Loop Back & Learn: 4 Secrets Feedback Loops Tell You about Your Goals

14 Jan

Have you ever set a goal that ended up in the discard pile? I sure have. Last year I set a goal to exercise 2 to 3 times a week. My first step in this process was to weigh in on my Wii Fit program. Yesterday when I step on the Wii to weigh in, it said “it’s been 146 days since your last visit”. 146 days! Clearly I have fallen off the wagon.

In preparing for 2015, I saw that a few of my goals were unmet. You know. They were the goals that did not make the “A” priority list. And my exercise goal was one of them. Did I throw that goal out and start from scratch? No I didn’t (…although I was tempted). Here’s what I did. I decided to revise it. To figure out what went wrong. In revising my unmet goals, I learned a practice that is crucial to achieving big goals.

I learned to use feedback loops.

At this point, your feedback probably sounds something like this:

  • Wait? How does that work?
  • Aren’t feedback loops used in communication?
  • Goals don’t talk!

You’re right. Goals don’t talk. But they do communicate. And who knows, after this post you may refer to me as the “goals whisperer.” My point is that goals do give valuable feedback. Thomas Goetz explains:

“Feedback loops provide people with information about their actions in real time, then give them a chance to change those actions, pushing them towards better behaviors” (emphasis mine).

It’s no secret that goals do not work the way we think they are going to work. And if they do, they do not work as quickly as we think they should work. If you don’t believe me, just ask the contractor of a major building project. Luckily, we can apply feedback loops to the goals that reflect your dream and see what they have to say. Here are 4 things I learned when taking the second loop with my unmet goals.

  1. Transforming dreams into goals isn’t enough.
    Dreams are motivating. They can inspire us to go above and beyond the status quo of everyday life. While transforming dreams into goal is important for achievement, that simply isn’t enough. James Clear of Entrepreneur magazine writes a great article on how good habits lead to goal achievement. Goals need to be supported by action steps, good habits and constructive behaviors.
  2. Achieving goals is about taking the right actions at the right time.
    There is a lot of buzz about goals and action. The biggest piece of advice I have heard is “just take action” or “do something”. Doing does lead to results. But how do you measure those results. Feedback loops provide you with information about whether the actions you are taking to achieve your goals are actually moving you forward. They give insight into whether you are taking the right actions. Or if you are taking the right actions at the wrong time. Perfection is not what I’m asking for. When you decide to do something new, the only way to learn some things is by experience. Fortunately we can learn from the mistakes and turn failures into successes.
  3. Actions, habits and behaviors foreshadow goal achievement.
    When you set out to achieve a goal, you are looking to change something about your life. In times of change, it is crucial to use feedback loops to collect data. This information enables you to analyze your goal and see why it’s not working the way you thought it should. It also allows you to evaluate your actions (what can I do to achieve my goals), habits (what actions can I engage in on a regular basis) and behaviors (who do I need to be to achieve this goal) to see if they align with your goals. If they do align, then you can examine how fast they are moving you forward. If they do not make the cut, then you have to tailor your actions to reach your goals faster.
  4. All goals deserve a second chance.
    So your goal didn’t make the cut. It deserves a second chance. Treating a new goal as a learning process has benefits. I learned at least two significant things from my unmet health goal just by treating the first year as a trial run. First, my goal to exercise is part of a bigger goal to be healthy. That’s my real goal. If I had thrown this goal out before taking the second loop, I would not have learned that. Second, exercising during the mid-afternoon lull gives me a lift. Anything from taking a stretch break to aerobic activity and weight lifting gets the blood pumping and helps me to regain focus.

Achieving goals is a bigger process than setting them. Picking up dreams daily is bigger than picking it up once. More than that, our unmet goals hold information that is vital to achieving them. Taking that second loop – the feedback loop – is a process that everyone needs to take. Before giving up or shelving that new goal, take the second loop and learn.


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