One of the biggest differences between the professionals and amateurs in any skill-based field is the presence of a feedback loop. We don’t often see these things as they work in the background. However their power shouldn’t be underestimated. Without these sorts of mechanics, we’ll ultimately repeat the same tactics repeatedly with no benefit to our future.
But some of the most exceptional people in the world don’t simply accept these mechanics. They learn to leverage them and use them as a springboard to grow their skills faster. They reach a level of mastery and can then move on to master other things.
What Is A Feedback Loop?
In it’s most basic form, a feedback loop is a process of understanding causes and effects working together. These understandings shift depending on what it is we’re using this feedback loop for.
For example, a general feedback loop is touching your hand on a burner or another hot surface. We know it’s a hot surface but when you first discover it, you may have learned that by putting your hand on that hot surface. You get burned and you react by moving your hand away and never willingly perform that action again.
When it comes to skills, it’s more of a matter of measurement. You produce something, measure that information, and from that, see how you can grow it or maintain it.
Grow and maintain are crucial as they play into the type of feedback loops you’ll use.
There are two types of feedback loops: positive and negative.
Negative feedback loops are all about keeping things balanced. Think survival instincts where we sweat when it’s too hot or shiver when it’s cold. For skills, it’s all about maintaining that level.
Positive though is about growth and development. Think of the first time that you tried to walk. For skills, it’s all about how you can be improving skills.
Both of these feedback loops are important in our growth and development – even if negative feedback loops can seem counter-productive.
How To Build A Feedback Loop
Building feedback loops from here is easy enough. They are nothing but a four step cycle that continues infinitum:
- First is the presentation of the problem.
- Second is gathering information.
- Third is planning.
- Fourth is solving and reflecting.
By going through these steps, you’ll be able build a proper feedback loop. Here is how you can leverage it the most in each step.
Presenting The Problem
This step is the simplest one in terms of mastering a skill. The main point being identifying a skill that you’d like to be building on. Although, it’s not always as straightforward as that.
There are many skills that we would all like to be mastering and this system requires us to focus on one at a time. That is the most optimal route as involving multiple skills can get in the way and distract us.
To narrow down this list, consider the following criteria for a skill worth mastering:
- The skill should be something that you can measure. Time, averages, accuracy, etc. You should be able to quantify it with something so you can compare it. Performance is also a good measure as well, for example, finding it easier to do certain exercises or push a certain amount of weight.
- This skill should be something you’re invested in doing. Naturally, you don’t want to be spending time working on a skill that you don’t like to, but skills are attached to certain activities. And if these activities are something you think won’t really matter long-term, don’t bother investing in it.
- The skill should be something you’re proud about. Having a positive opinion about the particular skill is important. That, or at the very least have a desire to make this skill something to be proud about.
Gathering Information For The Feedback Loop
The second step of your feedback loop is to gather information. You know what sort of skill you want to be mastering. Now you need to figure out how you’ll master that skill. This is where having a mentor or some point of reference comes in handy.
With a mentor or a reference point, you’ll find it easy to compare your performance with that of others. And while comparison can be detrimental in most cases, in this situation I find it to be helpful to a certain degree.
The idea is to compare on a technical level rather than use it to whine and complain about someone outperforming you or being in a better position in life. For example, as a writer, I compare myself to other writers in terms of what articles should I be writing about, how to be formatting my articles, and tweaking my writing style. These writers are doing much better than me in certain aspects, but I don’t use that to complain about why things aren’t working.
I continue to learn from them indirectly and keep tweaking my writing as I learn more.
I then use my performance to compare it to my own previous results.
You want to be taking these sorts of steps. Comparing yourself in order to grow further rather than complain. And after some time, compare where you started to where you are now.
Furthermore, by gathering information, you have a greater understanding of what the industry is like. It’ll give you a better idea of what sort of measurements you should be looking at the most and building on.
After you’ve gathered information, you’re ready to put together a proper plan. By gathering information, you already get a good idea of this, but actual planning can help to ensure you’ve got everything working and flowing.
In the planning stage you want to ensure that:
- Your measurements aren’t detrimental to you. The measurements should speak about your ability on a critical level and guide you to improve.
- You have clear goals, and overall direction. What time will you work on this skill? How long will you work on the skill? What is it that you’ll focus on during that time specifically?
- Your method in performing the action regularly is strong. Your motivation is key to growing as well. Make sure you have plenty of reasons to pursue something and continue to have other reasons to improve. Things that are helpful in loops is positive reinforcement of your actions, having a why, amongst other things.
Take Action And Reflect
The final thing of the feedback loop is to be putting that plan into effect. Since you’ve planned it all out, you know what you’ll be looking for and what you’ll be measuring. The idea is to keep performing those actions until you get a good amount of data.
Once that data is gathered, only then should you be able to reflect on your results. A good time to be reflecting in great detail is after you’ve performed the habit consistently for an entire month.
You want to be looking over the month and compare that to the goals that you’ve set up for this skill. How close or ahead of your goals are you? What are some significant trends that you found from doing this?
You want to be going into great detail about the skill and finding ways to identify problems and new ways to be improving the system.
If your goals were too easy, raise the bar higher. For goals that you failed, identify why you failed and make adjustments to it.
The idea with a feedback loop is that every time you go through the cycle, you have a clearer idea of what matters in a skill and develop it and leverage it for yourself. It creates a set number of principles and values that you use to develop that skill and can pass on to other skills that you want to be improving on.
The reflection process is important for this reason as it identifies how you can leverage your skills and push yourself to keep going.
For example, I’ve had a history of giving up on things. But one thing that I haven’t given up on is writing. When I first started, my writing was horrible. But instead of telling myself that it was terrible, I created a feedback loop without realizing it.
I convinced myself that every day I write, I’d be getting better at it. And if I got at least one view of what I wrote, I’d be satisfied.
Now my writing has become more refined and I’ve got people wanting to publish on this site, people telling me how good my writing is and how inspiring it is. I use all of that to remind myself to keep writing amongst multiple other reasons.
This sort of system can easily work for you this same way.
Feedback Loops Can Let You Master Skills
As you can see, this technique can allow you to pass the very same methods over to other skills in your life. And through this, you can find this to be applicable in all kinds of ways. While we tend to think about them in terms of enhancing our skills, we can also use it to improve our methods in reaching our goals faster and effectively in the future.
To your growth!
Eric S Burdon