Create A Desirable Feeling?

There are certain things that I do sometimes that never fail to lead to me feeling good. Some of these include:

  • Running with the dog.
  • Reading a fictional book for at least a half an hour.
  • Looking at the sky or a natural surrounding for a few minutes without thinking too much about it.
  • Drawing, doodling, creating art with colors on paper.
  • Making up ditties on the guitar for characters in my short stories to understand them better.
  • Cooking a nice meal.

These things generally never make me feel worse, or more stressed, or more anxious, or like I wasted time.  They are things I love, things that nourish me and help me to improve a skill that I value. The problem is, on most days I don’t have time for each and every one of them.

So sometimes, in the morning or during the heat of my workday, I will commit to one of them; and do an intention that way. Instead of a complex list of things that are supposed to bring me some type of happiness, I’ll pick something that is likely to lead to inspiration and a feeling of working with a fulfilling life.

 

Respecting the Uniqueness of Each Day with Morning Intentions

Each day is a unique conglomeration of factors. Sometimes you feel like you are getting sick. Other times, you feel on fire with creativity. Your hand might hurt from yesterday’s writing episode, or your legs might hurt from yesterday’s workout. On certain days, you are booked with plans and on others, your schedule is blissfully open.  This is important too, I think.

No intention is going to work every single day of the week.

Listen to your body, to your mind, to the mood it is in. Listen to the weather and your schedule. Think of an intention based on those things; give yourself room to notice what the day is saying.

If you wake up and feel like you are coming down with a cold and you notice that it is rainy and chilly, perhaps the nature walk intention is not the ideal one to commit to. Perhaps today is a good day for the hot tea and bath intention.

Keeping It Simple

Sometimes it’s fun to make an elaborate plan. Today after work I shall finish 2,000 more words of my short story and I shall also run three miles whilst creating a slow-cooked turkey dinner with herbs from my garden! Yes, a perfect day in paradise! But all of that can lead to some rushing, some frantic energy, and a whole lot of lack in the slow enjoyment department.

Keep it simple. Maybe one intention a day is good. Maybe your intention is about your health.  “Today, I will smoke one less cigarette than normal.” or, “Today, I will get a vegetable that I have not tried in a long time.” Something small, easy, doable. Or, something vague. “Today I will notice how my body feels after each meal.”

Forgiveness, Acceptance, and Compassion

I am trying to learn more about compassion and how to use it in relation to my own destructive emotions. So far, I know that one thing that truly seems to work for me and troublesome or “negative” emotions is to welcome them. That’s easier said than done.

But I feel a bit closer to acceptance after asking myself:

  • Where does this emotion affect my body?
  • How would I explain this feeling in my body?
  • How long has this feeling been happening?
  • How long will it happen, can I time it?
  • What is happening outside of this feeling?

These things are not directly accepting or welcoming a feeling, but they do encourage curiosity which lets me see the feeling in a way that is more useful than just fusing with it and letting it dominate my awareness.

Do you have feelings that can get in the way of your creativity, your writing, your music, your joy?

The Best Morning Intentions For Happiness

Having wide intentions, broad strokes of awareness, and many things to pick from can be a great way to have each day bring you to a more healthy relationship with yourself & your community. Or at least, they do that for me.

Don’t try to be too “happy” and don’t assume that others are feeling that way, either. Don’t try to make a million intentions that you’ll never keep up with, or stay too focused on getting excess money and a perfect relationship. Stay real, stay here, look at what is happening now. Find those things that always leave you in a better place and do one of them every so often with abandon.

The Science of Morning Intentions

This will be an upcoming topic for a post. I am going to do some research on various things, including priming, memory, and adrenaline.

 

Do you use morning intentions? Do you use them to try and attract more money, or a partner, or to get healthier? Or something else?

Do you find that having some type of intention can help you with your writing, such as a set goal for the amount of words to do in a day? (Especially now that NaNoWriMo is coming up…)

Or is the whole business of “intentions” some type of hippie crap that is best left to the vultures?