My Dashboard Addiction & How to Manage it
“Will I succeed?”
When I launched The Joint of No Return in April 2018, three years since I’d started writing that damn book, a bunch of emotions and thoughts came rushing up to the surface. I was ecstatic. I was terrified. I was curious. What would readers think? Would they see the vision as clearly as I had? Would they enjoy the ride I offered them? Would they reject it and laugh me off stage? Can I keep doing this, AND make a living out of it?
Basically, I felt compelled to endlessly repeat versions of this question: “Will I succeed?”
That’s a natural question for any entrepreneur or artist to ask, right It may even be irresponsible to NOT ask it, RIGHT?
Turns out it was a massively dumb move on my part.
Shit-smeared Internal Dialogue
One of the surest ways to ensure our own misery is to ask yourself shitty questions. If you’re a human (or whatever), you’ve definitely asked yourself some version of these questions:
“Why can’t I lose that weight?”
“Why can’t I get a break?”
“Why am I always so awkward around others?”
“What do I have to do to make that person love me?”
“Why do bad things always happen to me?”
“How could I possibly get through a day like today?”
They stink, right? Take a moment to them break down and look for the source of their stench. Find it? Neither of us has time to wait, so I’ll give you the answer: There’s a thick layer of shitty assumptions (get it? ass-umptions…) smeared just underneath the surface of each of those questions.
When you ask yourself those kinds of questions, you’re tasking your brain to find a solution. Your brain is your friend (or so it thinks) and wants to help you overcome whatever discomfort you’re feeling, so it scrambles to find soothing answers. The problem is that any answers it comes up with will be as equally smeared in shit as the questions. I believe the cosmic principle is known as “Garbage in, garbage out”.
“God made me this way. This is the divine plan.”
”It’s just the way I am–it’s in my DNA.”
“I guess I should just accept my bad luck.”
“I guess I should look for love somewhere else.”
“I’ll be happy later.”
Don’t those answers reek of shit? It’s pretty obvious, right?
Other times it’s harder to find the turds hidden deep within a shitty question. Some of the shittiest of questions have sugar sprinkled on top. They may seem positive, maybe even inspirational, on the surface:
“How can I get more efficiency out of my team?”
"How do I increase my family’s comfort and happiness?”
“How do we make America great again?”
They, like the previous set of questions, all fail in the same way: they misalign responsibility. They either shun responsibility when it’s needed, or they take on responsibility for things they can’t control. Example: Humans will burn every last calorie trying to manipulate someone else’s happiness while never making the slightest changes to their own life that would bring themselves closer to happiness.
One of the most insidious of these shitty questions, one that entrepreneurs and artists love to dwell on, that we feel obligated to answer, is “Will I succeed?”
Back to my Dumb Move
So two weeks after the launch of The Joint of No Return I found myself vaguely miserable, and worse–I didn’t know why. I’d persisted and launched the damn book. Initial feedback was that readers really liked it. No matter how many sales I had in a day; no matter how many good reviews the book received; no matter the positive feedback from friends and family, one thing was certain: I felt like shit.
So why the hell’d I feel like shit?
Because that stupid, shitty question haunted me. “Will I succeed?”
The danger in asking “Will I succeed?” is that there’s no way to answer it. Actually, an answer does exist–and if I had a time machine I could go into the future and find out whether I figure out how to make a living out of writing or not. But in the reality of now, the answer, the outcome, is unknowable. It’s an insoluble, torturous puzzle. Add a little obsessive personality into the mix and a human can torment themselves with that question all damn day. Which is exactly what I did.
Eventually, my brain, trying to help relieve the discomfort, starting playing around with the two potential answers:
When I imagined the positive answer, an itch was scratched. The beast, the hungry ghost, was fed. So naturally, it created new questions, expecting to be fed again. Like a hydra, once I thought I’d slayed one head, two more would pop up in its place.
Great! I told myself. Now, how long do I have to wait till success arrives? Has it come yet? How will I know? When it comes, will I be able to handle it? Can I maintain it?
Imagining the opposite, it seemed as if fate had dumped a bucket of cold water on my dreams. The world seemed colder, more sinister, and positioned against me. Shame, regret, anxiety, and bitterness were produced–and those jerks stuck around inside my head long after I’d finished with the stupid thought experiment. I should have known it would turn out this way. It was a stupid idea to begin with. Oh god, I’m going to look like a loser. I am a loser.
Looking back, it’s clear that the question of whether something will be ultimately be successful can only ever result in ever-increasing misery.
But I hadn’t realized that at first. Initially, I thought that I could answer that question with more data. I needed to be more attentive and measure the success harder.
That’s when I became addicted to something more despicable than scratch-to-play lottery tickets. I became addicted to DASHBOARDS.
The Diabolical Dashboard
I released The Joint of No Return on Amazon’s KDP Select program, which meant I could only sell it on Amazon. I monitored the book’s Amazon product page to make sure it was getting the correct “Also Boughts” and reviews. Then there were Goodreads stats: how many people are adding it to lists? How many are currently reading it? Oh, and I couldn’t forget the Bookbub Ad CTR stats. I even went so far as to monitor its success on pirate/torrent websites!
KDP Sales Dashboard
Amazon product page reviews, rank, and also-boughts
Goodreads book stats
Bookbub Ad CTR
It was so nice. All the data, day-by-day, right there at my fingertips.
Then, a couple months ago, I made a few changes that multiplied the available data tenfold. I went “wide”, which meant that I put The Joint of No Return on sale at Barnes & Noble, Google, iBooks, and Kobo. In addition to four new retailers, I published an audiobook version that was sold on Audible, Amazon, iTunes, and 20 other online retailers. Yikes.
I also finished book two in the Far Our Chronicles called Mitey Morphic Flower Raiders, which was also published “wide”. To kick off the new launch, I decided to test some new ads on Facebook.
Again, I was ecstatic, anxious, and curious. Again, that damn question of “Will I succeed?” started hanging around my mind. Again, I thought the answer could be found if I just compiled more data from more dashboards. Again, I found myself utterly miserable.
My list of dashboards had grown from the small list above to this:
KDP Sales Dashboard
Amazon product page reviews, rank, and also-boughts
Goodreads book stats
Bookbub Ad CTR
Kobo sales dashboard
iTunes sales dashboard
Google sales dashboard
Barnes & Noble sales dashboard
Facebook page and ad results
And worse: I had a unique dashboard not for one, but TWO, books.
Each time I checked a dashboard I was rolling imaginary dice. I was scratching off a lotto ticket. I was taking a hit from a crack pipe.
Metaphors aside, here’s what was really happening: I was becoming addicted to the tiny droplets of dopamine my brain was producing. Every time I initiated the ritual of checking a dashboard–which was many, MANY times a day–my brain knew there was some chance that things had improved. Whether I found a result or not really didn’t matter. I was addicted to the dopamine produced by the anticipation, by the mere chance of success.
I discovered what most addicts discover: the dopamine trip only lasts so long before it turns on you. Suddenly, there’s no glorious sunshine left in the crack pipe. Instead, the whole thing becomes a sick, automatic ritual that corrodes our insides. And worse, even though we realize it’s corroding our insides, we keep doing it.
How to break the spell
I’m not so foolish to claim I’ve beaten the beast, nor that it can be beaten at all. The ghost, the hydra, still roams the corridors of my mind. Many times a day, it rears its ugly head and screams to be fed. So what the hell do I do?
I started with the indirect: I tried to meditate on, and deeply accept that, the foolishness that the question of “Will I succeed?” could ever be satisfyingly answered. Abandoning the question initially left me feeling neck-deep in uncertainty. How could I proceed with the journey if I wasn’t certain that it would succeed? Then I reminded myself that certainty is just an illusion. I tried to remember that uncertainty is what makes life an adventure. Not knowing how a story ends is exactly what allows us to be swept up in it. So instead of trying to vanquish uncertainty, to solve the unsolvable puzzle, I decided to simply embrace the mystery.
Then I moved on to a direct tactic: I went cold turkey. I closed all dashboard tabs. I resolved to resist the urge to feed the hungry ghost. I recruited my wife to help keep me accountable.
Lastly, acknowledging that as a human I’m going to want to puzzle over something, I chose a different question to ask myself:
“How can I positively influence the chances of my success?”
And the answer always came back to something all authors know in their hearts:
“FOCUS ON WRITING THE NEXT DAMN BOOK!”
Writing the next damn book is the always the best way to influence our success as a writer. Duh.
You may be asking, “Okay Tom, then why the fuck are you writing this long blog post?”
That’s a good question. I have an answer ready for you: I’m preparing my mind to write the next damn book. After a month of publishing and marketing, it takes quite a hefty mindset shift for me to start producing a high quality story that people will fall in love with. This is me greasing the gears. My warm-up routine. And… maybe this post will reach another author and help them out?
Alright, let’s keep it real. There’s another ugly truth underlying the bullshit about wanting to share this idea with other writers, etc. The eternal and deadly force known as Resistance is pushing hard against the next damn book. It wants me to procrastinate. It wants to convince me that revising the book is unbearable(it’s not lying). It wants me to waste my time doing anything and everything but start revising the damn book.
How can I hope to overcome Resistance? Instead of telling you the solution, I’ll show you: