Getting Over My Obsessive Stats Syndrome
And how I managed to break the flow
Over the past few months, I’ve started to notice a disruptive pattern in my daily doings. Every time after I hit some sort of post or publish button, a strong desire to constantly hit refresh hits me.
A few seconds would quickly turn into minutes and then the next thing I know the day is almost over. We’ve all experienced it — through our Medium stats dashboard, Google Analytics pages, Facebook engagement numbers, and even Tweet activity impressions and click counts.
We crave validation and attention for the thing we’ve done. So we hit refresh again and again.
Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences. — Wikipedia
In a way, an addiction is also a habit — or rather, a chemically induced habit. The rewarding stimuli give us just enough boost to crave more. When we hit refresh endlessly and chance upon a view, read, clap, like, heart, emote, retweet or any kind of interaction after a period of nothingness, the dopamine released temporarily negates all the negative self-talk we’ve worked ourselves up to until that moment.
It’s addictive because as humans, we’re suckers for punishment. It’s in our nature to be stubborn, to do the things we know we shouldn’t be doing and sometimes, that stubbornness is directed at the wrong cause.
Compulsions are repeated actions or behaviours that you feel driven to do, even though you know they are unnecessary or don’t make sense. — Mental Health, NZ
Compulsion and addiction are closely related to each other. They’re almost like conjoined twins when it comes to addiction and compulsion. When one is present, the other one is usually somewhere close by.
But unlike addiction, compulsion doesn’t occur for reward. Compulsion just happens. Some of us are compulsive hoarders. Some of us are compulsive eaters. Many of us suffer from a compulsion to constantly check and hit the refresh button — it’s a new age thing, suffered by a majority of content creators.
Understanding the reason for CTRL + R
To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom — Socrates
Success doesn’t happen overnight. But something in my brain constantly convinces me that every time I hit refresh, it might be different. It doesn’t make sense. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it.
Yet, we somehow lead ourselves to believe that maybe, just maybe, this time it won’t be realistic — that ‘success’ will somehow make itself apparent in the time it takes for a Hollywood rags to riches story to play out.
It’s a blip in our cognitive reasoning and the worst part is that we know it.
We hit refresh and fuel our obsession over the numbers because we want to confirm that our hard work was worth it. Except it becomes a problem with the act of refreshing constantly takes up more time than it took to create the thing you published.
Breaking the flow
Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken — Warren Buffett
One click here and one click there eventually turns into nothing achieved for the rest of the day. I didn’t notice how intrusive my stats checking habits started to become until I worked out the number of work hours I had in a day and realized that very little of it was spent doing actual work.
Over the past, I’ve discovered that to break a habit, you need to replace the environment in which the habit is usually performed. It’s easy to tell yourself to stop but the act of stopping is somewhat a lot harder in reality.
My computer facilitated my compulsion to hit refresh. Right after I hit publish, I remove myself from my desk and go do something completely different. Doing so breaks the flow and disrupts the performance of the habit.
When you change your environment, it changes the way you act and determines things you can do. When you increase the friction of a task, you are less likely to perform it. It’s part of our human nature to seek the path of less resistance. In an age where everything is available instantly, a slight modification that requires more steps or takes a little bit longer is usually enough to deter us from such an act.
Clicking refresh on a website is easy. Having to open up the browser again and get to my stats page requires a few more steps. Having to stop doing the new task I’m doing in order to check my stats allows me to notice how time-consuming and disruptive it can be to my workflow. Having to get the toddler back into the car and get home to check my stats and then go out again to finish what we were doing is just simply not worth it.
Depending on the severity my urge to check my stats is, I increase the resistance to match it.
It’s one thing to track your stats and something completely different when you hit refresh like your life depends on it.
The physical removal of the facilitating tool was hard at first but after a few days, I no longer felt compelled to mindlessly hit refresh. It’s sort of like the time I decided to quit coffee — there was the initial withdrawal but once that passed, I felt much better and less dependent on it to survive afterward.
It’s the same with quitting over obsessing over my stats. It changes the way you think and look at yourself. You don’t become defined by the numbers until you start looking again.
The habit of constantly checking lessens over time when you start getting used to not checking your stats all the time. When you start filling up the spaces where hitting refresh happens, it helps you recognize the time sinks you spend in hopes that your numbers might change.