There is a terrific article in the July issue of Wired Magazine about Feedback Loops. A feedback loop is a cycle that all of us experience probably hundreds if not thousands of times a day. We act, gather information or feedback about that action, and then we respond to the information we receive. You can read the entire article here. I will not delve into the science behind feedback loops, but rather share what I have taken away from this article.
The most striking thing I took from the article was this: Human beings are self regulating. This truth flies in the face of millennia of thinking regarding government, law enforcement and even religion. The philosophy that says a)Humans don’t want to change, and b)will only change when forced to, coerced to, or scared into it is simply not true. Yes, we can be lured into compulsive, even addictive behavior. Yes change is tough, but it is possible and even likely if certain key factors are in place. The first of which is information. We need to identify not only what is wrong, but what that wrong behavior is doing to us. Without data we are acting blindly and are likely to be guided by pure emotion or impulse, hence addictive behaviors. When the brain receives all relevant input it will act responsibly. Case in point: The article points out that when a utility company shared information regarding power use with its customers after the fact, power consumption at peak times was unaffected. However, when the company provided data in real time and showed the customer what their power usage was costing there was a dramatic drop off.
The second thing that struck me is this: Feedback Loops are amazingly simple. If there is a behavior you want to change the solution is really as simple as collecting data on the behavior. For instance, many dieticians will tell patients wanting to lose weight to write everything down that they eat throughout the day. The mere exercise of putting that data in front of someone will affect their behavior. Jack Welch, the former Chairman and CEO of GE said it this way, “What we measure matters.”
So given these two facts why don’t more people make the needed changes in their lives. Well one reason is, as the article points out, collecting data is cumbersome. It’s not difficult per se to write down what you eat throughout the day, but it interrupts the natural flow of life and is therefore easily forgotten. There are wonderful technology tools available and forthcoming that will make data collection easier which is good news for those seeking to make change.
Regardless of what technology brings to bear, however, I believe that this article and the science of feedback loops is good news to sufferers from compulsive addictive behaviors. Often times it can feel like an addiction controls you. You can feel totally out of control and hopeless. I testify that our Heavenly Father loves us and would not leave us without hope. He has blessed us with the most powerful computing device known in existence: The Human Brain. If we will harness the power of feedback loops and be honest with ourselves about the real costs of our behaviors we can make the changes needed to become more like Him.