Smarter, Faster, Better is a book written by Charles Duhigg. The book explores the science of productivity, which attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort. Smarter, Faster, Better explores 8 topic areas but this post will only look at four of them: motivation, focus, goal setting and decision making.
The first topic is motivation and how to self-motivate and stay motivated. Motivation is important because according to scientific studies, people who know how to self-motivate, earn more money than their peers, report higher levels of happiness, and say that they are more satisfied with their families, jobs, and lives. Luckily, scientists also state that motivation is very much like a skill that can be learned and honed. For example, when people believe that they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They also tend to live longer and report higher confidence and capacity to overcome setbacks. One way to prove that we are in control is by making decisions. No matter how small, each choice that we make reinforces our perception of being in control and self-efficacy and triggers motivation. Destiny can also be influenced by choices, which is known as the locus of control. People with an internal locus of control will generally praise or blame themselves for their success or failures. And this is a good thing because having an internal locus of control has been linked with higher self-motivation and social maturity and less stress and depression. In contrast, people with an external locus of control, tend to avoid taking ownership of their actions.
Little hacks to be more motivated:
- Transform chores into choices because every time you make a small decision it gives you a sense of control.
- Take ownership of your life by having an internal locus of control and praising or blaming yourself for your success and failures.
- If you want to start something hard, just take the firsts steps towards doing it, no matter how small they are.
- It becomes easier when our tasks are affirmations of our deeper values and goals. Explain to yourself why a choice matters. Ask yourself WHY and force your mind to see the bigger picture if you want to be more motivated.
The second topic is focus and how to improve our concentration span and skills. Technology and automation have started to dominate our lives but scientific studies prove that it has come at the cost of our attention spans, which has plumbed along the way. Therefore, more and more people are struggling in staying focused. The book tackles how to avoid being in a cognitive tunneling, which appears when people become overly focused on whatever is in front of their eyes. This is the feeling that often happens when taking an exam, driving or listening to a boss in a meeting. The issue is that once we are in a cognitive tunnel, we lose our ability to direct our focus and instead, we latch on to the easiest and most obvious stimulus, which is often at the cost of common sense. For example, if you are in a meeting and the CEO suddenly asks for your opinion, your mind will snap from passive listening to active involvement and it can trigger a cognitive tunnel by prompting you to say something you’ll regret. Think about a situation where this has happened to you…. The best way to avoid being in a cognitive tunnel is by building mental stories that create a vision in our head, which our subconscious will recognize. This can be done by developing the habit of telling ourselves stories in which we learn to sharpen where our attention goes. Narrate your life as you are living it and you’ll encode those experiences deeper into your brain. Another great practice is to create if scenarios for future events and run them through your head. Overall, to become more productive we must be in a proactive mindset and take firm control of our attention, we must build mental models that put us firmly in charge. The key is to force yourself to think.
Little hacks to be more focused:
- Visualize what you are about to do in greater detail. Envision what will happen. What will occur first? What are the potential obstacles? How will you overcome them? If we tell ourselves stories, we can avoid cognitive tunnels because we have a vision in our head that our subconscious will recognize and act on.
- During your morning commute, visualize your day and force yourself to envision it.
- Tell yourself stories about your life as it takes place. For example, when you are sitting at a meeting or at a lunch describe it to yourself.
- Run if scenarios through your head to understand how you would react in given situations.
The third topic is goal setting and how to best use SMART goals, which are defined as goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-constrained. SMART goals work extremely good because they force people to translate vague aspirations into concrete plans. However, due to their nature, the use of SMART goals unconsciously forces us to focus on short-term objectives rather than on more ambitious plans. Therefore, Charles Duhigg introduces the idea that they should be paired with stretch goals, which are very ambitious aims that people would generally laugh at and consider more a dream than a goal. However, research has proven that forcing people to commit to ambitious, out of reach objectives is a way for people to be more innovative and productive. Thus, the best way to write down goals and commit to them is to have a set of smart goals that are paired up with another set of stretch goals. For example, in my case, I could pair writing articles for the blog (SMART goal) with writing a book (Stretch goal) or looking for a full-time job upon graduation (SMART goal) with starting my own company (Stretch goal).
Little hacks to set better goals:
- Use SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Time Constraint.
- Pair SMART goals with unrealistic goals known as stretch goals because it will help you to stay motivated and be more productive.
The fourth topic is decision making and how to better forecast the future and make decisions accordingly. Decision making is crucial because many of our most important decisions are no more than attempts to forecast the future. However, forecasting its a hard and terrifying process because it forces us to confront an unknown future. The fact that we only live in one reality and that confronting the future forces us to think about numerous possibilities it’s scary because it makes us think about things we hope that never come true. To make good decisions we must be very good at predicting the future, which only works if we start off with the right assumptions. The way to make this happen is by making sure that we are exposed to a full spectrum of experiences because our assumptions are based on what we have experienced. However, our memories are bias and we are more likely to remember the successes than the failures. As a result, we predict successful outcomes way too often. Many successful people spend an enormous amount of time seeking for information on failures. For example, the best entrepreneurs are obsessed on spending time around people who complain about their failures because it provides them an opportunity to learn about failure in a world that promotes the contrary as most of us try to avoid thinking about our failures. Calibrating your assumptions requires learning from both the accomplished and the humbled. We must see the future as multiple possibilities rather than a determined outcome and identify what you know and what you don’t know as we try to predict which choice gives the best odds. The people who make the best choices are the ones who work the hardest to envision various futures, write it down and then ask themselves which ones are most likely and why.
Little hacks to make better decisions:
- Build a foundation for having good assumptions by being exposed to a wide range of experiences.
- Take time to read and talk with those who did not succeed. What happened?
- Work hard to envision the future as multiple possibilities even if this includes thinking about negative outcomes.
If you liked this article, I recommend that to purchase the book or follow Charles Duhigg on Twitter. For another quick insight into the book, you can listen to his appearance in The Art of Charm, which also happens to be one of my favorite podcast.