Nerdful Mind Logo

Negative Feedback Loops – Nerdful Mind #92

October 17, 2021 by Simon Mannes

You've either done this yourself or you know someone who does this regularly.

Engaging in a negative loop to the bottom. It goes like this:

  1. “I'll never get this done in time.”
  2. “I'm too dumb and too slow.”
  3. “Where should I even start?”
  4. “This is too hard.”
  5. Doesn't finish task, or doesn't even start.
  6. I knew it!

Negative self-talk.

Its effects are disastrous, and escaping it is hard.

What is a feedback loop? Let's look into Wikipedia:

“Feedback occurs when outputs of a system are routed back as inputs as part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop. The system can then be said to feed back into itself.” — Wikipedia page on Feedback

With a self-reinforcing negative feedback loop, you start with something seemingly small, like “this is hard”. If that makes you feel negative, the next thought is a little more negative. And with each piece in this loop, things feel more disastrous than before.

Until you're sitting there, and the thought of just starting feels horrifying.

It's like a snowball rolling down a mountain, forming an avalanche on its way down.

“Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” — Henry Ford

But there's a way out. A negative feedback loop is weaker at the beginning than at the end. The key is to catch yourself before it becomes unstoppable.

This is possible with mindfulness. During meditation, you practice seeing thoughts as they arise and letting them go. Over time, you learn to apply this in harder situations until one time you catch negative self-talk as it arises. This happens more and more often and the negative loops happen less and less.

Another key practice is positive feedback loops.

Just as negative feedback loops make it harder to achieve what you want, positive feedback loops make it easier. And they make you feel better.

One way to practice this is to take small steps and celebrate each small victory. Keep a list of things you already accomplished. Maybe get a friend involved in writing this.

You may have a harder time with this, and that's ok. If it feels too serious for you and you don't know where to get started, that's not bad. It just means you may need to talk to a professional.

Reading Recommendations

Unrushed: How to Feel More Spaciousness in Your Day, Instead of Time Scarcity

“Most people experience their day as busy, overwhelming, scattered, rushed. There isn’t enough time to do everything. There’s pressure and stress in this way of living. Now, there’s nothing wrong with experiencing life in this way. As I said, most people do it. But if you’d like a sense of spaciousness, let’s talk.”

The Status Quo Effect (Or, Pay Without Play)

“Many of us have been surprised in spite of ourselves when one day we looked up and realized that we’ve been paying for a MMO like World of Warcraft when we haven’t logged on for months. Or maybe we’re reading our e-mail and we get a cheerful note from Microsoft saying that our Xbox Live Gold account has automatically renewed and the charge applied to our credit card. And still we don’t do anything about it. Why not?”

How We Design Our APIs at Slack

1. Do one thing and do it well. When you start designing an API, it’s tempting to try and solve too many problems at once. As you try to do many things, it becomes complex and hard to understand. By picking a specific use case, you focus on a single design and keep your API simple. Simple APIs are not just easy to understand but are also easier to scale, more performant, and safer. Moreover, it’s easy to add new features to an API, but hard to remove them.”

Weekly Mindfulness Practice

This exercise works well when you're on your commute, or on your way to visit loved ones.

Turn off your smartphone. Don't listen to music.

Let go of any thoughts and follow your breath.

Simply be.

This helps you let go of stress, allowing you to arrive at your destination being fully present.

Just doing this for 5 minutes helps you get into the present moment.

End Note

If you enjoy this newsletter, please share it with someone you know. Just forward them this email.

Have a great week

Simon

PS: What do you think about this? Please hit reply and let me know. I'm curious!

Mindfulness for Developers,
Straight to Your Inbox.

One idea, three reading recommendations, and one exercise. Subscribe to my weekly newsletter. Example.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe at any time. See privacy policy.