Physiological Feedback Loops
In a recent blog at LifeHacker, James Cleere explores the importance of feedback loops for your body. By looking at the tallest person on record who ever lived, Robert Wadlow, had a serious issue with his internal feedback loops. His body grew at a pace without control over his hormones. The result was that he nearly reached nine feet in height before dying at the age of 23.
The body has physiological feedback loops that normally help prevent the hormones from running wild. However, when they are out of control, it can be fatal.
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Behavioral Feedback Loops
In the same way the body controls or fails to control hormone levels, your mind also attempts to keep things stable by developing behavioral feedback loops.
Feedback loops are not only at the core of human biology, but also at the center of human behavior. Like the biological processes mentioned above, psychological feedback loops often run unnoticed in the background of our daily lives. They can influence everything from how fast we drive to how frequently we take our medications to how often we check social media. In fact, I would say that feedback loops are the invisible forces that shape human behavior. – James Cleere
It should be clear that if you want to get control of your habits you will need to hack these loops. Though, building new positive habits or breaking old bad habits involves working the loops differently.
Two Key Feedback Loops
James Cleere explores two different feedback loops:
- Balancing Feedback Loops
- Reinforcing Feedback Loops
Balancing Feedback Loops
This method is great for dealing with bad habits. It involves setting a control over the behavior you wish to eliminate. It works like a thermostat that turns the heat on when the temperature gets too cold. A practical example of this for a bad habit would be setting a timer when you check your social media. Set the timer to 30 minutes and then when it goes off, you have used up that days “social media time.” The alternative is allowing your mind to decide when you are finished. By adding a control that has a trigger, you will be better suited to handle or limit the bad habit.
Reinforcing Feedback Loops
This loop is excellent when trying to build new habits. The concept is simple. You establish a reward for completing a given behavior. When you exercise for 30 minutes a day you allow yourself to eat a small piece of chocolate for example. By setting an automatic reward positive behavior, you increase your chances you will develop a positive habit even when the reward is removed.
Short Circuiting Negative Reinforcing Feedback Loops
For negative habits, you may have a reinforcing loop in place. If you wish to crush the negative habit you will need to eliminate the reward in the loop with something negative. For example, if you have a problem with biting your nails, putting special no-bite liquid on your nails make them taste terrible. This method takes the pleasure from biting your nails and turns it negative. Without the reward in place for the loop, there is no longer a reinforcing feedback loop in place and willpower may be enough to break the habit.
I appreciate James Clear's conclusion that the key to mastering habits involves monitoring your internal feedback loops are already in place. By doing frequent monitoring and adjusting of these loops you can crack some of the most pernicious habits and find habits much easier to build. I explore these subjects and much more in my book on habits.
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