Spiral Graph

Spiral Graph

I want to talk a bit more about positive feedback loops. I touched on the idea in yesterday’s post and I’ve been thinking more about it today because I’m in a downward spiral at the moment.

Here’s a terrific definition of a positive feedback mechanism:

“the enhancement or amplification of an effect by its own influence on the process that gives rise to it.”

The Internet*

Here are some examples of positive feedback mechanisms.

  • Warming causes the reduction of ice and snow covering the planet which causes warming because there is less white snow and ice reflecting heat and light away.
  • If you enjoy playing music you play more which increases your skill which makes you enjoy playing music more so you play more.
  • Panicked cows start running which panics other cows who start running which panics more cows.
  • Smiling at someone causes them to smile back which causes you to smile.
  • Drinking leads to physical, social and psychological effects that stress out the drinker that leads to more drinking.
  • Sleeping in makes it harder to go to bed early which leads to sleeping in.

As you can see, positive feedback mechanisms can be good or bad. The word positive in this context means additive rather than good. Of course this is very different from the positive feedback you get from someone who reads your blog and likes it. That’s a separate animal altogether.

But enough about cows, let’s talk about me. This is my blog, after all!

Positive feedback loops can be good or bad and the effects tend to grow.. If they are good they lead to an upward spiral. If they are bad they lead to a downward spiral.

Obviously we want to encourage upward spirals and discourage downward spirals.

I am experiencing two spirals right now. My first downward spiral looks like this:

  • I don’t sleep well.
  • I have less energy and/or I get up late so I have less time.
  • To compensate for less energy I drink coffee.
  • Because I have less energy and time I forgo exercise and meditation.
  • Because I drink coffee and sleep in AND because I don’t exercise and meditate I don’t sleep well.

My second spiral is related and intertwined with the sleep spiral:

  • I feel overwhelmed with stuff to do.
  • I don’t make a plan to get things done because I feel overwhelmed and exhausted (see above).
  • I don’t get things completed.
  • Things pile up and I feel overwhelmed with stuff to do.

Underlying both these spirals is a very simple, universal positive feedback mechanism that can go either way for everyone.

Keeping My Word

  • Say I’ll do something (even to myself)
  • Do it
  • Define myself as someone who keeps their word


  • Say I’ll do something
  • Don’t do it
  • Define myself as someone who doesn’t keep their word

It’s very clear that I need to break these spirals as soon as possible. I have a huge number of exciting projects on my plate. If some of them work out it could change my life. On the other hand I have tremendous responsibilities that I need to take care of. If I ignore those responsibilities it could change my life in a bad way. I have my own business and I don’t have a source of income that keeps coming in if I relax.

In other words, getting out of this downward spiral feels like a matter of self definition. Getting back into an upward spiral could be profoundly transformative for me and my family.

The first step in the three simple steps is to Step Back. In this case create a goal. My goal is to get better sleep and be more effective.

The second step is to Step Up. Take responsibility and create accountability. To this end, I’ve created a page on this site (I call it Life Graph) to keep track of the vital inputs to better sleep and measure my effectiveness.

The third step is to Step Forward. That means taking action. So I’m going to take action by keep my Life Graph updated and doing what I say I’m going to. Today I’m going to meditate for at least 20 minutes and exercise for at least 30.

The new step is to STEP OUT. This means talking to people and getting help. It also means getting out of your comfort zone and celebrating victories. Today I will talk to at least 3 people about this issue.

Thanks for reading! Hope this is as helpful to you as it was to me.

*This definition shows up when I google positive feedback and when I look for it the first 20 links are to a site call quizlet which provides flashcards for students. It also shows up in a few bio texts. I like to give accurate citations when I can but in this case it seems impossible (or harder than I’m willing to work).

If you got something out of this, please share with your friends!

Leave a Reply