Are You Using the Right Kind of Feedback?

In our local entrepreneurship Meetup group last week, we talked about goals.  This happens to be my area of research expertise, so I took the group through a goal-setting exercise.  We all left with solid goals for 2010.  There are several characteristics of good goals, but today I want to emphasize a particular one: feedback.

Feedback works to strengthen the effects of goal setting.  That is, goals without feedback do not have the same motivational power as those accompanied by regular, objective progress reports.  The mechanism responsible for the difference is goal setting itself.  When we receive feedback, positive or negative, we tend to set new goals that take our progress into account.  For example, if I want to make $20,000 more in income for 2010, and by the end of June I have already made an additional $15,000, I may want to adjust my goal upward.  Likewise, if I have only made an additional $5000, I may want to revise it downward.

It is easy in the comfort of your recliner or office chair writing out goals to think, “Well, yes.  That makes sense.  I’ll do it.”  Our subconscious minds sometimes have a different agenda, though.  Let me give you a personal example.

When my financial picture is rosy, I love to get feedback.  It is no problem for me to balance the checkbook, calculate my net worth, and make plans for increasing my wealth.  When my financial picture is thorny, I tend to put off record-keeping and planning.  The pain of acknowledging negative feedback keeps me bound up and inactive.  This is nearly always a mistake, and I would love to report that I have overcome this tendency.  I have not.  At least not completely.  Guess what happens when I let the fear of pain win?  Right.  My situation invariably gets worse.

Get used to giving yourself objective, non-judgmental progress reports.  They must be objective in the sense that they are based on facts, not guesses or fantasies.  For example, it is easy to say  you have been eating right in support of your weight-loss goal when in fact you have been a genuine threat to U.S. junk food stockpiles.  Conversely, you may think you have been pigging out when in fact you are doing fine.  Keeping records and reviewing them regularly is the only way to know for sure.

The non-judgmental part is trickier.  Sometimes we tend to draw harsh conclusions about ourselves rather than our behavior.  If I ate two pieces of cheesecake last night and had to be physically restrained from getting the third, that is not in keeping with my goal of a lean, fit body.  Saying, “That is not like me–oh well, back on course today!” is healthy.  Saying, “You worthless pig–why can’t you ever stick to your goals?” is likely to kill any motivation you had before that.  After all, a worthless pig doesn’t deserve a good life filled with meaningful achievement, right?

Building the habit of constructive feedback takes time.  When you get off course, use that information in a positive way.  Before you know it, what once was bad news will start to look like an opportunity to move closer to your goal.

____________________

Terry writes on topics of entrepreneurship and motivation.  He is also willing to be on the cover of GQ magazine if asked.

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