Giving yourself better feedback

Sometimes we can get useful and impartial feedback from a friend or colleague. This feedback is necessary for continued growth, skill and ability.

Very often we have to give ourselves feedback and this is where the difficulty can arise. Suppose you’re in a situation where only the evidence of your own senses would be useful in determining whether you’re doing something correctly. In target shooting, for example, anyone can tell when you miss the bullseye – only you can tell whether you’re sighting correctly.

The trouble is that so much information is available to our senses that we have to filter out the bits that aren’t important and focus on the bits that we need right now.

Exercise – Go into another room and spend a minute noticing all of the things in there that are blue, then come straight back.

Go do it now before reading on. It’s important that you have the experience, not just the information.

Feedback loop diagram

All done?

Now take a minute to list all of the red things in that room.

I’ll bet that’s much more difficult than making a list of all the blue things. That’s just one example of how your focus can limit your awareness.

So ‘focus’ is one of our filters. Our beliefs, attitudes and values also act as filters.

Most of the time this is okay and the system works just fine. The trouble arises when the feedback we need gets ‘filtered out’ by our beliefs, attitudes, values or focus.

As an example, suppose you have the belief ‘I am good at football’. Chances are that your belief is based on, and supported by, examples of when you played football well. And in order to keep that belief in place, your reality must continue to support it. You must have some ongoing evidence when you play.

Suppose you play badly one time. Certain processes will come into play.

(i) Consistency – we all have a strong drive to have experiences that agree with each other and fit into patterns. When an experience doesn’t fit the established pattern, the natural tendency is to explain it.

(ii) Attribution – we all have a strong drive to attribute meaning to events in order to make them fit with our inner values, beliefs and attitudes. The crucial part of this process is where we attribute meaning.

So, the natural tendency is to explain the time we played a bad game. The key is, do we:

  1. attribute blame elsewhere (i.e. explain it away) or
  2. accept the feedback and improve our game as a result?

In the first case, we get explanations like

“it was just bad luck”,

“the weather was too hot/cold/rainy”,

“my teammates were at fault”,

“the referee was at fault”

and so on.

None of those explanations allows us to improve our game or learn anything new. They keep us nice and safe and comfortable – and stuck.

In the second case, we get questions like

“what do I need to do to play well in that situation?”,

“where exactly do I need to improve? ”,

“what was the key difference between that game and previous ones?”,

“how can I make sure that I play better next time I’m in that situation?”

These questions bring us outside what we normally experience and promote awareness in new areas.

In short, they focus us in areas where we’d been filtering out the information we need. Now that they’re part of our focus, the information will get through more easily and we get useful feedback.

Roesch and Amirkham (1997) found that experienced athletes made more careful attributions, giving them the feedback needed to improve their performance.

Consistency and Attribution are part of our natural mental processes.

So next time you find yourself explaining things away or placing blame elsewhere, you have a choice. You can explain it away and place blame or ask yourself questions that promote self-growth and learning.

The choice is yours.

Giving yourself better feedback by
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