It’s a useful part of learning.
But it may slowing your rate of improvement.
When attempting to walk for the first time we always fall onto our backsides. And yet each time we learn something new about the skills required. We learn what worked and what didn’t.
Whatever your goal is, it is important to engage in meaningful practise. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the principles of deliberate practise.
It’s no good doing something over and over if you are doing the wrong thing, or not reflecting on your practise sessions from time to time.
I’m not just talking about sport here. We ‘practise’ interaction with someone every time we talk to them. We ‘practise’ doing our jobs everyday we sit in the office. I’m ‘practising’ writing as I type this very article.
And, as this website is about becoming your best self, we need to practise that too.
The problem with feedback
Most people review their progress using feedback.
They look at what they did, and come up with all the things that didn’t go well.
The trouble with this approach is that you may be inadvertently training your brain to repeat that pattern.
If I tell you not to think of a hairy gorilla, you immediately think of a hairy gorilla. The command ‘think of a hairy gorilla’ is in the statement, and before your brain processes the ‘not’, it has to imagine the thing it is not meant to be thinking about.
The same goes for feedback.
You’ve just been on a date and it didn’t go very well because you were nervous. During the feedback process you say to yourself:
‘I was too nervous. Next time I won’t be.’
There are 3 things wrong with this feedback:
- Just as in the gorilla example, you are training your brain to be nervous, because in order not to be, it first has to imagine you nervous. And what the brain imagines often comes true (see Psycho-Cybernetics in the Recommended Reading list for more information).
- The action is very diluted. How do you ‘be less nervous’? There are no practical steps to make this happen.
- You are focussed on the negative. Ten positive things might have happened on the date, and yet you are only choosing to focus on the bad stuff. Once again you are training your brain to EXPECT things to go wrong for you in the future.
Avoid these pitfalls by using a technique called Feedforward, instead of feedback.
What is Feedforward?
Feedforward is a subtle but important tweak on feedback. It has a deliberate structure designed to help focus on the positive, as well as what could be improved next time.
You simple answer the following three questions:
- What did I do well?
- What can I improve upon next time? (Focus on one single thing, rather than giving yourself a long list of what needs changing)
- What am I grateful for in my self?
The wording is important. Notice the phrase ‘what can I improve upon?’ rather than ‘what did I do wrong?’. To the untrained ear, they are the same, but to your brain they are very different.
The first assumes you did something well, but it just needs improving. The latter assumes you did something wrong, and that needs to change.
The first is gentle and kind to your ego and self. The second is an assault.
Also important is to write down the answers to each of these questions, and keep your notes somewhere handy. Writing is more effective than just thinking about the answers. Writing forces you to shape your thoughts in a clear and concise way that can be verbalised.
The next time you are heading into a similar situation, you review the notes to ensure you are remember what aspect you are going to work on.
Why is Feedforward better than feedback?
The Feedfoward techniques trumps feedback for a number of reasons.
- Positive sandwich. You start with the positive, then you look at something to be improved upon, and then you are back to self-gratitude. You are training your mind to focus more on the positive than the negative. We tend to remember stuff at the beginning and end of conversations, so why not make it positive!
- Visualising what went well. Simply by asking yourself what you did well, you are forcing your mind to begin visualising the good. Visualising the good tells your brain to focus on that objective, programming the auto-pilot in your head to steer you towards the outcome even when you are not consciously thinking of the goal.
- Improvements are stated positively. Rather than asking ‘What did I do wrong?’ the ‘What can I improve upon?’ question forces us to think in the positive. Rather than ‘next time I’ll be less nervous’, say ‘On dates I am calm and confident’. Stating your goal in the present tense and positively once again sets your mind off on the correct path to help achieve that. It can’t help but imagine you calm and confident just by saying these words!
- Gratitude. The final question allows you to acknowledge that despite wanting to make changes in your life, you are perfect as you are now. Yes you want to change certain aspects, but remember all the positive qualities you have and that others would love to have. This has a positive effect on your self-compassion and self-image.
When to use Feedfoward?
Use Feedforward whenever you are carrying out a task at which you want to become better. For example:
- After giving a presentation at work
- After writing an article
- After talking to someone at a networking event
- After a first date
- After having a difficult conversation with someone
- After a week of dieting
- After a tennis lesson
The possibilities are endless!
Example of the Feedforward technique
You go on a first date but afterwards you feel as though it didn’t flow as smoothly as it could have. There were some long silences and they made you feel uncomfortable.
You decided to Feedfoward in order to improve.
1. What did I do well?
- I prepared myself mentally before I went out by doing visualisation and breathing exercises
- I checked my breath before I left the house
- I greeted my date with a smile and kissed on the cheek to build rapport
- I remained calm even when I felt the date wasn’t going smoothly
2. What can I improve upon next time?
- I always go to dates with one humorous news item from the week to talk about as a backup.
(Notice how the improvement is stated in a positive way. We don’t even mention the words ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘long silences’. Plus the goal is realistic and achievable. Think SMART goals.)
3. What am I grateful for in my self?
- That I am far more relaxed now than I was a year ago
- That I was able to get a date and spend two hours in the company of a beautiful person
- That I am able to recognise where I need improvement and take steps to make it happen
Instead of using feedback to improve, use the Feedforward technique to supercharge your learning, all whilst remaining positive and recognising how brilliant you are already.
Learning this way keeps your self-image high, and is a powerful re-enforcement technique leading to rapid improvement.