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The more powerful way of doing things


As little kids growing up, we learn things through feedback loops. When we touch something hot, our hand burns and it feels extremely unpleasant. So we learn the lesson that touching something hot can lead to an unpleasant experience. Similarly, we learn not to drink dirty water, to not play with sharp objects, to be nice to people and so on.

Even as we grow up, we continue to learn things through feedback loops. We learn what behaviours will endear us to people, what behaviours will help us get ahead in our careers, what behaviours will derail friendships, what actions will cause us emotional pain, and so on.

There are two ways we can set up these feedback loops.

The first one and the more common one is to base the feedback on the consequences and results of the actions that we take and the thoughts that we have. All the examples I've cited above fall in this category.

This is fine when it comes to simple lessons like touching a hot objects causes us pain or breaking the law gets us in jail. However, when the lessons start to get complex, the results turn to get inconsistent. For example, if we persist and show grit, it might lead to us succeeding at what we are doing. In some cases. And in some other cases, the same persistence and grit may not lead to success. And when that happens, we either learn the wrong lesson (either that persistence and grit leads to success or that it doesn't), or we might disregard it altogether and just think that it could sometimes lead to success and sometimes not.

This isn't very useful to us as it isn't a lesson we can successfully apply later on when we encounter a similar situation. And we won't have sufficient motivation to apply it either as we won't be sure of the results ourselves.

This is where faith and values come in.

I've been spending a good amount of time reading about religion and spirituality in an attempt to understand why it has the effect it has on us.

When we have immense faith in a way of life, in a certain set of values and principles, we are setting ourselves up to follow the second type of feedback loops. In this, we aren't relying on the consequences and results of our actions for a positive feedback loop. Instead, we rely on adherence to our faith and our values as a feedback loop for our actions. If we do something that is in accordance with our faith and with our values, we learn to continue to do it irrespective of the consequence. And when we do something that is not in accordance with our faith and our values, we repent and we learn not to do it again. Here too, it is irrespective of the actual consequences and results.

Being results-oriented is the more common way, but being values-oriented is the more powerful way, especially when we have put together lessons from our years into defining our own set of values.

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