Feedback Loops

fbkWhy is Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook CEO) still on top? This question fascinates me. Technology is a rapidly changing industry and social media platforms come and go quickly. After making billions of dollars, Zuckerberg still seems as passionate as ever and is still the head of his company.

I think a big reason he is relevant socially is that he was able to penetrate popular culture; however, this is not what makes him continually successful at his current company. It is that he is able to constantly evolve in the ever-changing landscape of technology. Why can he do this? He stays motivated. I’m not sure exactly how he does it, but it’s interesting to think about. I think anybody who is truly great at anything somehow stays constantly motivated. These people are able to sustain continued success, but how?

Good and bad days

Have you had a day where everything goes right for you? You know when you wake up and you look extra good? You wear your favorite clothes, your boss gives you a raise, you get an A+ on all your midterms, and that crush you had asks you out. Wouldn’t it be nice if that was every day? Well maybe you can’t wear the same clothes all the time and you would have a lot of dates to deal with.

Now, have you had a day where everything goes wrong? You fail your midterms, your significant other dumps you, and you get hit by a car. Your dreams feel like they are slipping away from you and life is tough.

Photo by aarontait on Flickr used under Creative Commons taken in Cupertino, CA

Photo by aarontait on Flickr used under Creative Commons, taken in Cupertino, CA

Most of us have a variety of days that land somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. There are times in life where things are just going good or just going bad. In sports, they usually refer to a run of success as momentum. The school of thought is that success gives confidence and other good energies, which has a snowballing effect that result in sustained success.

The antithesis is also true. For example, in baseball if a batter has a run of failure hitting the ball they call it a slump. These athletes have been hitting baseballs their entire lives, so it’s hard for me to believe that they have forgotten how to do it.

I think it’s probably a lot to do with their mental state. So could you change your mental state to fool yourself into thinking you’re on a run of success instead of a slump? Thereby ending the slump and creating successful momentum? Probably easier said than done, but might not be a bad thing to explore.

Positive and negative feedback

In biology you learn that, in our bodies, there are many molecular pathways that are regulated by positive or negative feedback loops. Basically, a product of a pathway could either signal the starting (or intermediate) molecule to increase (positive feedback) or decrease (negative feedback). It’s much more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it.

Mapping out your goals

I encourage you to write down a goal on a blank piece of paper. Make it a major goal such as what you’re going to university for. For me, it would be medical school. Other ideas would be grad school, a particular job or career path etc. Then make it like a flow chart where you place arrows to things you need to achieve your goals and different outcomes that are possible. Also, try to incorporate other goals in your life into the model until you have a page that is just a mess of arrows. Try to make the outcomes not all based on personal and professional benefit; try to include some magnanimity.

5201248853_12bede6162_z_1Then start thinking about how specific outcomes would positively or negatively impact your original goal. For things that are positive, try to chain them into more positive behaviors and outcomes. For things that are negative make sure you are honest with yourself about other negative consequences that could happen, but also try to think of positive outcomes that could divert you from a negative path. Make sure to have a contingency plan (positive outcomes) for every negative path. Try to organize your mayhem of arrows, so that it makes sense to you and then you can consult the chart at a future time.

You can get as creative with this as you want. You don’t necessarily have to make these flow charts; it could be just mentally in your head. The whole point of it is to stay motivated on an initial goal and not letting failures get in your way. If you have already thought of a plan, when bad things happen they are easier to deal with. It’s easier to get out of a slump if you already have a systematic plan of what you’re going to do if it happens. I think it’s a good exercise to consider negative outcomes if they are signs they are going to happen. For example, if you hear your company is downsizing then think about what you’re going to do if you get laid off. I think being mentally prepared for negative outcomes and having a set of behaviors to follow in order to work through this time is extremely beneficial.

On the positive side, try to chain a bunch of positive behaviors together. Then when you get one positive behavior then you can learn to amplify it into a streak of positivity. For example, when I finish a midterm or final I reward myself with fitness.

My personal philosophy is based on flexibility and fluidity in every way of thinking. And while this model seems counter-intuitive to my beliefs; it is important to have a strong base in life in order to stay motivated and make life worthwhile.

I hate thinking of life as scripts that you follow systematically to achieve desired goals, but unfortunately that’s how much of society is based. You’ll spend most of your life checking boxes of accomplishments. That’s why it’s important to have a basic plan. And while you may achieve some success adhering to it religiously, the real challenge is to continually modify it and adapt to an ever changing personal and social landscape. Once you can do that the only thing left is shifting your focus from yourself to using your success to benefit others and possibly humanity. Then the loop is truly complete.


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