In my last post on Awareness, we tried a little experience with a map. Going back to our map example, if your journey is more than just a few miles or minutes it is easy to get lost, even if you know your starting and end points. In my book I share a story about my wife and I in a foreign country trying to find our hotel with a map. The streets were designed for wagons and randomly evolved as the town grew into a large city. It took constant attention, looking at street signs, referencing back to the map, and some corrections by random but kind locals when we got off course, to eventually arrive tired, a bit frustrated, but grateful at our hotel.
The map, the street signs, landmarks, and the correction of kind pedestrians are all forms of feedback. Feedback is essential to sustain both motivation and momentum as you progress towards your goals. The natural state of things is for your energy towards your goals to be diminished by distraction (like the latest meme with millions of views) and depletion. Depletion is the idea that you only have so much energy and focus, like a rechargeable AAA battery, and if you don’t take time to recharge it you will run out of energy and your progress will stall. Feedback helps you avoid distraction and depletion.
From my book, the specific feedback you get can be either reinforcing or balancing.
Reinforcing feedback is feedback that supports, encourages, and or sustains the current path and effort. This can be like a good grade, a positive performance review, or even a kind word.
Balancing feedback has the opposite effect, it encourages you to change course, to adapt, or to even set a new goal. This can be like a bad grade, negative aspect of a performance review, or even a random negative comment. In nature balancing feedback is so important that you would simply stop functioning without it, you would die.
Reinforcing feedback is encouraging and appeals to your sense of self-worth and meaning in life. Balancing feedback on the other hand can challenge your basic psychological needs like feeling competent, directing your life, meaningful relations, and even your sense of purpose or worth. In this regard balancing feedback is much more challenging and even threatening. For these psychological reasons it is easier to ignore negative feedback.
Since feedback, particularly negative, even as challenging as getting fired, is so important I offer three thoughts that might help you process and use this equally necessary and helpful awareness building advice.
Discern: Every person is flawed, including the one providing balancing feedback. You need to discern whether the feedback is provided with intent to help, or harm. If it is to harm, you can safely ignore it. I say ignore, you might need to process some anger or fear or other emotions but do that and then move on. It is simply not worth any more of your energy or distraction.
Emotion: Since every person is flawed, you included, if the feedback is well intentioned, I urge you to recognize if it is emotionally challenging. Recognize it, and then look at the feedback without emotion, perhaps as if it were for a good friend. Seek to honestly understand the feedback without emotion and begin to ask deeper questions about it. I urge you to focus on ideas that you can do something about, that are within your control. These might include, “What did I do or not do?”, “Why did I do that?”, “Is there information here that I was ignorant of before?”, “If so, how can I ensure I don’t remain ignorant?”, and so on.
Learn: Finally, now that you have overcome the emotional reaction and understood the feedback at a personal level, learn from it and start a new behavior. This is important. You learn by the process in the previous bullet, and you reinforce that learning by implementing something new and reviewing it regularly. This fires up the amazing and natural process in your brain of building stronger mental pathways. Sustaining this process from new to when it becomes your new normal is the most challenging period. After that point you don’t even have to think about it anymore, it's in fact a part of the New You! Remember start small and be patient.
In this post and the previous one I discuss the essential nature of awareness and some common mechanisms for growing your awareness through reflection. I offer some insight on feedback to help you be more successful, more effective, and more balanced. My intent is to help you become the captain of your life. This requires awareness and a healthy relationship to feedback. If you found something useful or have something to add, please comment, I know others will benefit from your insights.
New You! Who Knew? is the new best seller from David R. Edwards. To get the book or to learn more check my website, www.davidredwards.com