Circumstances as a Feedback Loop

by Stephen Mills on November 13, 2010


“When you can begin to view everything that happens to you as ultimately serving your growth and evolution then you will finally be free of suffering from your circumstances.” — Gina Mollicone-Long

I find it incredibly useful to view my circumstances as part of a feedback loop that is a basic component of my life.  This is a very simple thing to do, although it is often not easy.  Simple as in easy to understand; not complicated.  However, it goes against human nature, culture, and a life time of habit and that is what makes it difficult.  Thinking of circumstances as feedback that you use as part of your continuous growth is an excellent way of detaching from your outcomes.  When you are able to detach from outcomes you are well on your way to a life of peaceful well-being (see Choosing Real Freedom).

The Hawaiian islands are peaks of isolated volcanic mountains sticking up in the middle of the vast Pacific.  When a plane takes off from Dallas, TX on a 4,000 mile flight to the islands, any deviation in heading, even by the tiniest degree, would result in the plane missing the islands by a wide margin.  And yet despite encountering winds and other conditions that throw it off course, the plane will touch down on a tiny strip of concrete in the middle of the Pacific about 100 yards wide.  How is this possible?

Due to “circumstances” in the environment and the over-correction of the system itself, the aircraft is off course most of the time.  Do these circumstances frustrate the automatic pilot in the aircraft?  Is the system stressed out at having to deal with all these circumstances?  Is the aircraft the “victim” of crosswinds?  Is the life of the automatic pilot unfair? Of course not.

The automatic pilot system in the aircraft is constantly correcting itself based upon feedback from its own instruments.  The circumstances of the flight are just there; neither good or bad. The automatic pilot system uses that information to make continuous adjustments.  Regardless of current location or what has happened in the past, the circumstances each moment are used to determine the adjustments necessary to get to where the aircraft needs to go.  Without the feedback the plane would not arrive at its desired destination.

The same thing is true of your life.  Those circumstances are there, regardless of how or why they are what they are.  They might be the result of things you could not control like the winds pushing a plane off course.  They might be the result of things within your control but which you misjudged.  The important thing to keep in mind is that regardless of the reason, you must accept them.  Instead of getting upset, you treat them as valuable feedback for your personal growth and evolution.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Viktor E. Frankl

You may think this is silly, and my response would be that it is useful no matter how silly and simple it may appear.  Looking at your circumstances as information instead of something negative is a very powerful and peaceful way to look at life.  Instead of getting upset and angry, ask yourself what should you do with this information.  We can navigate through life much like the plane navigates through the atmosphere; constantly checking our bearings and making the necessary adjustments that will get us where we want to go.  It is no more useful for us to get upset at our circumstances than for the plane to get upset at the wind.

When your circumstances are what you want them to be, you know you’re doing something right.  You may decide to do even more of the same to amplify the results or you may be happy right where you are.  No matter where you are though, the winds of change are blowing and even to stay in place you must constantly adjust your course based upon available feedback.  When your circumstances are not what you want them to be, you know you need to make a change in what you’re thinking first and that will lead to a change in what you’re doing.  You don’t have to get mad, frustrated, upset, depressed, or into any other negative state.  Instead you can view your circumstances as valuable input for your own evolution and growth.

Read more with Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything

“Letting go is not giving up; it is going up.” — Guy Finley

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

supernalsteve November 14, 2010 at 4:56 am

Great article – the example of the plane flying to Hawaii is great. I think that in life’s journey the destination, i.e. where we’re heading for is known, there are just a multitude of ways of getting there. Sometime we seem to be flying direct – blown off course every now and then – but still flying direct. Other times, we decide to take the boat – which is slower, but still gets there – even the boat though can be swept off course a little given the currents in the ocean. Ultimately though the key is trusting that we will ‘arrive’ – rather than believing that all is lost the minute we are a little off course. Thanks for sharing this.


Stephen Mills November 15, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Hi supernalsteve. That is very perceptive, but I also believe sometimes we don’t know where we are going and we make it up as we go along. A trip for which you figure out where you’re going along the way. Thanks for the comment.


J.S. November 14, 2010 at 7:53 am

This is one of the best articles I have read about how we react to life. Thanks for always giving me good reminders!


Stephen Mills November 15, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Hello J.S. Thank you very much and you are welcome!


Henway November 15, 2010 at 7:32 am

Staying unattached is one of the hardest things to do simply because it’s against our nature – biological, psychological you name it. So you are telling me that basically we have free will? That we can fight against our biological nature anytime? What explains diseases like Alzheimers then?
Henway´s last blog post ..Weight Losing Tips


Stephen Mills November 15, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Hi Henway. I disagree staying unattached is one of the hardest things to do, although as I said it is not easy. I suspect it is part of our biological nature, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it. I’ve done it to a large degree and so have many other people and it is more than worth the effort. Sexual urges are part of our biological nature and yet the vast majority of people easily suppress them most of the time. Secondly though I think much of our attachment is learning and socialization.

Regardless one part of our biology, our prefrontal cortex has evolved to include that very purpose – figuring out what more primitive urges, reactions, or whatever should resist. Whether we have free will or not, I don’t know. It’s fairly apparent we have “free won’t” and in any case we act like we have free will whether we have it or not. If we don’t most of us were determined to act like we do!

Finally I think comparing something that clearly is a psychological state with a brain disease is a totally unjustified false analogy.


Matt Clark November 16, 2010 at 9:43 am

Good post. I agree circumstance is just that we can choose to be pushed by them or control how we respond to them. Thanks for sharing.
Matt Clark´s last blog post ..So You Think You Are Rich 12 Signs Of The Rich


Nea | Self Improvement Saga November 16, 2010 at 4:49 pm

This post is really in alignment with something that I’m working on lately…not judging anything or anyone. We can’t help but notice changing circumstances; however, we have a choice on how to look at them. Your idea of seeing them as feedback is great.
Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog post ..Inspirational Words- Living Life


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