The power of feedback loops

We all love to get ahead in life. Reaching goals is one of the most satisfying feelings that exist. Behaviors and the right proceed are the cornerstones for success. You can use the power of feedback loops to affect both.

Before looking at feedback loops from those two perspective, let’s establish how to create them.

  1. Work towards a goal

  2. While you do it, collect data

  3. Use the data as feedback to change action

  4. Repeat

You create feedback loops simply by collecting data and changing your actions accordingly. It is as simple as powerful.

Feedback loops and behavior

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Let’s look how behavior can be changed, with feedback loops. To change behavior the feedback needs to come as fast as possible. Immediately is the best case scenario. Just by signaling that our behavior is good or bad can lead to changes.

This is the great hope of Smartwatch producers like apple. Smartwatches have many sensors for measuring not just our environment but also our body functions and what we do. Using that data could give us feedback on many subjects. Are we moving or exercising enough. Are we eating healthy. Are we doing something stressful. Users will not give away that without some value in return. So there will be many apps specializing just on changing behavior. Just look into your app store to find them.

I used the feedback loops to change my surfing behavior. I was using social media excessively. So I installed a small plug-in, showing me how long I am on one site. The results are great. I spend less time on the sites.

I also used the technique to avoid snacking. I just put a half-naked picture of me next to the sweets. Seeing how I used to look with 20 kilograms more helps me to stay strong and avoid sweets.

To change behavior feedback loops don’t need to be high-tech or complicated. They just need to deliver feedback fast.

Feedback loops and goals

” Alice: Which way should I go?

Cat: That depends on where you are going.

Alice: I don’t know.

Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Feedback loops can be a compass towards our goals. Planning everything out before doing is risky. If something changes, the planning needs to be redone. If the plan is incorrect, the goal is missed. Instead of planning ahead we can use feedback loops to guide us. The feedback can answer different questions. Are we moving towards our goal? Are we fast enough? Is something wrong with our proceed?

Those who read The Lean Startup know that it is based on feedback loops. The author argues that entrepreneurs should get customer feedback as fast as possible. Products should be released as fast as possible to get it. With that feedback the product can be modified to fit customer needs. The feedback of the customer is used as a compass. The opposite would be to create a product over a long time period, spending money just to realize late that nobody wants it.

Another great example is agile software development. Before agile software development was like normal project work. Everything was planned in advance and the plan was hard to change. This led to many failed projects. Agile wants to eliminate the risk, of producing something the customer don’t wants. They work in so called sprints. A sprint is a feedback cycle. Normally about two week longs. Before a sprint the agile team gives a commitment to the product owner what they will accomplish. At the end of the sprint the product owner gets to see what they accomplished. The cycle repeats. With software it is hard to define what you want. Giving the product owner sprint after sprint functioning software, gives him a better understanding what he wants. Also, he sees if there is some progress at all. He can better plan.

By: Swen-Peter EkkebusCC BY 2.0

I use feedback loops to work towards my fitness goals. Everyday I keep track of what I eat, supplements, how I feel and when I train. For every workout I keep track on my performance, repetitions, weight and so on. Once a week I measure my weight and my body parts like my belly. If I gain weight I can look into my data and see the reasons why.

Used correct, feedback loops can show the right direction or even be the process towards our goals.

A stoic perspective on feedback loops

Stoics know that the perspective on a subject, problem or obstacle change the way you think about it. A feedback loop changes the perspective on failure. You can’t fail with a feedback loop, instead you learn what not to do in the next iteration.

It makes starting so much easier. You don’t have to think all through to get it perfect in the first place. Your can look at your first try as a trial.

Stoics also know that you can’t control everything. We live in a chaotic universe. Exterior effects can change everything. We have to accept that fact. And once again the feedback loop puts things into perspective. You plan just one iteration. You don’t plan ahead, because you don’t have the results of the previous iteration.

Call on Action:

  • Try to integrate 5 feedback loops into your life.

Deo Volente,

Gaius Wolf

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