How to use positive feedback loops to improve your life

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Kevin Mangelschots

Both positive and negative feedback loops, can be used in order to improve one’s life.

Feedback mechanisms can be applied to biological, mechanical and natural processes. But for the sake of keeping it precise and simple, we’ll only be talking about psychological feedback systems today.

Let’s explore how to use positive feedback loops in order to improve your life.

How can we use a positive feedback loop to improve our lives?

Multiple possible questions being written on a wooden board.

If we know that we can use the positive feedback loop to make small, incremental changes for the better, then we can use this mechanism in order to create a snowball effect to improve our lives at a rapid pace.

For example, if we compliment ourselves if we stop drinking and reward ourselves in the sense of a material reward like for example a present, then we are more likely to repeat this behavior in the future. Thus, it makes us less likely to drink again in the future.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What is a feedback loop?

Image of a circle of arrows with the word “feedback” in the middle.

A feedback loop can be defined as a system where outputs are fed back into the system as inputs, effecting the succeeding processes of that system by increasing or decreasing effects.

These mechanisms thus allow us to maintain or move further away from homeostasis.

Common synonyms are feedback system or feedback mechanism.

What is a positive feedback loop?

A person holding a question mark in front of their face.

A positive feedback loop is a self-enduring pattern of investment behavior where the end result builds upon and enlarges the initial act, which in turn exacerbates the effects of a small disturbance.

In other words, a change in a given direction causes extra change in the same direction.

This means that a positive feedback mechanism tends to accelerate it away from homeostasis/equilibrium. 
 

What is a negative feedback loop?

A negative feedback loop can be defined as the process of feeding back to the input of a system’s output. As a result, this will turn back the direction of the output. This process will often times, though not always, cause a decrease in function. This pattern happens in response to a stimulus.

In layman terms, this means that a negative feedback system that causes a change in a given direction will cause a change in the reversed direction as a result.

This means that the feedback of this particular loop tends to stabilize the system as a whole. Helping it to return to equilibrium or also called, homeostasis.

Positive feedback loop examples

The word “example” written in red letters on a white background.

Example 1

Let us assume Bob is living a sedentary lifestyle. He’s got a sedentary profession at a desk at work and when he’s home, he’s often found in the couch in front of the TV.

One day, Bob ponders and decides that he wants to make a change for the better. Thus, he decides to go to a gym in order to work out.

The initial stimulus is working out for the first time. In return, endorphins get released, which can be considered our ‘happiness’ hormone. Furthermore, he gets compliments from other gym members because he started working out and thus, he starts to get more confident and happy with his life.

Because those endorphins get released, and he’s getting compliments from the people surrounding him, he is feeling better about himself, he feels rewarded and as a result, continues to work out and improve his health and physique.

This means that his initial workout, and consequently the praise he got propelled him further in that same direction of continuing to work out more in the future, and will continue to do so. This is an example of a positive feedback loop at play.

Example 2

A full glass of beer.

Bob enjoys drinking beer a lot. At first, he only drank in the weekends. But since he likes alcohol that much, which is no surprise since it releases endorphins, he started drinking during the week as well.

Not only is he drinking more frequently, but a larger amount as well. That’s the result of getting positive emotions from the alcohol.

Obviously, this is detrimental to his physical and mental health. Not to mention that he’s gaining a lot of weight as well.

Negative feedback loop examples

Image of the word “example” being written with a blue marker by someone's hand.

Example 1

Let’s use Bob again as an illustration.

Let’s assume Bob is living a sedentary lifestyle. He’s got a sedentary profession at a desk at work and when he’s home, he’s often found in the couch in front of the TV.

One day, Bob ponders and decides that he wants to make a change for the better. Thus, he decides to go to a gym in order to work out.

The initial stimulus is working out for the first time. But instead of being rewarded, Bob feels like he is being punished because the other gym members are laughing at him because he’s quite overweight and can’t lift as much weight as the rest of the gym goers.

Instead of continuing to work out, Bob gets demotivated and quits working out. Furthermore, he gets so down on himself that he decides to be even less active at home and continues to watch even more TV. This means he effectively got in worse shape than he was before.

This means that despite the initial stimulus to work out and improve his health/physique, he started going in the other direction and thus, gets in even worse shape than he already was.

Example 2

Image of a bottle that fell over with multicolored pills falling out.

Another possible example of a negative feedback system could be giving a person suffering from alcoholism a pill which induces hangover like symptoms each time he/she drinks in order to reduce/stop that person from drinking alcohol.

The stimulus is the pill, which induces hangover like symptoms each time the person suffering from alcoholism drinks alcohol. This will in turn lead to that person drinking less and less alcohol because he/she associates drinking alcohol with feeling sick and having hangover like symptoms.

That person will then start to develop a decreased desire to drink alcohol in the future because he/she starts to associate alcohol with hangover like symptoms.

When this process is repeated consistently and for a long enough time, this negative feedback mechanism can effectively be used in order to stop a person stopping from alcoholism from drinking alcohol.

Final note

Both positive and negative feedback loops can be used to improve one’s life.

We can use both mechanisms in order to create a snowball effect that improves our lives at a fast pace.

After a while, these systems become habits which makes us able to perform them without thinking or putting in conscious effort.