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Use Feedback Loops in Your Improvement Journey

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Use Feedback Loops in Your Improvement Journey

Scott Miker

Feedback loops are a systems concept where you have an outcome from a system being put back into the input of the system.  This tends to reinforce the system or keep it balanced.

There are two different types of feedback loops with several variations of each.  Each can be used in designing the systems and habits of your life.  But you have to understand each and understand how they can be used to gain the most from them.

The first type is the balancing feedback loop.  This keeps the system at equilibrium.  It could be looked at as a cooling system for an engine.  As the engine works harder and harder it heats up.  The cooling system cools down the engine so it doesn’t overheat.  This balancing feedback loop takes output (heat) and puts it into the input of the cooling system to keep the engine at a certain temperature range. 

The second type of feedback loop is the reinforcing feedback loop.  This is when the output gets put back into the input and keeps going and going, growing at each rotation.  An example of this could be to take the profit from an investment and put it back into the investment to make it more valuable and more profitable.  As you do this over and over the investment grows and grows. 

When you start out making changes to the systems in your life, you will likely notice that you are making some drastic change to the systems.  You likely try different tactics in order to find out what works.

But over time, when you start to build solid systems, you don’t need as drastic change.  You can start to make slight adjustments to the systems.  You keep monitoring them but you don’t need to redesign the systems every day. 

In Work the System, author Sam Carpenter says, “With the Work the System method, the percentage of time and effort extended fixing systems decreases with time, while the percentage of time and effort expended on improving systems, what I call ‘tweaking,’ increases with time.  Since much of the recaptured time and energy is reinvested in refining more subsystems, the primary system becomes ever more efficient and powerful.  This is the ‘cycle of increasing returns.’”

The cycle that he references is the feedback loop.  As you improve the outcome (a better you) then goes back into the input as the knowledge, motivation, experience etc. to keep improving.  This generates greater improvement at each rotation. 

This is why the systems and habits approach to improvement is so powerful.  It isn’t because it will instantly transform you overnight (because it won’t).  It is because it uses time as leverage to build the right systems and habits and constantly tweaks them to make them better and better.

With better systems and habits, you will start to produce better and better outcomes.  As you do, you will be better equipped to be able to adjust the systems for greater success and happiness.  The more you do, the more they do for you.   

Using the systems and habits approach to improvement, you will also use balancing feedback loops.  In your systems design you can create ways to make sure you maintain at certain levels.  The set the minimum technique is one way of doing this. 

This involves setting a very small amount to do every day.  It allows you to have off-days without completely ending the system.  It allows the system to keep going even if it doesn’t increase for the moment.  It helps when motivation wanes but you have to keep going before the habit is solid. 

You can use the power of feedback loops and systems thinking to improve your life.  It might take time, and a lot of tweaking, but eventually you will see the great benefits of this type of approach.