Often I lose sight of my longterm goal (to thrive) to make room in my psyche for my short term survival goals related to preventing self harm. Realized this morning that this behavior only “positively” feedbacks into the distress itself—that giving a measured quantity of attention toward thriving will better dampen the distress in the long run. (We call this dampening “negative” feedback in control engineering—the terms don’t sound intuitive: In engineering, “negative” feedback is the good kind of feedback when you want to keep something stable ! See the bottom of this post for pictorial examples of the two types of feedback).
So on that note, here are two ways I’m directing attention toward thriving:
Mindfulness proves a well-known strategy for improving mental health . However, the only mindfulness activity that has ever worked for me so far is live performance, whether music or giving a speech. So to increase my mindfulness time, I plan to increase my stage time.
Moreover, I plan to add a mindfulness component to my instrumental practice time. (This has never worked in the past—I become too distracted, but I’m confident I can substantially improve the skill this time). So I’m going back to basics: Fingering exercises on my sitar and basic stick technique on my new drum set. I’m relatively new to both instruments so think that the activity of building mindfulness skill as part of building my instrumental skills will complement each other well.
Inventory of successes: I’ve always been one to count my blessings, but now I’m adding a weekly inventory of each week’s successes. Writing them down. Makes me feel great. Directs my emotions toward states that permit delivery of energy toward thriving!
An Example of Each Type of Feedback Loop
Just extra credit for ambitious readers…
This image comes from . The top part shows how negative feedback keeps a basic ecological system stable. Similar negative feedback loops regulate serotonin production by the brain , a key process in stabilization of mental health.
The second part shows how positive feedback causes both system variables, success and motivation, to feed each other’s growth. A mental health example: Consider a system containing only the two variables “mania” and “lack of sleep”. In a person with bipolar disorder, one will feed expansion of the other. This effect is known as “snowballing” by systems scientists; as a snowball rolls down a hill it gets larger, and as it gets larger, its capacity for adding snow increases so it gets larger still.