Negative Feedback

This week, I entered the realm of online dating. It struck me that I wanted more romance in my life, but didn’t really know how to go about finding it. So I started an OK Compu – err, OK Cupid profile. I spent Sunday doing little but that (I was bedridden, okay?!). Turns out, it’s a great learning tool for figuring out what I want in a relationship. I’ll get to that in a bit, but first: more from Maxwell Maltz and Psycho-Cybernetics!

Maltz discusses the human brain/body as a ‘servo-mechanism‘, a fancy term for a simple robot. There are two types of servo-mechanism, which are defined by what their goal is. They either A) have a target and must seek it out, or B) have no target and must find a target. A heat-seeking missile might display both routines. No target – scan for heat signatures. Found no heat signatures? Carry on and try again. Found a heat signature? Good. Mission accomplished. Now on to the new mission.

It does its job using a principle called Negative Feedback. Every so often it performs a check: am I moving toward my new target? If yes, carry on. If NO, adjust course. It’s logical. Of course, we all learn from our mistakes, no surprise. The difference for us is humans can store infinite negative AND positive feedback and draw on the memories of those in later situations.

In fact, we must go through this process for every single thing we do in life, ever. Our Spirit (“operator”, in Maltz terms) wants to do something, but it doesn’t know how. So, it tries. It fails. It puts the experience in the “how not to do this” pile and tries again. We see this in babies trying to grab stuff. It sees something on the table. It has no idea what its muscles are supposed to do so it uses a bunch of them and punches Mommy in the face. Okay, no, more to the left. Too far, now to the right a little more BAM nailed it. From now on I know how to grab things that are sitting on the coffee table while on the couch. Now it has a successful attempt in its memory, and it will draw on that in the future.

This is how we get good at things – but, the fact that we draw on positive feedback when we want to do something can be a pitfall. People who have only had toxic relationships are going to continue having toxic relationships, because, hey, it was a relationship, and it didn’t start out toxic. They know they can get that specific type of person, so they will continue seeking them out. Other types of people (ie not jerks) seem to them out of the realm of possibility.

If I practice a piece wrong a thousand times over, it’s ingrained in my muscle memory as “the way it’s played” and even when someone tells me I’m wrong I’m still going to do it that way, until I make the conscious effort to do it right a bunch of times, effectively saving over the old memory. Given a limited amount of positive feedback, one’s options are limited. But getting more is hard, it means trying new things, which means negative feedback, which feels bad. We need to get out there and make more mistakes.

So that’s what online dating is doing for me. Currently, I have no goal. Or, maybe my spirit knows exactly what I want but I don’t have words or ideas to represent that so I have to build up a store of what I don’t want in order to find what I do. So I browse profiles. I go through scenarios in my head based on their profiles – is the type of relationship they are looking for something like what I’m looking for? Would I be happy with this person? These thought experiments become more accurate as I start messaging people. If they don’t answer, well, I guess not. If they answer, we get chatting (or we don’t – that’s a whole other lesson), I get a better picture of what this person is like. Is this the type of person I can spend a lot of time with?

Selective is not something I have been in the past. I have had an image of myself as having very limited choices, so I go with anyone I can, for as long as I can stand to. I need to Fail Faster. Up to now, I have been failing slower and slower, and it sucks for everyone. I need to recognise when a connection is not going to work, and nip it in the bud.

To those concerned I will turn into a “ladykiller,” fear not. I will be smart, compassionate, and patient. If I follow my heart, listen to its rhythm, and love myself, and extend my love in all directions, as we all should, things will be aces.

So, thanks for reading – and go make some mistakes, dammit!



2 thoughts on “Negative Feedback

  1. Enjoyed this post. Hope you enjoy the process of on-line dating. I know lots of people who haven’t, but they’ve mostly been women. It’ll be interesting if it works better from a man’s point of view.


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