Sunday, August 2, 2009

Feedback Loops

(No they are not the latest breakfast cereal!)

What are feedback loops?

One answer is that they can be the most powerful motivational tool you have.Start with the basics.

The human being is a very very complex cybernetic system. That is it takes in information and adjusts it's behaviour according to the information taken in. It then checks that adjustment to see if it has reached the desired state and adjusts again if not.

An easy way to think of it is a central heating system - when it is turned on the boiler fires because the thermostat tells it that the water is not at the required temperature then continues to turn off and on depending upon whether the required temperature is reached. now all know about cybernetics!

How does this apply to becoming a 'healthy me' ? To put it very simply (and this is very simply) in behavioural terms we humans get into what are termed positive feedback loops or negative feedback loops.

Example of a positive feedback loop in this context: You go to the gym in the morning, you feel good about yourself, yours self esteem is boosted, your resolve is boosted, at work someone offers you a doughnut but you politely decline, you tell yourself that was a brilliant thing to do, your self esteem goes up, you smile more, someone says to you you are looking well, yours self esteem goes up, so you make good food choices at lunch time, so you feel good all afternoon........... I think you get the picture.

Example of a negative feedback loop in this context:

You eat something you you know it would be better not to eat, you feel bad about yourself, so you tell yourself you are rubbish a worthless human being, so you are in a bad mood, because you are in a bad mood you snap at a colleague which leads to a row, so you feel down and reach for your old friend chocolate bar, which picks you up for a bit but as soon as you have finished you are telling yourself you are not only bad but stupid, which makes you feel even worse..........familiar?

And surprise surprise all this happens without really thinking about it as we do not need our conscious minds in order to do all this.

What can we do about it?

Firstly be aware of the power of feedback loops and take control of them! You are now!

Consciously start your own positive feedback loops by asking the question what could I do today that might start a positive feedback loop? It need not be anything strenuous, just resolving to smile and say hello to everyone you meet is likely to start a positive feedback loop as others will be nice back and that will start you feeling good about yourself!

Be aware if you are slipping into a negative loop and break the pattern. You can do this by changing your thinking or changing your physiology. You can just say to yourself when you see a familiar negative pattern emerging "no I am not going to do this again, I am going to do something different, not sure what yet but it will be different, what can I do to get the outcome I want"
(Always frame outcomes in the positive - i.e. what you want not what you don't want).

Hope that is useful, you are living in feedback loops whether you know it or not, much better to know it and take some control eh?

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