The Power of Blogging (On why I blog)

Blogging, which I define as published informal writing, makes me happy. I blog because I enjoy it. Why do I find blogging so fulfilling? Briefly, blogging provides me with a creative outlet to focus my thinking and share my ideas and interests with others. Even as these are sufficient reasons to blog, there are certain particulars of blogging that make it absurdly powerful, and this post attempts to get at these reasons.

What is so powerful about blogging?

Blogging enables me to write about whatever I want. I can write about the particulars of property rights, ideas for workout routines, the consequences of holding a certain belief, or how best to apply an understanding of human evolution to modern life. I can blog about my personal doings or the book I just finished reading. The informality of blogging provides an enormous amount of creative freedom to speak my mind. This freedom caters to my tendency towards boredom with overspecialization. It allows me to jump from subject to subject as often as I choose.

Seth Roberts described this purpose of blogging wonderfully in a recent comment: “[blogging] allows us to talk about whatever we want without fear of boring our listeners.” With blogging there is little fear of rejection and an empowering feeling of control. Label it “narcisistic” if you want, does it really matter? Blogging provides such a fantastic creative outlet that it is a worthwhile pursuit for this reason alone.

Blogging focuses my curiosity and clarifies my thinking. Putting my thoughts into writing requires a “good enough” understanding of a concept for my written explanation to successfully transfer the idea to others (including me at future date). This put-it-in-writing induced constraint helps clarify my thinking and can also aid my memory. Somewhat related to clarified thought, blogging provides an end-product for my curiosity. Whereas a random interest in parkour may mean running any number of Google queries on the subject only to be done with it, the add-on of blogging creates a deliverable: I can jot down my findings for future reference and produce something tangible and useful from what would otherwise be a passing curiosity.

Blogging results in the mass production of ideas. Creating a blog is cheap, which means that anyone can do it (See below for how). Since bloggers have the power to write whatever they want, an enormous amount of writing is generated. Of course, most of these blog posts will be quickly written and forgotten. And many (if not most) of the ideas generated by bloggers will be duds. Regardless, the raw abundance of ideas presented through blogs is one of the prevailing strengths of the medium. This is because the ideas captured in blog posts are public.

Blogs, whether written anonymously or otherwise, are a means for publishing writing. Whatever I blog about is almost instantly assimilated into the vast bounty of information that is the Internet. Once published, blog posts can be searched and linked. Thanks to search, similarly interested individuals can find my writings and I can find theirs. The public nature of blogging thereby prevents both good and bad ideas from obscurity. Bad ideas are subject to correction from reader feedback. Good ideas are made better by the same. Public discourse on blogs occurs via two pathways. The more basic of the two is that readers are allowed to comment on my blog directly. The alternative, and potentially more powerful pathway is by indirect feedback on a fellow blogger’s site that is hyperlinked to my site.

The resultant combination of blogging and linking is volatile: hyperlinks are the oxygen off which the best blogs thrive. Whether it is simply another blogger sending readers to my site via a blogroll link (a sort of blanket “seal of approval”), linking to a specific post, or through submission of blog posts to the virtual watercooler, social bookmarking sites like reddit, twitter, digg, stumbleupon, del.icio.us or facebook, hyperlinks can provide an immense amount of exposure. Of course, the more linked a blog becomes, the more likely it is to be linked: hyperlinks tend to follow a power law distribution. This means that a blog post containing a good idea (or a good blog generally) has the potential to spread virally. It is through being linked that an idea can go from obscurity to widespread consideration in a very brief time.

Perhaps one of the greatest powers of blogging is how all of the above characteristics provide me with a “home” in the Blogosphere. When I write, even as I do it for my own benefits, the writing is done within a community. Random ideas no longer need to stagnate within my mind: I can publish them on my blog and share them with others who are want to hear what I have to say. I contribute to this community in my own peculiar way, blogging on whatever strikes my fancy. I keep tabs on my neighbors by visiting their sites and subscribing to their feeds. Through this community ideas are freed to germinate, mutate, evolve, or cross-fertilize with each other, producing results that can scarcely be predicted but are almost always eye-opening and sometimes even world-changing.

Indeed, that is the benefit of living in any community, in real space or online. Communities provide the potential for fortuitous opportunities — luck, in other words. That’s why we choose to live with and near other human beings. Its why civilization exists. To share, trade, create, and profit from the resulting opportunities. The main difference between communities in real space and those online is that real space communities tend to be set up based on geographical proximity to your neighbors. In a way, proximity still reigns supreme in the blogosphere; however, it’s the proximity of minds, ideas, and intellect. Blogging eliminates physical barriers to intellectual commerce; as a result, more transactions occur and better ideas and communities are created.

It is for all of these reasons that blogging is one of the most dynamic aspects of the Internet. It is changing the way we learn and the speed at which we create and record knowledge. Despite this immense power, most don’t realize the huge upside potential to maintaining little more than a public journal. The reality is that they don’t have to — like me, most bloggers start blogging because they think they’ll enjoy it, and of course, most do. That the practice results in countless other benefits? Bonus.

Do you have a blog? If not, consider setting one up.

Blogging is nothing more than writing down your thoughts and publishing them. Yet doing so can change your life for the better in ways that you can’t currently predict. Anyone can set up a blog for free using services like blogger, livejournal, or wordpress dot com. If you’re feeling more industrious, you can secure your own webhosting, buy a domain name, and work through setting up a wordpress dot org or b2evolution installation. It’s really not all that hard and probably worth the effort if you want to make the most off your productive efforts. However, if you’re a bit intimidated to go this route, just pursue the free versions — you’ve got very little to lose by starting up a blog, and as I’ve illustrated above, a great deal to gain.

Staying Together by William Glasser

Staying Together by William Glasser

Continuing with my trend of reading books on reality therapy or control/choice theory by William Glasser, I picked up a used copy of Staying Together. This book is subtitled “A control theory guide to a lasting marriage,” and as you might expect, discusses the application of control theory to relationships, specifically marriage.

Dr. Glasser was married to his first wife for 46 years before she died of cancer in 1992. From my perspective, this is anecdotal evidence that control theory can improve the odds that your marriage will be a lasting one.

Having said that, I did not find Staying Together to be as useful as the more detailed and process-oriented Control Theory or the more thought-provoking Positive Addiction. This isn’t to say that there aren’t applicable ideas in Staying Together — there are; however, I’m not sure there is a lot here that can’t be found in Control Theory.

ST is a quick read at around 130 pages. One of the more illuminating quotes from the book is when Glasser discusses “sexual love” and criticism, the latter of which is one of the bigger “no nos” in control theory. First, here is Glasser describing sexual love:

If we can find someone we love who loves us, and if we are able to combine this love with sex, there is a good chance we will enjoy what many people believe is the ultimate intimate experience: sexual love. Finding this is a lot more difficult than just finding sex because it can be experienced only in relationships where the lovers are very good friends. . . .

Friendship is based on sharing common interests, being able to say what’s on your mind without fear of rejection or criticism, planning and building a life together, and most of all looking forward to being with each other when there is nothing pressing to do. And a good friend supports the interests of a partner even when they are not shared. Someone you can talk with anytime about anything is the ultimate in marital friendship. There are too many married strangers.

Glasser goes on to describe how criticism kills sexual love:

More than anything else, hoping yoru partner will change or actively trying to change him or her desroys sexual love. that your dissatisfaction is justified makes no difference. You can be “right” and still kill your relationship. In practice, what this all adds up to is criticism. The criticism may be silent—a look, an inattention, a failure to do something—or it may be open and outspoken. but whatever it is, if your partner perceives it as criticism, your relationship is in trouble.

There is no such thing as constructive criticism. All criticism is destructive, and when it occurs in a relationship, it quickly kills sexual love. . . .

What I try to teach is how to express dissatisfaction without criticizing.

Glasser suggests framing one’s own dissatisfaction in such a way as to put the onus of change on you, not your partner. He says:

This is not criticism because it is not demanding that the other do anything different. It is saying hekllp me to do something better than what I am doing now. . . .

It also says clearly that all problems are our problems; neither of us is perfect, but let’s try to help each other work things out. IT also says what is so basic to control theory: All each of us can do is control our own behavior; I can’t control you and you can’t control me, and I don’t want to continue to waste time trying.

Not surprisingly, the application of control theory is one of two pivotal points in ST. The other pivotal point is that individuals in successful relationships manage to share a commonality in their outlook on the world. This is evidenced in two ways. First, Glasser distills everything down to five fundamental needs that each vary in strength. These needs are survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. The strength of these needs dictates our personality. Without going into detail, he suggests figuring out on a scale of 1-5 where you and your partner fall in strength on these five needs. From this personality profile, you should be able to discern the strengths and weaknesses in your relationship. It’s an interesting exercise, but I feel like his five categories aren’t exactly right. They approximate our needs, but for example, the need for power and freedom seem to overlap in my mind.

Personality is too complex to be summed up in a five need system. Regardless, our personalities clearly dictate a lot of our compatibility with mates. To the extent we can recognize where we are incompatible and mitigate these differences rather than trying to change our partners, we can strengthen our relationships.

Second, Glasser discusses a concept on which he goes into considerably greater detail in Control Theory: this is the notion that we have certain “pictures in our head,” which combine to form our “Quality World.” Essentially, these “pictures” are things, experiences, activities that satisfy our ever-changing desires. To the extent that we share common pictures with our significant others, we increase our chance of marital success. Thus, successful marriages tend to have partners who actively share common pictures, compromise when one partner has a strong picture the other doesn’t, and creatively seek out new common pictures to share.

I’d also like to note that Glasser writes at length regarding the importance of fun and creativity in a marriage. No doubt the married couple that laughs and plays together will end up staying together.

Finally, I want to include one more quote from the book as it almost sums up the importance of not controlling your partner in your marriage:

Of all tasks we attempt in life, successfully managing another person or other people is the most difficult. In marriage, it should not be attempted at all—it is a marriage killer.

On a more general note, and this pervades Glasser’s school of thought, control theory is not about controlling others. It is about controlling yourself and how you behave in the world.

So in sum, I ask myself: how can I better act to improve my relationships by changing the only thing I have control over — my behavior.

Below are all William Glasser books that I have read to date:

  • Control Theory — the most comprehensive and useful of Glasser’s books that I have read, this one covers the basics of control theory (also known as choice theory and reality therapy).
  • Positive Addiction — a more niche focus on acheiving meditation and creative reorganization via pursuit of positive addictions.
  • Staying Together — focuses on applying control theory, the ideas of “pictures in your head” and quality worlds, and matching up basic needs (or accounting for differences in these needs) in relationships.

Control Theory by William Glasser

Control Theory by William Glasser

William Glasser’s 1985 book Control Theory is subtitled “A New Explanation of How We Control Our Lives.” This review covers many components of the book, which makes it fairly long. In short, Control Theory is an excellent read that I heartily recommend.

Control Theory details a framework for understanding how humans choose behaviors to assert control over the world. These behaviors include depressing, angering, phobicking, etc. Glasser reframes all feelings as behaviors that you choose. As such, individuals go from being something to doing something.

This is expressed right out the gate in the Author’s Note:

Much of this book is concerned with the behaviors we choose as we attempt to control our lives. As I will explain in great detail, all behavior is made up of three* components: what we do, what we think, and what we feel. Doing and thinking are always expressed as verbs, like running or meditating, but feelings are usually expressed as adjectives, like depressed, or nouns, like depression. . . .

To say the man is depressed would be to infer that the depression happened to him. What I will explain in this book is that it is a behavior he is choosing in order to deal with the difficulty of losing his job. To describe accurately what this man is feeling as a behavior and also be grammatically correct, I would have to say that he is depressing or choosing to depress.

When feelings turn into things we do — Though you might be inclined to write-off talking about feelings like “anxiety” as “anxieting,” having read Glasser’s work and reflected on my own behaviors I think he is really on to something. The telltale sign of a good idea is it’s usefulness, and it has become incredibly useful to view my own behaviors and those of friends and family from the perspective of control theory.

For example, when a friend starts depressing about their job, he is actually trying to control a situation where he has lost control. Through depressing he can exact behavioral change — i.e. people react to his depressing by trying to cheer him up. Of in the case of someone who could effect change in the friend’s job, reorganize the workflow. Via depressing the friend can take back some control.

Awareness of how we work to exert control is paramount. Being aware of how I can use painful emotional behaviors (like depressing) to re-exert control makes me more aware that I could choose other, more productive behaviors. Rather than depressing to control, I can go play a sport, read a book, or do some chores. I may not want to do something more productive — sometimes its very clear to me that I just want to depress/anger/whatever — but since it is very difficult to change my feelings or think my way out of an out-of-control situation, at least by doing something productive I can improve my situation.

Control theory does not mean that all misery is chosen. In the short term, our reaction to losing control is usually some form of painful emotion. It’s the longer-term reaction whereby we either choose to emote our way back into control, which is almost always counterproductive, emotionally painful, or a waste of energy, or we do something which may change our feelings, buy us time or improve our situation, snapping us back into control of our lives.

Pictures in our heads — Glasser explains that humans convert experience into mental “pictures” that we file away in our memory for future reference. For example, a chocolate-chip cookie satisfies a baby’s hunger for something sweet. Chapter 3, The Pictures in our Heads notes:

This means that we store in our personal picture albums the pictures of anything in the world that we believe will satisfy one or more of our basic needs. For the rest of his life, when that baby gets hungry, he will start turning the food apges of his album. Many times, when he comes to the pictures of chocolate-chip cookies, he will say to himself, “That’s what I want right now,” and he’ll try to find a chocolate-chip cookie in the real world. . . . With a little thought, it will become apparent that your personal picture album is the specific motivation for all you attempt to do with your life.

And later:

It is not easy to change our own pictures, but it is even more difficult to persuade others to change theirs. To change a picture, we have to replace it with another that, if not equally satisfying to the need in question, is at least reasonably satisfying. This can be done only through negotiation and compromise; force will not work.

We behave to satisfy the pictures in our heads. It’s a simple truth that has some profound implications, particularly with regard to relationships. In particular, Glasser discusses how relationships that succeed are those where the friends, family or lovers have enough common pictures to share. In a situation like a marriage (or with parents or children), it is paramount to the ongoing success of the relationship to share common pictures.

Sometimes one person may have a picture that is irreconcilable with the picture of their significant other. Compromise and negotiation are key in these situations. What more, the couple should work towards finding ever more pictures that both can share with each other. Success in relationships is dependent on sharing mutually satisfying pictures (This doesn’t mean all the pictures have to be the same).

The process of creative reorganization — Another great concept that Glasser describes in Control Theory is that of “creative reorganization,” which is a process by which our minds attempt find usable ideas and behaviors. In Chapter 10, Creativity and Reorganization, Glasser writes:

The behavioral system is a two-part system. One part contains our familiar organized behaviors; the other part, which is the source of our creativity, contains the building blocks of all behaviors in a constant state of reorganization. By themselves these building blocks could not be recognized as discrete actions, thoughts, or feelings; but as they reorganize, they may become recognizable and usable. . . .

As active as this process is, we may have little or no awareness that it is going on. . . .

From this bubbling, ongoing creative reorganization comes a random stream of mostly minimal but occasionally well-organized new behaviors that are available to us to try if (1) we pay attention to them and (2) we decide that those two which we pay attention may help us gain or regain control over our lives.

Glasser importantly notes that creative reorganization often produces junk ideas. It’s up to us to sort out the good ideas from the bad.

Creative reorganization hits on an idea that is so pervasive in life and success that I have to mention it here: it is that the best ideas, businesses and, well, things emerge from massively iterative processes. They survive by being most fit and useful. Look at markets, biology, ideas, blogs, products, etc. And most of the time, these things aren’t planned in advance — they emerge out of the ether — the random iterations of life. Robust, dynamic and successful systems provide for huge volumes of iterations.

Other useful clippings — While reading the book, I typed up some more insightful quotes.

From Chapter 17, Taking Control of Your Life:

In an effort to deny what they really want, people like Susan often sigh and say, “What’s the difference what I want? I’ll never get it.” But her sighs and depressing are still her way of choosing to suffer to try to get what she denies she wants. From the standpoint of the pain she chooses, it makes no difference if she is aware of what she wants or not. If we don’t have what we want, we will choose to anger or suffer just the same. Once you know control theory, you will not waste your time and energy refusing to face what you want just because it is hard to get, because you know that you will choose to suffer just the same.

Chapter 18 Control Theory and Raising Children:

Try as hard as possible to teach, show, and help your children to gain effective control of their lives.

I was remarking yesterday about extending the above quote on child-rearing to managing employees. A powerful manager empowers employees to improved responsibility and control over their job. The opposite is also true: the manager who strips control from employees will have miserable employees who essentially do very little productive work.

Conclusion — Glasser discusses control theory as it pertains to drugs and alcohol, child-rearing, health and more. This idea-packed, paradigm-shifting book weighs in at a paltry 236 pages. It is out of print, but as you can see there are some 70+ copies at Amazon. I highly recommend picking up a copy.

Glasser discusses towards the end of Control Theory a book he wrote in 1976 titled Positive Addiction. Glasser describes Positive Addiction as an activity where, while in a state of control, you achieve a period of creative reorganization. The example of positive addiction he describes is running. Running allows for a period of “in-control time” (Something we all need every day) and can take the runner into a meditative state of creativity. Because creative states have the potential to produce unpredictably good ideas via the iterative process, finding and pursuing positive addictions could be incredibly beneficial. Since I’m no runner, I’d like to discover what other activities might qualify. I might need to pick up this book, too.

Finally, hat tip to Dr. Michael Eades for alerting me to this great book.

*Glasser actually writes about a fourth component of behavior, the physiological response (i.e. the way our bodies react to a stimulus — usually a reaction we cannot control).

Below are all William Glasser books that I have read to date:

  • Control Theory — the most comprehensive and useful of Glasser’s books that I have read, this one covers the basics of control theory (also known as choice theory and reality therapy).
  • Positive Addiction — a more niche focus on acheiving meditation and creative reorganization via pursuit of positive addictions.
  • Staying Together — focuses on applying control theory, the ideas of “pictures in your head” and quality worlds, and matching up basic needs (or accounting for differences in these needs) in relationships.