Feedback is very important in life. Because the human self-reflection capacity is generally very limited, we need feedback from others all the time, in every area of our lives.
We need our boss or peers to tell us which traits we need to change in our professional life. We need our significant other to tell us that we are either over-caring, or not caring enough.
If you’ve ever played a team sport, you have probably gotten lots of feedback from your team members as well, which is good. Feedback helps us see things that we could have never discovered by ourselves.
But the thing is here; if you are setting your own goals and no one else is there to provide you with some useful feedback, how do we make sure that we don’t fall into the traps that our lack of self-reflection causes?
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
This can be done by developing a system in which you get the most objective and direct feedback out there. You get this feedback from seeing whether you’ve achieved the goals that you’ve set for yourself.
Let me illustrate this technique with an example. Let’s say you want to go for a jog three times a week, for at least 30 minutes per run. You can either write this down, or enter it into your digital system or whatever system you use to ensure you stay on track. For instance, I always put a check-mark behind my goals or activities when I’ve fulfilled them and a cross if I didn’t. By doing this, I can easily add up all the check-marks and tell whether I’m on track at the end of the week.
Pillars of this Self-Discipline Technique:
Research that has been done in the field of operant conditioning shows us there are a couple of important elements when it comes to learning a new behaviour:
Step 1: We need positive reinforcement (i.e. rewards) for positive behaviours and bad behaviours must be punished.
Step 2: The sooner the feedback follows the activity, the more effective it is. Make the reward immediate!
So for your daily or weekly goals, make sure there is a reward or punishment coupled to them. The reward doesn’t have to be that exuberant and the punishment doesn’t have to be too severe. Just make sure that they are appropriate and don’t go against the goals you’re trying to reach. For instance, if you’ve managed to stay clear from alcohol for a week, obviously, don’t reward yourself with a beer.
The same goes for dieting. Make sure the reward or punishment is not directly food related because this might throw your diet off balance. Buy yourself a new pair of jeans instead of a chocolate fudge brownie. In short:
Step 3: Make sure the reward (or punishment) is appropriate
Let’s stick to the example of jogging three times a week. You’ve set your weekly goals on Sunday evening. (This is what I usually do) Now if you’ve managed to go for a jog on Monday morning right away, you’re off to a good start.
As soon as you enter your room after the jog, make sure you put a check-mark behind your daily goal or weekly goal. This depends on how you’ve organized your goal setting system of course. Having this check-mark on the paper is a reinforcing activity in and of itself. It is very rewarding and stimulating and some people don’t even need a reward besides their own check-mark.
An example of a reward in this case can be that you allow yourself to watch your favourite show for an hour with some nice food and a can of Coke. Other examples include: taking a nice hot bath, going out for ice-cream with friends (without feelings of guilt!), going out for dinner with your spouse or doing exactly what you want to do for the rest of the day. Remember, don’t exaggerate!
If you decide that it is more useful in your scenario to punish yourself, make sure you’re not too hard on yourself. This might evoke negative feelings towards your goal, which can make you give up your goal altogether. As for me, rewards work better than punishments but it all depends upon the situation.
To sum up:
The next time you achieve your goal (or sub-goal), have a check-mark behind the goal, reward or punish yourself immediately and appropriately.
If you had to remember only one thing from this article, remember the check-marks behind the goals that you wrote down. It’s a really powerful stuff.