Positive Feedback Loop

Today I am going to talk about a positive feedback loop. If you don’t already know about this term, you definitely already know what it means. A positive feedback loop is defined as, ‘The output of the system stimulates the system in such a way as to further increase the output.” What?

I hate dictionary definitions. That sentence means nothing to me. But, here is an example of a feedback loop. A man (let’s call him Steve) goes into a bar and has a few drinks. He is buzzed and feels it is time to go home. Then, his crazy, drunk friend stumbles into the bar and wants Steve to stay and drink. They stay up and drink shot after shot of everclear, Steve blacks out and wakes up on his front stoop.

Steve wakes up with a pounding headache, extreme thirst, and a feeling of death (what we call a hangover). This is normal, what goes up, must come down. But Steve then has a genius idea! “What if I were to drink now, then I wouldn’t feel hungover!” So Steve has a few more drinks and feels better. The problem is, Steve must constantly drink in order to avoid the painful hungover feelings. But Steve is just delaying the inevitable. He must eventually feel the bad feelings, but he is stuck in the loop. This makes it even harder to get out of the loop. So round and round he goes, every day making the future worse. Sound familiar?


How to Stop the Loop

  1. Identify the loop- Obviously, you can’t change what you don’t see. So you need to identify the positive feedback loop. If you keep getting the same results, if nothing seems to be changing, then you are probably in a loop.
  2. Change the variables- This one is easy to understand. Very hard to do. But you guys will rock it. It means to slowly change the variables in order to create long-lasting shift in behavior. For Steve, this would mean cutting down the number of drink he has in a slow manner. If he were to cut them all out at once, he would just go right back into the same habits. It’s too much change, and may cause him to fear changing the variables again. So Steve should have one less drink a night for a couple weeks, get used to it, then have one less again for a period of time.
  3. Create coping techniques-  It is important to write these techniques down and memorize them. this will make them easier to deal with in the moment. This is about writing down clear actions to take for certain situations where you may be tested. Now, feedback loops in humans are normally complex, and everyone is different. Maybe Steve gets lost in his own head, and he resorts to a drink to deal with it. Next time this happens, he can identify it, and choose to focus on the sensation of his breath instead.

I thought this was interesting, and it relates not only to man different situations in anyone’s life, but especially in substance abuse and those in sobriety. I honestly just read about this today, and am going to use it myself. Hopefully you learned something. Peace and love.


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