Generative Feedback: The "New Biofeedback" For Positive Change


Generative feedback gives you the means and motivation to effect positive change in your life. By Kathy Keenan (Director of Marketing, SweetWater Health)

We are all familiar with what biofeedback means. Some of us have experienced the use of biofeedback when learning how to do something. For instance, a student learning to drive can use a machine that measures reaction time and tells the student whether he braked in time to avoid an accident (or not).

There’s a new term “generative feedback” that is just coming into use, so you may not know what it means. Generative feedback is a subset of biofeedback, and means feedback that drives change in behavior.

For example, hybrid cars have a visual display that tells the driver when she is driving in a way that conserves fuel most efficiently. A driver soon learns that when she accelerates too quickly, accelerates on downhill slopes, brakes unnecessarily, or fails to take advantage of gravity and momentum in general, she is wasting gas. She modifies her behavior as a result of the feedback, and saves money. Generative feedback doesn’t just report results; it drives change.

It’s not as easy to change some behaviors. We may say we want to be less stressed-out, but it’s hard to know how to do that in the moment when your boss has just dumped a task on you that is due tomorrow — when she could have passed it along to you three weeks ago—and you are already behind because you’re trying to cope with an understaffed project. It’s not like the hybrid car example, where there is clear feedback, and it’s obvious and easy to modify the behaviors.

Worse, some people don’t even know when they are stressed. Stress doesn’t care whether you know it or not — it wreaks its damage on the body anyway. High blood pressure has been called the “silent killer” but stress is even more damaging. Stress can cause high blood pressure as well as a host of other illnesses, including heart disease, gastric disease, and more. The annual medical cost of treating stress-related medical problems was estimated by Kessler and Greenberg in “The Economic Burden of Anxiety and Stress Disorders” at $100 billion per year in the United States alone.

This is because we lack generative feedback to drive behavioral change. It’s not enough to just desire to change. We need to know what a given behavior does in our bodies, and we need to see the results of a change in behavior. This gives us the motivation — and the means — to make a lasting change.

“All very well,” you might say. “But I haven’t got the time or the money to pop into my doctor’s office every day to monitor my stress levels — even if the doc had the time for me, which he most certainly doesn’t.”

And that’s where today’s mobile technology comes in. Using an inexpensive heart monitor like runners use, SweetBeatTM for the iPhone, iPad and ITouch monitors stress levels no matter where you are or what you’re doing. SweetBeat tells you when you’re too stressed, and provides a tool for reducing stress on the spot. You can literally watch your stress level drop as you breathe regularly and deeply, bringing your nervous system back into balance.

Even better, you can upload your SweetBeat sessions to MySweetBeat on the SweetWater Health website. In MySweetBeat, you can see your sessions on a calendar, color-coded by average stress level. You can view session summaries or look at a graphed version of your session and see where stress peaked or dropped. Now you have information that you can use to manage your stress and work to avoid or reduce exposure to stressful situations.

For instance, you may notice that your stress is highest when you meet with your boss. You can’t avoid meeting with your boss, but you can take a few moments before the meeting to reduce your stress before the meeting begins. Because you know that you are stressed in this situation, you may be able to find other ways of making it less stressful, such as suggesting meeting in the conference room instead of her office — or you may even decide you need to find a new boss!

The old chestnut says that knowledge is power. Generative feedback is knowledge about what’s really happening, and gives you the means and motivation to effect positive change in your life. Go for it!

This post was originally posted at SweetWater Health.

About the guest blogger: Kathy Keenan is the director of outbound marketing for SweetWater Health. She has more than 30 years of experience working in high tech marketing, marcomm, and public relations. Most recently, she worked at Cisco, developing thought leadership across a range of media for C-level executives worldwide. She founded and managed an award-winning high tech public relations company, Oak Ridge Public Relations, Inc., working with clients such as IBM, Philips, Solectron, and Xilinx.