Returning to the mean, mean, tekel, upharsin

Yes it’s a horrible pun. And it isn’t even relevant to the topic. But hey, it’s my blog.
I’ve mentioned before the topic of returning to the mean—the fact that if you perform way above (or below) average, sheer chance will push you closer to normal next time out. I was thinking of it today when I remembered a book I read a few years ago, Fooled by Randomness.
The book, by Nicholas Taleeb, argues that we underestimate the extent that we can succeed just by luck, or simply by playing the game every day (as Woody Allen puts it, 90 percent of success is just showing up). One of the points he made was that checking your performance too frequently is a mistake.
If you’re trying to lose weight, for instance, and doing so steadily, it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll have an off day. Then you get on the scale next morning and freak, whereas if you weighed yourself every weak, minor fluctuations wouldn’t show against the general improvement.
The same with stocks: If you check them every day (or with modern technology, even sooner), inevitably you’ll see them drop; if you check them every week, and assuming you’ve made good investments, the fluctuations, again, will be drowned out.
Conversely, of course, if you’re screwing up, then a single good day will give you an undeserved illusion of success.
This fits with something I said in a recent post: My writing income is going to ebb and flow; some months I make more than the norm, some the less. Individual low months shouldn’t freak me out. Likewise, occasional stumbling blocks—a sudden emergency, a doctor’s appointment, running TYG to work—that put me behind shouldn’t faze me or make me freak out if I’m doing well 90 percent of the time.
The flip side of that is, am I doing that well? It’s true that missing a couple of hours of fiction writing or an eHow in a week won’t be a problem if I’m consistently diligent. But what if I’m not? One of the reasons I set my goal of at least 12 hours fiction a week is that I kept letting fiction slide, over and over. And that’s not productive.
Same thing with me succumbing to Internet browsing. An occasional slip spending five minutes on a favorite site would be fine, but when I do it over and over again?
The logical solution, I guess, requires judgment. If I’m meeting my weekly goals, then an occasional slip doesn’t matter; if I’m consistently off, I need to make myself shape up.
I think it also requires long-term goals, or at least medium-range goals. Checking my 101 in 1,001 list (see the link) reassures me that even though I’ve only finished one short story so far this year, I’ve completed 10 since Jan. 1, 2011, so I’m not slacking off on that front. The fact I’ve only sold five, and nothing since last June, is much less satisfying, but that’s good to know too: Maybe a change in strategy is in order (I’m not sure I have a sale strategy, but I’ll have to think about it).
I thought about tying all this in to the title with some reference to the moving finger having written (check the Book of Daniel if you don’t know what I’m referring to) but on second thought, I don’t think I’ll push it.

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Filed under Short Stories, Time management and goals, Writing

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