feedback loop

Forget Resolutions, Remember This: Whatever You Do, You Will Do More Of

feedback loop
Don’t make resolutions, create feedback loops

There’s A Better Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions

I’m not a huge fan of new year’s resolutions.  They’re a psychological trap and the “New Years Resolution Industrial Complex” has rigged the whole process for recidivism.

They’re also based on false pretenses.  If you have a change you need to make then you should look to do it as fast as possible.  Don’t wait for an arbitrary date.

Instead when I model my behavior I base it around a simple principle:

Whatever I start to do, I will do more of… long as there’s a feedback loop.

This might sound like a tautology, but its usefulness lies in its subtlety.  What it really is is an observation about how your environment reacts to your presence.

When the elements around you have their own movement, three types of feedback are possible:

  • Static feedback: You act and everything else stays the same.
  • Negative feedback: You act and the environment reacts in a way to counteract what you just did.
  • Forward feedback: You act and the environment reacts in a way to make you do more of what you just did.

Reality abides by the latter two principles, but our mental models default to static feedback.

The key difference between negative and forward feedback is that negative feedback tends to present itself pretty quickly.  It’s what’s colloquially known as failure.  Forward feedback is a little more subtle because we often confuse it with static feedback while it’s happening.  That’s where you get stuck.

For example, if you’re a college a graduate you might think getting a job at the consulting firm will eventually help you save the whales because it’ll allow you to pay off your debt faster.  Then you ‘ll go change the world.  But the only outcome consulting work is probably guaranteed to get you is more consulting work.  And that’s usually what happens.

Your body works the same way.  It’s conventional wisdom that you need to eat food to feel full, but it’s now understood that the opposite often happens.  The food you eat acts like a prediction market for your endocrine system, and your body responds metabolically to either store or burn fat based on the perceived caloric content of your environment.  This means eating certain types of foods will only make your body crave them more, no matter how much you consume.

I know for me there is no amount of sweets that’ll give me a feeling of satiety.  It’s effect on my body resembles crack more than nourishment.

Recursion: The Hidden Force That Changes Everything

Recursion is what happens when forward-feedback repeats itself unabated.  It’s one of the most awesome powers in the universe.  It’s the genesis of all complex systems.  It takes many forms, and behaves amorally.  It’s like a virus: the only thing it knows how to do is repeat itself.

It’s the reason some countries are rich and others are poor, the reason institutions like slavery can persist for thousands of years, and it’s why some of us get really fat.  Obesity is a regulatory disorder that happens when our fat cells want to grow and our brain takes its marching orders and gives them what they want.  Then they grow and ask for more.

So when I plan my endeavors I try not to think about my willpower, the resources I’ll need for the finished project, or get carried away with forecasting.

At first I start with a simple proposition: what’s the easiest way I can get started?

Then I ask myself: what’s the signal?

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