The Power of Positive Feedback Loops

6th grade in an interesting time if you liked to read as a kid. It was perfectly in the middle of the days where you would LOVE to read: and reading was not considered a chore. Then came middle school and the burden of 75 minutes of reading per week took the joy out of reading.

I think this is an experience that a lot of people can relate to. It is not very common today to see kids of my age reading books for fun. Instead, we are glued to our screens distracted by the latest Netflix original, TikTok, or Youtube recommendations.

For me, 6th grade was the time I lost the joy in reading and it was all the culprit of one book: Moby Dick 🐳.

At some point in time, I had seen a list of all the most influential pieces of literature; stuff from Orwell, Dostoevsky, and the likes. One of the books on that list was Moby Dick.

I wanted to read all of the books on that list. I wanted to understand why these books were considered the best of the best.

The first “legendary” book I started reading wasMoby Dick. I knew it was a pretty big book — 600 pages long but I didn’t know how boring it was (no offense to people who enjoy Moby Dick). Whole chapters in Moby Dick are dedicated to defining whaling terminology. I remembered reading through those chapters and not understanding what the book was talking about. The language and the prose that was written in it was not comprehensible to me at the time.

I never got through Moby Dick. I finished about half of it. That first initial experience with reading influential books pushed me away from reading more. Reflecting on 6th grade at this point in life I think that experience also drove me away from reading in general.

Immediately, in this case, it looks like I have a lack of resilience or grit towards reading. And that is something I do admit. Today I believe I have grown as a person enough to overcome that barrier. But I think even having more resilience would still not negate a larger argument that I am about to make.

I am a huge proponent of positive feedback loops. A positive feedback loop is any type of activity that you receive feedback that is positive and reinforces your vigor to continue doing that activity. Feedback can come in the form of a lot of things social feedback, monetary feedback, or intellectual feedback. As long as the feedback is positive and encouraging you to continue pursuing that activity more.

I hypothesize a lot of the activities or careers we choose to do are based on our first experience with that activity and whether we received positive feedback. And if you continually/consistently receive this positive feedback that is a big incentive to go deeper into that.

Another example that is very close to me is coding. I have wanted to become a legitimate coder since I was oddly in 6th grade as well. The first language I tried to learn was Javascript. I understood the main concepts but when I tried to decipher all the errors within the code I didn’t have to motivation to go through them.

My initial experience with coding was not good. I did not receive positive feedback on it and I gave up. I would pick up coding every 6 months because I understood how valuable of a skill coding was. But all of my experiences were poor. I sincerely think if I had set up an infrastructure around me that optimized for coding I would be a technical wizard by now 😂.

There are ways to solve this problem. One is that you could short circuit this loop. If you are forced to do something by someone or have a really strong accountability culture around you those are ways to bypass negative feedback. However, there are downsides to this and if you are in a good accountability culture you could be receiving positive feedback in a different form.

Another way is to develop grit or resilience. This is something that I think is definitely important but I think is only part of the solution. If you are constantly receiving negative feedback and have to preserve through that it can be very exhausting. Also, I don’t think you can have grit in everything you do that again takes a lot of energy.

I think the solution is to engineer positive feedback loops around you. Having peers around you that give you positive feedback, having people that you respect that is above you give you positive feedback, and pursuing work that you find positive feedback in as well.

The power of these loops is that they are compounding. As you get more feedback you just continue to go deeper and deeper. The power of these loops cannot be underestimated.