Smarter Better Faster: The Scientific Ways to Be More Productive by Charles Duhigg

The first chapter in this book is about motivation, which automatically captured my attention. Charles, the author, says he found through his research there are actually two ways you can grow your own motivation, and the first starts with something that the Marine Corps implemented. Sometime during the 20th century, more and more people started signing up to join the military, and that meant a wider spectrum of people who had to be trained. One leader in the military decided too many unmotivated people were joining the Marines and he wanted to get to the bottom of how to create motivation, so he contacted many psychologists and started implementing new systems to create self-drive and internal motivation in new recruits.

What did he change? Well, they changed quite a few things, but they all had one thing in common. All of the changes had the effect of increasing the internal locus of control within the recruits. An internal locus of control means an internal feeling that what someone does has a direct influence and effect on their own destiny. Basically, they taught the Marines that their actions mattered. The opposite of learned helplessness, a psychological condition in which people think that no matter what they do, their circumstances wouldn’t change.

What about the other part of motivation? Well, I have to tell you a story about a group of people who suddenly lost their motivation. So a psychologist started researching and found a group of people throughout history who had once been SUPER driven and self-motivated, but one day they just lost their spark. Like, literally, no motivation. They were still there, they could do math, they could do anything they could do before, but one day they just lost motivation. Some of these guys went from running a million dollar business to watching TV all day, or literally staring at a wall. After some xrays and other tests, the psychologist concluded that all of these people had pinpricks in their striata, which is the plural word for the part of the brain that controls rewards and habits. They had a super small amount of bleeding, and some of the people reported things when they lost their motivation such as a wasp sting, falling and hitting their head, and a few other traumatic events. So the conclusion is that these people had brain bleeding in the part of the brain that controlled motivation. But something significant happened to one of the people.

One guy and his wife were known for being super driven. When the husband lost his motivation, the wife got frustrated. She tried everything, and after a few years, she started offering him choices. This shirt, or that shirt. Pancakes or waffles. Little stuff like that, and eventually he started to be more motivated, he started talking to more people on his own. Cleaning up on his own. The psychologist found out that choices increase our own motivation levels because it reminds us that we are in control, and we love that feeling. Now that I think about it, my mother gave me tons of choices while I was young. Asking me “do you want to wear this shirt, or that shirt”, “what would you like for breakfast”, “You have to do a chore, but is it this chore or that chore”? I am blessed my mother gave me that ability through her parenting. Thanks mom.

Anyways, the psychologist did another test on the driveless people. He put them in a fMRI machine to measure their brain activity during a game. The game was that these people had to guess if a number was higher or lower than 5. Each number was between 1 and 10, but they had to guess if it was higher or lower than 5. Pretty simple, right? Well, these people loved the game. Like, really loved it. They liked the fact that their choices were a game, and their striata lit up in the fMRI. The psychologist started another game, where the number was generated by a computer, and he found that when they had no decision to make, no choice in whether they won or lost the game, the striata was dormant. So having a choice increases our motivation. Have you ever been sitting in a line that takes forever, or even on the highway during a traffic jam, but if there is an exit, you’ll take it, even if you know the exit will take longer to get home? This is you exercising your choice muscle, and ultimately increasing your self-drive.

So to increase our own motivation levels, we have to do two thing; understand our own locus of control; that what we do actually has an impact on our destiny, and also make lots of choices. In fact, even if the choices are bad, or defiant; like a teenager going over the speed limit, or an elderly person rearranging their nursing home room (when they aren’t allowed to), this will increase our drive.

Wow, 800 words so far and I’m only in the first chapter. I guess I’ll make the next chapters quicker.

So chapter 2 is about teams and teamwork. After studying a whole bunch of group projects, basically, the one factor that makes a great team is something called “psychological safety”. Psychological safety is a term for when a group has a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”. So basically create an environment where nobody harshly judges anybody else’s idea.

Chapter 3 is about Focus. Charles describes focus as a flashlight, that we can shine it very dimly over a whole bunch of stuff, or we can zoom it in to focus very intensely on a single thing. There are benefits to both, but in most emergency situations, our focus gets super intense on the wrong thing. This is called cognitive tunneling. Cognitive tunneling can cause tons of errors, like an airplane crash. After listening to the blackbox of an airplane that crashed, we can usually determine the major reason of a crash by listening to the narrative of the pilots. In the book, Charles shows how cognitive tunneling between two pilots caused a crash, and how they panicked and focused on the wrong thing. Many other people do the same thing when they panic, but some; like firefighters, emergency response teams, and some military trainees don’t.

So what’s the difference? Well, Charles Duhigg found out it’s something called Mental Modeling. Have you ever played out a conversation in your head, before it happened? Or thought about working on something while laying in your bed at night… visualizing how you are going to do it tomorrow? Well, this is called mental modeling, and Charles says by doing it, we are keeping our flashlight super intense and get better at focusing it on what we desire, so when panic comes, we are better at moving it around to what needs to be looked at. It’s basically your brain’s ways of anticipating what’s next, and if you do it enough, you’ll get better and be able to think more clearly in difficult and emergency situations. This is why visualizing is so important in so many ways.

Chapter 4, and probably the last one I’ll be able to talk about is about goals. So we’ve talked about SMART goals before, but if you’ve never heard of them, they were basically proved as part of the perfect goal-setting experience and I’ll give you a brief rundown.

So SMART is an acronym for how you should set up your goals. They are important, because Duhigg says they turn “vague aspirations into concrete plans”, something you can actually do to get to where you want to be.

  • S stands for specific. I will run 5 miles.
  • M stands for measurable, like can you actually measure your goal? Yes, you can measure 5 miles.
  • A stands for actionable, for example, is 5 miles something you can do? Yes.
  • R stands for realistic. Don’t be aiming for 50 miles a day.
  • T stands for time-bound or timeline. Make a goal for each day, and hopefully by the end of a month, or after a couple weeks you will improve.

So the second part of the perfect goal equation is the stretch goal. Jack Welch, the CEO of GE at the time, wanted to find a way to travel around Tokyo faster by a train. Basically he said he wanted something to go 120mph, while his engineers said anything over 60 would make the train tip over while going around a turn. Anything over 70 would be impossible. Well, he gave them that stretch goal, and throughout time they figured out a way to get it done, to tunnel through the earth. If they hadn’t had the stretch goal, they would have never innovated enough to come up with this new, super efficient way to travel. Duhigg says when we mix stretch goals, with SMART goals, we can operate at peak goal-setting and achieve more than we would without such goals. My stretch goal is to hit 10,000,000 subscribers and to spread my love of psychology. Well, that’s all I have time for today, I hope you guys learned something from my little review, and if you want more; don’t forget to subscribe!


Theodore created PracticalPsychology in his mother's basement after quitting university at age 19. From there, a dream was born to change lives by helping people understand how their brain works. By applying practical psychological principles to our lives, we can get a jumpstart on the path of self-improvement. 1,500,000 Youtube subscribers later, and that dream continues strong!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments

Leave a Reply: