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!


51 thoughts on “Checking Stats: The Deception & Addictiveness of Simplicity

  1. Bottom line the stats mean little unless you want to sell or advertise.
    I have X followers, but I know many of those were just fishing and will never read me, some have shut their blogs etc. I’ve had days with more likes than views!? Equally I have about six people who like almost all my stuff, but I know they never actually read it. So stats are kind of a skewed picture. I still get wiggly about the numbers sometimes, it’s basic psychology, can’t help it. I pee’d a little when I finally got more than 100 hits in a day. But the level of happy for stats is nothing compared to my delight at some of the beautiful things some bloggers have left in my comments,

  2. Stats definitely have an effect on me too. Every post on my blog I try to keep as simplistic and artsy than I can just to please the readers eye.

    That sudden spike of views does wonders for me. It gives me a feeling of BOOM! I’ve clearly done something right.

    I also must say comments are what makes blogging to me even more awesome. Not many people have a commented on my stuff but the moment someone does it gets sent to my phone and I immediately reply and feel like a hundred dollars for a few hours after:)

    Bacon would be amazing now though…

    • I agree fully, the comments are where it is AT and yet the high numbers give that instant rush. It’s so strange!
      I hope that you find the bacon you need when the time is right. Trust the Force.

  3. I purposely don’t look at the stats for my blog — though I don’t know if that’s because I’m afraid of how many or how few may be sampling my offerings. Though I must confess I can’t help but glance up at the status bar and feeling good when all those lines are popping up there. When it comes to the “business” of church life, which is where I live, numbers and stats can almost seem sacrilegious. But as with every other endeavor, at the very least they can (and perhaps should) function as warning lights on the dashboard of our lives: they serve as helpful indicators that we may need to look more closely under the hood, but if all we do is stare at them we sure will miss the view and point of taking a drive in the first place – and if we fixate too long on them we may find ourselves in the ditch. 🙂

    • I was just thinking about you and your blog! I like how you say that. Sometimes you make comments that just make me want to delete my post and replace it with the comment…but that’s not how things are supposed to happen so I don’t do it.. Thank you for coming by! I have to catch up on your posts that I’m sure I must have missed by now 🙂

  4. I’d be lying if I said my stats are meaningless to me, but I have to concentrate to prevent the slow days from affecting my self-esteem. They can serve a practical purpose for me, too — since my blog is very loosely themed, the stats can vary wildly from day to day, and give me an idea of which kinds of content are more sought out, or which specific posts resonated with more readers. Some days, those stats are the closest thing I receive to actual constructive feedback.

    • I have done that too! That was one of the major ways I used them at first, and then I would slip into letting them affect my self esteem I think. It would be like I would find something that seemed to really be working, and then I’d use that knowledge with the expectation of “yeah, it’ll work again of course!’ and then that day would have like, 3 views, instead of the 800 I imagined, and that would really get me down. I think that is one of the major benefits of them though for me too, I just can’t figure out what the actual “it” is that makes them go higher sometimes and not others, it’s still beyond me!

      • So far my biggest rejects have been “sequel” entries. When I had my first major traffic spike, I thought, “That’s IT! I’ve caught lightning in a bottle!” and stretched the same topic from a single entry to a three-day miniseries. Alas, parts 2 and 3 went largely ignored. The same thing happened at least one other time, too. Darn those readers for not cheering and applauding when I repeated myself and gave them more of the same!

        Back to the drawing board, then, to work on my next attempt at concocting a magic formula…

        • Haha exactly!! the day of the week can play into it too- there are a lot of blogs that I will fall in love with and then a few days will go by where I don’t check my “reader” and the emails get filtered out by gmail by mistake, and I miss out on the next few until I happen to catch it in the reader..there are so many pieces to this puzzle..but if you find the magic formula, that would be awesome!

  5. I just think we have an internal need to quantify our audience in an attempt to qualify our work. House attendance at the theatre, airplay for music, box office results for film, best seller charts for books. Our stats are a very clinical tool to gage the most basic reaction of our audience. There shouldn’t be shame in wanting to see if you are being heard. And if, sometimes, someone works to inflate that number, to receive personal satisfaction from a spike in stats, is that person doing it wrong?

    That person.

    • I think those are such good things to think about! And when it comes to theater and a lot of other things, those specific numbers seem actually useful. But when it comes to blog views, those clicks can mean almost anything..and not necessarily represent the energy people are putting into or getting out of the art or writing itself, in some ways- or that’s how I’ve been seeing it! But it would be so cool if they really did represent those things, and I think part of my confusion is that I can do things that would get more clicks (like following every single blog or soundclouder, and ‘liking’ posts I don’t really like and so on) but that wouldn’t actually improve the quality of my work or the real that’s part of where it gets confusing! But I definitely don’t think that there should be any “shame” in any of it at all ever, because it makes so much sense to want that attention in any form because lots of it is quite meaningful! I hope that makes sense..I’m a little sleepy 🙂

      • Most of us are looking for those out there that might find the enjoyment, beauty and connection in our work, barring a large ad campaign, don’t you need to cast a very wide net? Yes, most may not stay for the ride, but those that do are what make it all worth it. If I have more traffic, I have more of a chance of finding a new friend. Our stats help us gage the size of our net. 🙂 now I shall quit babbling and let you get some rest. Fantastic post!

  6. Great post – makes a lot of a sense. I agree with you that the numbers play an incredibly large role within the virtual world of blogging. In answer to your question, yes, I have a tendency to check on the stats. This happens more so in regards to WordPress and Twitter rather than in regards to Facebook (cuz I’m on Facebook as often as I’m on Mars, which I’ve never actually being to).
    I believe the stats are important because they help to educate us in regards to what posts are most appreciated by our readership and what kind of people are making their way to our sites. If, for instance, a post about cats successfully acquires the attention of 600 peeps, but a post on dogs gains less than half that allotment, if we wished to constantly garner more support, it would be advantageously beneficial for us to use the figures and write a post on what the readership wants. Additionally, if a lot of video gamers were making their way over to a site due to a couple posts on games, it would be best to cater to such individuals – hence another reason why stats are important.
    Adjunctively, in regards to your final question, I personally do not think we could ever potentially ignore the information provided by the statistical evidence because as humans, sub-consciously, even if we do not realise it, I think we are always attempting to appease someone or a group of someones. With that writ, it is best to know whether or not we are having the desired affect rather than a nefarious one because what is the point in endeavoring to accomplish something if we are not going to properly succeed?
    I guess, just like you pointed out, it comes down to choice – on WordPress and other social platforms we write posts, showcase photos, etc, and we wish to acquire attention. We want people to read/look at what we have to show. On the day, do we acquire more enjoyment from having a couple people admiring our work, or a whole menagerie of people witnessing that which we have concocted?
    You could complicate this ideology further I do suppose…in comparison to real life. Hypothetically you have a beautiful young daughter who just turned six, and for her birthday you buy her…a nice collection of dolls. Are you satisfied that your only daughter enjoyed her gift and appreciates the fun that she has gained from playing with such new toys? Or are you disappointed that the stats clearly show that only one person has admired and appreciated your present, rather than a large collection of people?

    • I like the comparison to buying gifts for a child. That’s sort of what I’m confused about- if the post on cats made someone decide to start a cat shelter and help thousands of cats, maybe it was great! But really it does just get bigger and muddled the more you think about it…I’m always glad for your comments 🙂

  7. Great post, Jennifer. I have to say that just reading your post made me more relaxed about my stats. I don’t even have enough likes on my Facebook page to get stats, so I don’t really know what the red and green means, but it feels like a 12 step meeting hearing your struggles with stat addiction. I feel less addicted knowing that I am not alone in this need to be heard/liked/appreciated.
    What I am starting to realize is that stats are a tool. They can provide a wealth of information. The problem lies in our emotional attachment to stats. They affect our self-esteem, self-worth, or even how we feel in general which is dangerous. I’m trying to detach from the numbers and react with equanimity. A “hmmm…that is interesting” rather than a “shit, no one loves me.”
    I look forward to continuing this conversation with you.

    • I do like how you say that. They are indeed a tool, and the emotional aspect is dangerous. I think that I generally have a hard time separating my intellect from my emotions, now that I think about it. That’s probably why I take card games very seriously, and get super attached to winning. It also might be why I absorb information about Buddhism and herbalism so lovingly because I get emotionally attached to it in a way..quite interesting!

  8. in lieu of following stats of a blog or time to measure lateness, I use the scale and those numbers to decide if it is a good day or bad day. It measures how much I feel I’m worth and my validity. It does not make sense, or reason (often forgotten in the moment) to let the numbers dictate our lives in whatever way or vice we choose. You are already valid. I am already valid. I say it more for myself than you, but your words are inspiring.

    I’ve been reading your blog here and there in my recovery and I must say it has been very moving, affirming to hear your thoughts.

    • Wow, I’m very glad you wrote that. It would be an interesting thing to explore numbers and their relationship to many people and our struggles. I have actually avoided weighing myself regularly because since being young, those numbers would start to make me think in different ways. I even had a calorie counting app once and had to delete it because I was just taking it far too seriously, but the fact that it dealt with numbers and percentages really didn’t strike me as the addictive component of it until now.
      Maybe once we get more familiar and comfortable with the “You are already valid. I am already valid.” piece of it, it gets easier to catch that tendency to find a ruler for whether or not it’s a good or bad day, and to just be with what is and be happy it’s here at all. wow. Thank you so, so much for connecting in this way. I’m really happy that this blog is useful to you!

  9. In April I wrote a post called Ouroboros, which is a mythical snake that eats its own tail. That post had its usual three days of fame before fading into oblivion, with zero hits by day four. Two weeks later there came a day when the post got 20 hits; the next day, 60 hits. Since then that post has averaged 85 hits a day for 7 months — a total of 18,290 hits as of today. Why? When I wrote the post I found a very cool drawing of an ouroboros somewhere on the internet and attached it to the post. It turns out, understandably, that people love this image — I think it’s mostly people who want it for a tattoo. Once I figured this out I found the site I’d copied the image from and tracked down the artist, a young French woman. I had my daughter, who speaks French, write the artist a comment telling her about the popularity of her ouroboros design. She was glad to hear it and thanked me for letting her know. I put up a link to her website on my post so people could see her other stuff. Now when I look at my daily count I have to acknowledge that I owe a big proportion of the hits to that one “borrowed” image.

    • Ohh I read this this morning on my phone and never commented back, I apologize 🙂 That is really interesting- it is so very cool that you were able to find the person who drew it. And see, on her own site, the image did not attract as much attention, right? Or at least, that’s a guess I’m making. So, if the same image does drastically differently in two different is just strange! There are so many zillions of factors and my mind goes bananas with it all 🙂

  10. I am notorious for checking my stats all the time. I love seeing the numbers. I try not the have that dread in my heart when the numbers go down. I do think they are useful. I can tell what type of post people are more attune to read and also I can tell if some activities that I do increase traffic. My Facebook page is pretty quite. I don’t have much traffic there, but that is because I don’t post a lot there. I enjoy watching the numbers. 🙂 I also agree that the days of the week make a difference and even the time that I publish a post. Stats are very important in my opinion.

    • I wish I could have a viewpoint like that without getting as attached 🙂 I think part of my problem is that I don’t know how to figure out all those variables..I just get overwhelmed with trying to figure out the day/time affect and then the content and the other factors, it’s so strange! Haha I’m glad that you can make sense of it though- that’s great!

  11. Here’s a statistic I just compiled, Jennifer. 12 different people wrote at least one comment on this post; 11 of those 12 commenters received at least one reply from you. Now if that one remaining commenter — and I wonder who that poor ignored soul could be? — would start a flame war with you, then the hitrate on both blogs would almost surely go up. I’ve certainly seen this happen before on my own blog, and other bloggers have remarked on it as well: hostility draws a crowd.

    • Haha you wrote this, and I was like “Did I forget to reply to someone?!” and realized that yes, I did, and I’m sorry. That is an interesting thing- I wonder why people end up attracted to that?

      • You replied? That’s it — no stat-enhancing blog war with you 😉
        Why are people attracted to hostility? Maybe I just hang out in a bad neighborhood in the blogosphere. But it seems to work in politics too.

        • HAhaha! The bad neighborhood of the blogosphere! It would be a funny project to draw a map of a made-up neighborhood and place the blogs accordingly. There are just so many… but yeah, it does happen in politics too. Maybe it’s some type of protective instinct or something? Hm…

  12. I feel better when I’m not checking them, but I definitely do it a lot some days! Sometimes I guess what they’ll be before I look which can either lead to a happy surprise or disappointment. It’s hard not to take the numbers and the green and red arrows personally. I know it’s nothing personal, but sometimes if I have consistently “bad” numbers I’ll wonder if what I’m doing matters at all…and should I keep doing it?
    It’s also hard to keep from comparing oneself to other bloggers – how many FB fans and followers they have. I’ve read some people’s “blogaversary” posts and felt like a total loser afterwards! How did they attract that much attention in a year?!
    But…I keep coming back to the fact that I do what I’m doing because I LIKE to share what I’m sharing, and it will speak to the people it needs to reach! And the more I keep to that motto, the less I’m interested in stats. I’d rather be doing something “real” anyway, rather than checking these numbers!

    • Yes, yes, yes! That last thought is what I’ve been trying to do. To focus on using the stats when possible as a tool, but to not let it get personal, and to have a ton of that trust that the people who need to find it will find it. Checking them does take time, too, and there are so many things to be doing with that time! It’s one of those things where I feel like now that I notice it, it’s easier to have more of a choice instead of being sort of mindlessly compelled to check them over and over 🙂

  13. You have gotten some really good honest comments here on this topic…what else could you ask for from a post. I too feel the tension of stats on WordPress and what I write. In fact, that is one reason why I decided to remove the “follower” count from view and I changed the “follow” button to “participate”. I gain a sense of satisfaction when I have a relatively large number of views, or an increase in “participants”, or several comments…from a post that I feel was written from my heart. I tell you what…if I wanted to maximize followers, views, and comments I could do it…but the blog would be on something much different…it would turn into a marketing mission…creating demand for something people really don’t need. That is easy.

    I certainly think numbers have an enormous importance…especially for science. Numbers are a language for those really intelligent people to discover and prove hypothesis. On the flip side, I do have a strong distaste for how numbers are used in certain instances…like economics and marketing. Like any great tool or invention…you can use it for good or bad.

    I actually have another blog that is very focused on a certain topic. Its great…I don’t even care about the number of views or number of “participants” because it is a long-term project. If it pans out as I expect, the views and comments and participants will explode…and for the right reason….and not because I was trying to generate numbers.

    Nice post and thoughts!

    • I really like how you put that all together. I think that I could get lots of numbers too, if that’s all I wanted. I’d turn into one of those people that follow and like everything without putting in time to read it, and offering the “top five ways to get rich writing” and all that.
      It is good to see this situation in all these different ways and from these lenses. It makes it so much easier to choose how to feel or deal with it instead of just being instinctual about it..because then things get habitual. Your super-focused-long-term-goal blog sounds intriguing! Thank you so much for coming by, I like how much clarity your comment had and brought me!

  14. Thank you for your honest look at stats. In my life, I find I crave measurability (of which I have relatively little), and stats (or, in writing, a word count or page count) help me feel like I can measure (in some way) the worth of my time (maybe?). I am working on figuring this out about myself. Your post is thought-provoking, to be sure. Thank you! 🙂

    • Thank you for coming by! I get the same urge to measure my time, I have to take real steps to avoid it- especially as a freelance self-esteem can be in the trash with the coffee grounds in half a second if I’m not aware of the “How much did you make an hour today?” voice, it’s intense! Haha I’m glad others relate in some ways, though. It seems to be some sort of natural.

  15. Pingback: Mini-Post: 32 Flavors of Judgement « Enjoy Life For Once!

  16. Great post (I’m just getting caught up on your blog now…) and what great perspectives. I totally get that feeling of looking at the clock and thinking, “I’m late.” Certainly I love numbers, especially when they falsely gratify me by making it seem like more is going on than perhaps there is.
    I have one post that attracts a huge number of google hits. It bumps my stats way up, but when half of my hits are taken up by one post it creates a false sense of success (?) for me. I finally hid the post and we’ll see how I feel the next few days without this strange blanket padding my impression.

    • That’s so interesting! My post about magic words gets hits all the time. It’s amazing how many people want to find the magic words for moving things. It’s adorable. It will be interesting to see what happens to your stats without that post, maybe you’ll get a more realistic idea of what types of things your readers adore about you? It seems like you are meeting their needs wonderfully 🙂

      • Aw, thanks Jennifer. I so appreciate your support and wisdom and to hear you say that I may even meet one person’s needs (or interests) in what I write is encouraging.
        I do so enjoy the comments I do get on my blog and many people ‘like” only without a comment. I think the feedback we get helps to make us feel relateable, but also to understand where our perspective fits in with everyone else. Not as a comparison, but just an observation of who we all are together.

  17. Thanks for linking to me Jen. I thought this was a great post. I don’t know if I judge myself by my stats or not. I can’t honestly say they make me sad, but sometimes, if the numbers are high, it makes me really happy. It makes me feel less lonely in a way. A blog is sort of a conversation, or at least the jumping off point for it. It’s cool to know that lots of people want to speak with you.

    • That is an awesome right-on way to put it! On my good days, that’s how they end up affecting me, too. I go in an out of it really..I think when you made your post, I was on a not-checking-constantly day, and that got me to think about it!

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