Leading Change Series: Feedback Matters

Feedback Matters.

If you don’t know how you’re going, then you don’t know how you’re going! It is important to pulse, check and monitor your progress. In fact, this is key to making behavioural change that lasts. For example, without even trying, simply tracking how much exercise you do actually leads to healthier exercise patterns. Monitoring is important in helping you to target efforts effectively. It also serves a motivational role allowing you to appreciate your gains and to see what others see. Monitoring does not need to be onerous. It just needs to happen. Slow adjustments in a change process are acceptable but the same change made dramatically can be a bit more difficult to swallow. Paradoxically, people might ‘forget’ to exercise or, for example, go back to smoking, because they cannot see the change in their current self as it has developed in small steps and iterative adjustments while they have been practicing their new behaviours. The art seems to be in striking the balance between setting small, achievable steps and mirroring the importance and overall magnitude of the changes taking place, so that motivation to keep practicing is maintained. However, there is also some evidence that radical, sweeping, comprehensive changes are often easier for people than small, incremental ones. For example, people who make moderate changes in their diets get the worst of both worlds: they feel deprived and hungry because they are not eating everything they want, but they are not making big enough changes to see quick improvement in how they feel, or in measurements such as weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Yet, heart patients who go on tough, radical programs see quick, dramatic results, including a major decrease in frequency of chest pain in the first month. As Dr Dean Ornish, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute, in Sausalito, California found: “These rapid improvements are a powerful motivator. When people who have had so much chest pain that they can’t work, or make love, or even walk across the street without intense suffering find that they are able to do all of those things without pain in only a few weeks, then they often say, ‘These are choices worth making’.” Seeking multiple sources of feedback is also critical. This can include information and feedback from others (called ‘construct validity’, because it collects information about how we act and appear to others). From such data, it is possible for you to work towards forming a validated self-image – whereby you can more accurately see yourself as others see you; or at least give you a choice about how and when you reveal yourself. Other sources of insight can come from various psychological tests that deal with values, philosophy, traits and social motives, learning type, preferences and personality. Providing a psychologically safe place for such exploration is important and may greatly enhance your understanding of your true self.