Reality Check: Creating a Positive Feedback Loop

Like many of you during this wonderful time of the year, I’ve been getting plenty of opportunities to sit around watching other people work. Of course, I’m talking about being stuck in road construction lineups!

One can choose to be frustrated by construction delays, or one can choose a different response. One choice I make is to carefully observe what’s going on while I’m waiting.

Among the most visible are the flaggers, who get to spend long hours in hot sun while doing a repetitive activity.

If you also enjoy paying attention while waiting, then you know that there are a few flaggers who seem to love their jobs. For example, one guy smiled at me, waved, and said, “Have a great day.” Lest you think I’m special, I should point out that he treated everyone—other motorists and the people he was working with—with the same pleasant manner.

How do people respond to him? As you would expect: with smiles, friendly waves, and pleasant comments.

When this guy gets finished with his shift, how do you think he feels? Pretty good? Or lousy? Invigorated? Or tired and worn out? Appreciated? Or hard-done-by?

I suspect that he feels pretty good about his day’s work, his interactions with people, and his life in general.

So the positive approach he takes to his work not only makes the delay more pleasant for the travelling public, it also makes his own life more pleasant.

Technically speaking, positive feedback is what you have when an output “feeds back” in a way that encourages more of the same to happen.

In this case, the friendly behaviour on the part of the flagger provides a more pleasant experience for others. That friendliness gets reflected back to the flagger; he is encouraged to continue doing what he is doing. Essentially, he has created a positive feedback loop.

Positive feedback is helpful when you want to encourage more of the same behaviour, even in yourself. The idea of “rewarding yourself” when you achieve a desired goal is exactly that: providing positive feedback to yourself.

Now, consider the multitude of flaggers who don’t seem to enjoy their work at all. When they stare at the pavement, avoiding any eye contact with what they may perceive as an impatient line of frustrated drivers, what feedback do they receive?  It’s likely not positive.

Feedback, whether positive or negative, simply provides information. The information that positive feedback provides is, “Keep doing what you are doing,” or, “Do more of what you are doing.” Negative feedback, on the other hand, says, “Make a change.”

Making effective choices relies on developing the ability to figure out when to continue doing what we have been doing or when we should make a change.

Both positive and negative feedback provide essential information for us. How we choose to interpret and act on that information has a huge impact on whether we feel satisfied in our lives or feel that the world is against us.

Are you aware of the feedback that you give and receive? How do you choose to act on it?

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