Judgment Day

We debrief extensively. We go through every single flight, every turn. What did you do here? What cues were you using, how did you do that, how did you make the airplane do that? And we try to learn from each experience. The reason we all do that in peace time is so that we know we’re as competent as anybody can be so that if we have to go fight with those things, we’re better than anybody else. (Elite Fighter Pilot)

How do we get feedback on our performance, and how do we make that feedback actionable?  Patting ourselves or someone else on the back and saying, “Good job!”, when we both know it wasn’t doesn’t do anyone any good.

We need to be weighed in the balance.  We need an honest evaluation of our performance, the bad with the good, in order to get better.

For me, it helps to have a partner or coach, or even better, a community of practice.  I need people who watch me perform, who are knowledgeable in my area of performance, and whom I trust and can be vulnerable with.

It’s often hard to see ourselves in an objective light.  It is helpful, if painful, to see our performance through the eyes of others.

At the same time watching them perform, or listening to their ideas of how an expert ought to perform, can teach us what to practice, how to practice, and how to perform better.

The pain of evaluation leads to the joy of success.

Seeking Feedback

The feedback we can give ourselves is limited by our perspective.  The light of our own knowledge and understanding casts shadows that only the light from another consciousness can see into.

Even something as seemingly objective as “doing 21 pushups” might be seen differently in the eyes of a personal trainer than from our own perspective down on the floor counting them off.

Sometimes just getting a fresh pair of eyes to look at a problem, a process, or an impression of me can provide an immediate epiphany or insight.

So if we really want to improve our practice, we are going to want to seek out others to provide us with feedback on what we’re doing, hopefully from someone who has already mastered what we ourselves are trying to master.

Depending on the degree of technical expertise required this can be fairly hard to do.  Do we go to school, hire ourselves a teacher, or seek out a mentor?  Sometimes I find it more helpful to talk with another practitioner, some like myself who is on the practice path to mastery.

Particularly in the realm of interpersonal relationships, getting outside feedback is critical to improving our ability to listen, to speak, and to be empathic.  In fact, relating to others is a hard thing to practice alone.

When you ask for feedback, expect a bitter draft.  Others see our faults more readily than we do.  And people speak more readily of things negative than they do the positive.  Even so, accept it gratefully knowing you can improve your practice and your relationships thereby.

Don’t try to justify yourself, or take insult at faults found.  Remember that you asked for it, and that the critic has blessed with feedback as well as criticism.  Only let it reflect on your behavior and not on yourself.  If you’ve performed poorly, it is behavior that can be changed and improved; it does not mean you are a bad person.

Building Better Feedback

The main purpose of feedback is to provide corrective action to behavior required to achieve a desired goal.  Feedback is a key step in learning how to learn.

Effective feedback involves a sort of triangulation:

1)   a specific goal,

2)   some kind of metric that measures our distance from achieving the goal, and

3)   A process for improving the practices intended to achieve the goal.

In order for feedback to be effective we need to be able to describe both the goal and the behavior in terms as specific as possible.

The most descriptive terms are generally measurements of some kind, such as to run a 40 yard dash in 4.5 seconds.  Maybe that’s what makes such avid fans and participants of sports: they are generally so measureable.

Other goals are harder to describe.  For instance, perhaps you’ve recently read a book.  Was your goal merely to read it, or to understand it?  If the latter, then how do you know you’ve understood the book?  Do you have a process for making this determination for yourself?

Suppose you’re using Mortimer Adler’s criteria for understanding a book.  Then you’ll need to be able to at least answer these four questions:

1)   What is the book about as a whole?

2)   What is being said in detail, and how?

3)   Is the book true, in whole or part?

4)   How is it significant?

How far you are from answering those questions gives you some idea of how far you are from achieving your goal of understanding the book.

Sometimes measurements can seem counterproductive.  I have an app for my computer to measure my meditation progress. It works well and measures a strong correlate, “coherence,” but it’s rather distracting.  I feel like a pitcher who’s focused on the fans instead of the next pitch.  So while I don’t use it every day I do believe that “regular” use of the app can be indicative of the effectiveness of my meditation practice.