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In The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson taught that “feedback is the breakfast of champions”. If you want to become more successful, you have to consciously look for feedback. You need to know when you’re doing well or when you’re doing badly, and then adjust accordingly. Over time, continuously adjusting and refining your work will improve your skills and increase your chances of succeeding at whatever you need to do, whether it’s something in your personal life, financial life, relationships, business, career, or something else.
Self-Improvement Basics: How to Use Feedback to Get Better at Anything
According to the dictionary, feedback is defined as “information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement”. There is positive feedback which tells us when we’re doing well, and there’s negative feedback which tells us when we’re doing badly. If we want to get better, we’ll need to learn how to use both.
There are many sources of feedback, but sometimes it’s difficult to take note of them unless we know where to look. Here’s a few examples of where to get feedback.
Feedback from Yourself
Have you ever felt pain while exercising or training? Pain in your muscles while lifting weights can mean that you’re training your muscles well, while severe pain in your joints is a very bad sign and it could mean that you’re injuring yourself through improper form or techniques.
How about your general health? Climbing a few sets of stairs or jogging for a few minutes without getting winded is a good sign, but getting tired after a short walk and having high blood sugar and cholesterol levels are bad ones.
Your “instincts” or “gut feelings” can give very valuable feedback too. Have you ever questioned someone and felt that they were somehow lying? Have you ever walked around a dangerous neighborhood and noticed some suspicious people hanging around or following you? Your subconscious mind gives warning signals whenever something isn’t right, and it’s best if you don’t ignore it.
If you want to learn more about those, you can try reading Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley and Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life by Jason Hanson. I really recommend that you read those as part of self-improvement is protecting yourself from all sorts of danger.
Feedback from Your Results
Like reviewing your grades in school, looking at your own results in life is another valuable source of feedback. Are you stuck in your current position and salary in the company? That’s a form of feedback. Either you’re not working well enough so your salary doesn’t improve, your current workplace is toxic and there is no progress, or something else. What about your relationships? Are you attracting friends, or are they avoiding you? Do people enjoy your company, or do they chat for a while and find an excuse to leave? Do people like you because you’re honest, or do they avoid you because you might be conveniently “forgetting” about debts or you only contact people when you want something?
Your results in life, what you’ve achieved, what you haven’t YET achieved, and the mistakes that you habitually make, are all valuable forms of feedback and they’ll tell you exactly which parts of your life are working and which ones aren’t. Learn to read the signs, and adjust your actions and habits accordingly.
Feedback from the Environment
Sometimes our environment will tell us whether things are going well, or when things are about to get worse. For example, take a look around your house. Are there leaks or severe rust in your indoor plumbing? Does water drip from your ceiling when it rains? Does your phone or computer start slowing down or crash? Life’s warning signs are a good form of feedback and you better fix problems before they become even worse financial emergencies.
Aside from those, check out the world around you. Are there drastic changes in your current work environment? Is the company you’re working at losing profits and customers to rival companies? Do your bosses seem more and more troubled whenever they talk to you and your team? It could be a sign that your job is in danger and you might need to prepare for emergencies. That’s just one example. You can sense a lot of other things in life and you have to learn to correctly interpret what’s happening around you.
Feedback from Professionals
Can you remember the days when you took tests in school? You got a point for every correct answer, and no points for wrong answers. By checking your scores, you get to see how good or bad you are at certain subjects. At that point, it’s your teacher’s job to teach you how to do better at things like reading, writing, math and others, and it’s your job to study and improve your skills and try to increase your scores.
You probably weren’t that good at reading, writing, and math at the start (like during kindergarten), but with practice, you got good enough to function in society. Can you imagine shopping at a supermarket without learning how to count your change or how to check if you have enough money to get what you want to buy? That would be bad. Thankfully, your teachers corrected you when you were wrong and gave points and praise when you got things right.
School isn’t the only place where we can learn new skills and gather feedback. There are other places and people we can learn from as well. If we want to improve at sports, we learn from and listen to our coaches. If we want to improve our health, we listen to the feedback of doctors, nutritionists, and personal trainers. If we want to improve in our career, business, and more, we listen to experts in those fields.
Feedback from Customers
Some time ago I used to answer receipt surveys from coffee shops to get free food. Those surveys usually ask what I ordered, how clean the shop was, how the employees treated me, and more. While those are most likely stunts to turn people into repeat customers, they are also great ways to know how the stores can improve themselves. After all, if a thousand people give a low rating to a shop’s cleanliness, it might be a good idea for them to hire some full-time janitors.
If you’re a business owner, giving surveys isn’t the only way to receive some feedback from your customers. Observe carefully the things people buy, when they buy them, and how often. You might want to move fast-selling and profitable items to the front. For products that don’t sell, you can probably sell them at a discount on sale days.
Observe how people react to any changes in your products as well. Promote its benefits if people like it, or downplay it or change it back if people seem to hate it. Sales and profits worsening is a valuable form of feedback as well, and take note of the reason why. Is it because of a rival business, your employees slacking off in service because you’re not leading well enough, or is it something else?
If sales are improving, find out why. Is it because your product can be used in a completely different way like how coke can be used to clean sink drains? Try to promote that somehow, like posting it as a viral video on sites like Twitter or Facebook.
Taking note of your customers’ habits and tweaking your business according to what they want or need is a great way to improve your operations and increase your profits. If you want to learn more about the mentality of finding the best ways to improve your business, try reading Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday.
Take Note: Not All Feedback is Good
Would you try to get a medical checkup from a street drunk instead of a doctor? Would you have a lawyer review your building’s blueprints instead of architects and engineers? You probably won’t.
Not all feedback may be good. Sometimes people don’t know enough about something and they give wrong ideas, sometimes people give negative feedback just to hurt you emotionally, and sometimes people feed wrong ideas if it will make you act the way they want to. After all, salesmen would always answer yes whenever you ask if you need their products.
Aside from that, our interpretation of things can often be wrong. For example, if your boss chooses to promote someone else instead of you, it doesn’t always mean that your boss is evil or that your coworkers are backstabbing you. It’s possible that while you’re still a valued employee, the coworker who got promoted was simply better for the position than you are.
Everything we do has consequences. We can change how we act, but we can’t change the consequences of our actions. After all, planting rice seeds gives rice, while planting poisonous plants gives poison.
If we want to get the results we want, we have to continuously check the feedback or the short-term results that we receive from everything that we do, and then see if it’s still pointing to what we want in the long run. If we want to improve until we succeed at the things we desire, we have to keep making sure that we’re going in the right direction.