Charles Duhigg (@cduhigg) is a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter at The New York Times and author of Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business and The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh listen!]
What We Discuss with Charles Duhigg:
- What’s the difference between what we think and how we think?
- Learn more about the science of motivation and what makes us tick.
- Compare the internal vs. external locus of control.
- What is cognitive tunneling and when does it affect us? Discover how we can use mental models to avoid it.
- Find out how to increase creativity even when we hit a block.
- And much more…
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In this episode, Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times writer and author of Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business and The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business Charles Duhigg joins us to discuss the science behind what motivates us and how we can change the patterns that shape our behavior for the better.
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about Charles’ contemplative routines and how we can develop ones that work for us, what the problem of metacognition is and how we can overcome it, how we can better combat disfluency in memory retention, why it makes a difference to turn a chore into a choice, how we can harness the power of “why” to motivate ourselves for the long haul, how to use our methods of self-motivation to motivate others, the internal versus external locus of control, what Google discovered when trying to build the perfect team, what to do when we find ourselves succumbing to cognitive tunneling, how mental models save lives, how to measure and manage increased creativity, why it took Charles two years to write a book on productivity, and more. Listen, learn, and enjoy! [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh listen!]
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss our episode with nonverbal communication expert Joe Navarro? Catch up with episode 135: Joe Navarro | How to Identify and Protect Yourself from Harmful People here!
Thanks, Charles Duhigg!
If you enjoyed this session with Charles Duhigg, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg | Amazon
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg | Amazon
- Charles Duhigg | Website
- Charles Duhigg | Facebook
- Charles Duhigg | Twitter
- Charles Duhigg: The Power of Habit | TEDxTeachersCollege
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol S. Dweck | Amazon
- What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team by Charles Duhigg | The New York Times Magazine
- The Power of Mental Models: How Flight 32 Avoided Disaster by Charles Duhigg | Smarter Faster Better via Lifehacker
- You Can Take a Key Business Lesson from the Creation of Disney’s Biggest Hit in Recent History | Business Insider
561: Charles Duhigg | The Secrets of Being Smarter Faster Better
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Charles Duhigg: By making a choice that makes you feel in control, it's much easier to activate those parts of your neurology, where motivation resides, and that works really well for small tasks, right? Turn a chore into a choice, and it's easier to get that chore done.
[00:00:22] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts, entrepreneurs, spies, psychologists, even the occasional former cult member, legendary Hollywood director, or underworld figure. Each episode turns our guest' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
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[00:01:12] Today, we're talking with Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. You should listen to this episode if you're interested in the science of motivation, internal versus external locus of control, and how that relates to motivation and learned helplessness. Also something called cognitive tunneling, when it affects us and how we can use mental models to avoid it and move forward through emergencies, disasters, or just crummy days where we run into these types of blocks, last but not least, how to increase creativity, even if we hit a wall.
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[00:01:58] Now, here's Charles Duhigg.
[00:02:02] So, first of all, thanks for joining us today, Charles, very, very cool. I read both of your books and saw your talk as well. So I'm excited to do the show.
[00:02:10] Charles Duhigg: Well, thanks for having me on.
[00:02:11] Jordan Harbinger: What would you say you do write you're a writer clearly, right? But do you fall more on the side of journalists or are you more going towards science writer these days? You got kind of a diverse perspective here.
[00:02:23] Charles Duhigg: So I'm a journalist, whenever at The Power of Habit, now Smarter, Faster, Better that both of them are rooted in looking at neurology and psychology. It's sort of a happenstance. Because the truth of the matter is that I started as a business journalist. And so most of what I look at are business questions. And then those ended up becoming life questions, right? About how habits emerge in our life or how we can be more productive. These are things that oftentimes corporate America starts thinking about before the rest of us do, but the lessons that come out of that tend to be universal lessons.
[00:02:58] Jordan Harbinger: In the book, Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, one of the key concepts that I really like, and this book is about managing how you think rather than what you think in order to transform your life. Can you tell us the distinction between managing how we think rather than just changing what we think? Because it seems almost like the same thing when you read it at first.
[00:03:18] Charles Duhigg: Yeah. And I think that that's really the insight. I mean, I think there's a basic lesson, which is that we are living through a period of rapid change and economic revolution on parts of the agrarian and industrial revolutions and also a revolution in culture. And what we know about how people behave with each other, how people behave in organizations, how people behave in life. We've learned a lot about how our brain works as a result. And the sort of core lesson that we've learned is that in contemporary society, it is possible to become so busy that you've stopped being productive, right?
[00:03:55] Each of us wake up and our phone is buzzing and there are people asking to have meetings with us, and there's a thousand things to do and emails that need to be returned. And you can become so busy that you lose the capacity to focus on those things that are actually important. That you'll have time to really focus on the things that matter. And so when we talk about knowing how to think as much as what we think about, what we're really talking about is these lessons from neurology and from psychology and from behavioral economics that tell us how to structure our thinking, how to build what psychologists refer to as contemplative routines that allow us to stay focused on the things that matter the most.
[00:04:33] Jordan Harbinger: What are contemplative routines?
[00:04:36] Charles Duhigg: So contemplative routines are essentially habits that we build that give us the space to think about the right thing. So there's myriad contemplative routines, right? For some people it can be as simple as on your way to work, thinking about visualizing the day that's coming up. Psychologists refer to this as building mental models. So essentially if we tell ourselves a story about what we expect to unfold, it tends to prime our brain much better to pay attention to the things that matter and ignore the things that are distractions. And so a contemplative routine could be simple as you know, on my subway ride into the New York times each morning. I take 10 minutes and I just try and visualize with just half a degree, more specificity than most people, what exactly is going to happen that day.
[00:05:18] For other people, contemplative routines can be something that's much more active. For instance, in the book we tell the story of the making of West Side Story. And one of the things that's interesting about Jerry Robbins, the choreographer of West Side Story, and really the designer is that he had this contemplative routine of writing these letters. He made himself into what's known as an innovation broker by exposing himself to all kinds of different ideas and different types of artistic expressions. And then he would write these long letters to his friends, like 20 or 30-page letters. That act of writing the letter, that wasn't to educate his friends. That was to help him think through what he had seen that day to make sense of the ideas he'd been exposed to. So for Jerry Robbins, his contemplative routine is writing letters.
[00:06:01] It's any habit that we get into that pushes us to think a little bit more because throughout history, the killer app has always been thinking, right? The thing that distinguishes the most productive people from everyone else is that they have these habits that push them to think a little bit more about what's going on.
[00:06:18] Jordan Harbinger: So what's your contemplative routine? Is it writing books about subjects that you're interested in? Because so far you're doing pretty good with that.
[00:06:25] Charles Duhigg: So writing a book would be almost too big to be a contemplative routine, right? In general, contemplative routines should literally be habits, things that we do on a daily or a couple of times a week basis. So for me, one of my big contemplative routines besides every morning, sort of just taking 10 minutes to try and visualize the day with some degree of specificity is that I also have this rule where I tell my wife, basically everything that's going on in my life. Both of the things I'm like proud and psyched about and the things where I think I screwed up the meetings I had, where I could have done better. I described them to my wife. I forced myself to describe them to her.
[00:07:00] I have found that for me, verbalizing what's going on, it pushes me to think a little bit more deeply about like, why did I make that mistake? Or why did that one meeting workout so well? And so every night I do that with her, but I think all of us have a lot of contemplative routines. Sometimes we don't even realize that they exist, but they're oftentimes the parts of our life that we find we enjoy the most. And sometimes they're hard, but that ended up being the most meaningful.
[00:07:28] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. I mean, I think that I do this as well. Certainly the show is a contemplative routine. I don't know if it's a habit, so maybe it's a little bit too big, but I do multiple shows per week about things that I've read and learned. And it forces me to outline and think about the concept, but I definitely do the verbalization. There are many, many times where I'll be on the phone with somebody repeating things or saying things in different ways or explaining to Jenny different things about today, this happened, and then this happened and she doesn't really need to know it. It's just me thinking through it and a lot of insight comes out of that. Like, oh, why did that happen? And sometimes she'll even ask me a question that gets me thinking in a different direction, which enhances that routine even more.
[00:08:09] Charles Duhigg: Yeah, that's really, really important, right? Because I think what happens when we have these routines is that we stop having to think about the process and we can just relax into relying on the activity itself. You know, one of the big challenges in contemporary life is that simply all of us want to think more, right? There's nobody out there who says, "I really wish I was thinking less about the important things each day," and yet one of the challenges is, and within the sciences, they refer to this as the problem of metacognition, that oftentimes we get so wrapped up that we forget to think. Not because we don't like thinking, but because there's always a thousand things on your to-do list before you think about the problem in front of you, or think about your priorities. And so the question is, how can you trick yourself? How can you kind of come up with a hack that forces you to think that makes it easier to think without having to stop and say, "Now is the moment that I should be thinking"?
[00:09:02] Jordan Harbinger: One of the examples that I saw from the book as well, that if you read a book filled with new ideas, force yourself to put it down and explain the concept to someone else in theory. And I think that most of us aren't doing this, like you said, there's so many distractions to get onto the next thing. And we seem more productive by just diving into the inbox or something like that. But there are so many times we really learn things and we just don't absorb them. And I'm thinking of even seminars and things like that, I mean, how often do we go to a seminar and we take a bunch of notes? And that binder that they give you, you know, it's dogeared and it's amazing. And you come home and you're so tired and you're so stoked and you set it on the shelf. And then three months later, someone's like, "Hey, can we throw this away?" And you're like, "Yeah, probably." And you've just never looked at it again. No, there's no review. Nothing to go through and study it. Or you reviewed it on the flight home and you just re-read your notes. And that was all fine and dandy, but you didn't really learn the material.
[00:09:58] Charles Duhigg: That's exactly right. And what's interesting is there's a lot of studies about how people turn information into knowledge and what the best practices are around that. So to start with you identified the first step, which is how do you actually record that information to begin with? There was a really interesting study that was done a couple of years ago that looked at one group of students who listened to a lecture and they took notes on their laptop. And then another group of students who were told to take notes by longhand. And what's interesting is that the students who take notes by laptop, they tend to record much more information. So because we can type faster than we can write, students who are typing on their laptops tend to take about three times as much information from the lecture. And they tended to copy what the professor was saying verbatim, right? So they could actually transcribe what the professor was saying.
[00:10:45] And what's interesting is they took all of these students that hand writers and the note takers by laptop. They took all their notes away and they asked them to come back three weeks later. And then three weeks later they gave all of them a test about what they had learned in that interview. And they found that the students who had taken notes by hand, they scored fantastically better on that test. And the reason why is because when you're taking notes by hand, you can't write so quickly. You have to actually listen to what's going on and say to yourself, "Okay. I just heard three sentences. Let me summarize that in my own words, let me get at the core idea," and by doing so they actually introduce what's known as disfluency to the process of recording information. They force themselves to think about it and that act of thinking encoded that knowledge so much more deeply in their brains.
[00:11:33] But then comes the next question. So, let's say I'm taking notes by hand, I'm forcing myself to think as I'm listening to what the person is saying, I'm summarizing their big ideas. I'm making sense of it. I'm acting in a disfluent manner. Now, how do I take that information and make sure that it doesn't exist just for that lecture or just for that seminar, just for that conference on that? Well, one of the things that we find is the most productive people, they tend to have this kind of check in system. Where very frequently on a Sunday afternoon, they'll set aside two hours and they'll say, "For these two hours, I'm going to look at what happened in the past week and I'm going to plan the coming week," or they have a regular meal once every three weeks with one of their best friends. And at that meal, they do the same thing every time they talk about what's happened in the last three weeks, the best ideas that they've been exposed to and they describe those ideas. And then what they're excited about, that's coming up in the next three weeks. We think of those things as things that like our social opportunities, right? That we tell our friends about ideas because we want to educate them. But what's actually happening is that we're educating ourselves. We're remembering the most important idea. We're rephrasing that idea in a way that forces us to make sense of it, to see how it actually interacts with our life and how we can use it.
[00:12:46] Jordan Harbinger: In Smarter, Faster, Better, you write that the most productive people in companies and organizations, they don't merely act differently. They view the world and their choices in profoundly different ways. What is the distinction here? Because of course we know to be more productive, we do need to act differently. We do need to set up systems and we need to set up stop gaps and calendar systems and reminders and alarms and efficient processes and automate things and outsource things. What are these other organizations, these other people, what are they doing, what are they viewing, and how are they viewing things that make them so much more effective?
[00:13:17] Charles Duhigg: So let me answer that in a couple of different ways. So one of the things that we know about the most productive people is that they tend to perceive choices where others see just chores. The first chapter in Smarter, Faster, Better looks at what we know about the science of self-motivation. Because we know that your ability to motivate, to do hard tasks, that's something that the most productive people have in spades. They managed to plow through that email inbox, even though it's a real drag faster than other people. And the way that they do that, the way that they motivate for that is that they look for choices where others might not perceive them.
[00:13:50] And so one of my favorite examples of this is the Marine Corps. About 15 years ago, the Marine Corps changed how it does basic training. And what they did is we all think of the Marine Corps as a place where you go and basic training to learn obedience and discipline. And that's still a big part of basic training, but what this guy named Charles Krulak, who is the head of the Marine Corps did, is he started forcing all of the recruiters to make choice after choice after choice. So in your first week of basic training, it's pretty typical that you go into the mess hall. You have a big lunch, all of the other units leave. And then your drill sergeant says to you, "Now you need to clean the mess hall." And if you're a recruit, you're an 18-year-old who doesn't really know what they're doing, you say, "Okay, so where are the cleaning supplies?" And he says, "It's not my job to tell you where the cleaning supplies are." And you say, "Should I throw away these hamburgers, the leftover hamburgers? Or should I put them in the fridge?" And he says, "Look, it's your job to figure that out." And what he does is he forces people to start making choices, to start seeing choices where otherwise they might not even realize that they exist. This is within psychology, known as developing an internal locus of control or a bias towards action. The people who are best able to self motivate are the people who look for choices that they can make that make them feel like they're in control.
[00:15:04] So for instance, when someone's replying to all those emails, which is like, you know, like a real pain, right? You have an inbox full of emails, you've got to deal with it. It's boring. You don't want to do it. People who look for some type of choice they can make right away that helps them get motivated to start. So if someone says like, "Hey, can you have lunch tomorrow?" Typing as your first sentence, "I'd love to have lunch, but I'd like us to have Indian food," or "Can you meet tomorrow at 11 o'clock?" "Sure, I can meet you at 11 o'clock, but I'm only going to stay for 20 minutes. I got to be out of there by 11:20." By making a choice that makes you feel in control, it's much easier to activate those parts of your neurology, where motivation resides. And that works really well for small tasks, right? Turn a chore into a choice, and it's easier to get that chore. The other thing that really productive people do is that they understand that the way to motivate themselves for long-term tasks is to force themselves to ask why. Why am I doing this thing?
[00:16:01] One professor I was talking to in particular, this guy is a PhD MD in oncology. And he told me that what he hates doing most of all is grading students' papers. He finds it insanely boring. It's just like this like task he has to do. He hates it. And so what he does is every time before he starts grading a student's paper, he goes through this mantra, which is, he says to me, "Okay. If I sit down and I grade all these papers, then the university can collect tuition dollars. And if the university can collect tuition dollars, then they can fund my research in the lab. And if they can fund my research in the lab, I can try and solve the problem of cancer. And if I can solve the problem of cancer, I can save millions of people's lives. So by grading the student's paper, I am saving millions of people's lives."
[00:16:43] Now, what's interesting about this is that first of all, that's kind of ridiculous on the face of it, right?
[00:16:48] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's a little bit reductio ad absurdum there.
[00:16:51] Charles Duhigg: But second of all, a guy who has an MD PhD, the fact that he has to go through this mantra to motivate himself is a clue to how people who are genuinely productive, see the world differently. They have mantras like that. They forced themselves to ask why. They remind themselves why this boring task is so important. Because it's connected somehow to our deepest aspirations and our deepest values. That's how the most productive people see the world differently. They understand that our brain is something that we can choose to manipulate. That we can choose how much control we feel towards the world. We can choose how we run a process of innovation to become an innovation broker, to speed up the process of creativity. They see opportunities to control themselves that other people don't even perceive. That's how they see the world differently and that's why they're so much more productive.
[00:17:46] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Charles Duhigg. We'll be right back.
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[00:20:22] Now back to Charles Duhigg.
[00:20:25] So if we can use that to motivate ourselves, how can we use it to motivate other people?
[00:20:31] Charles Duhigg: Well, so it's interesting. I mean, so I have an eight-year-old and a five-year-old and we work really hard to do a couple things. First of all, to teach them to see choices so that if my son comes in and he says, "I'm bored." The first thing I say is, "Well, I want you to tell me three things you could do right now. And then tell me which one you want to choose to do," right? Not solving his problem for him, but teaching him to see choices. But then the other important thing with other people is how we praise them. And a lot of this goes back to a researcher named Carol Dweck who's worked on this concept of internal locus of control, and what's known as a growth mindset.
[00:21:08] Jordan Harbinger: Right. She's been on the show. So we definitely are familiar with her, good call back.
[00:21:12] Charles Duhigg: So one of the things that Carol says is when your kid comes home and they got an A on a paper. The wrong thing to say is, "You know what, I'm so proud of you, you are so smart," because what you're teaching them is that they have an innate quality. Something outside of their control that determined whether they did well on that exam or not. The thing that you ought to say to them is, "I'm so proud of you. You worked so hard to get that A." Because what you're reinforcing is you actually have control over whether you got that A. You made a choice to work hard and it paid off in a good grade. We can train our children, our spouses, ourselves, or coworkers. We can train them to see these opportunities for control that they have and in doing so we help them motivate to get things done.
[00:21:57] Jordan Harbinger: Perfect. So we help show other people that they have a choice by essentially using a little bit of a light version of the Socratic method, depending on how old they are, it sounds like.
[00:22:06] Charles Duhigg: Yeah, I think that's part of it, but there's also other things. You had asked about sort of how we work with others. One of the chapters from the book, and was excerpted in the New York Times magazine, and it was about Google's quest to build the perfect team. And for like four years, Google studied this question of how to build the perfect team. And they spent millions and millions of dollars. And initially, they thought that the way that they would answer this is that the secret was to figure out who belongs on the team together. Right? Maybe you put friends together so that they can all get along really well. Or maybe you put a mixture of introverts and extroverts, or maybe it's all introverts, or maybe you put people who all crave the same type of management style.
[00:22:42] And what Google found is that who was on a team didn't actually matter very much for whether that team was effective or not. What mattered much, much more was how the team interacted, what cultural norms emerged. And in particular, they found that there were these two behaviors that made attain more effective almost regardless of who was on that team. The first was that everyone on the team had to speak in roughly equal proportion. What's known as an equality in conversational turn-taking. Now, that doesn't mean that in every meeting, everyone has to speak the same number of words or the same number of minutes, but it means that over time, everyone roughly speaks up the same amount.
[00:23:22] That you don't go into a meeting. And there's some people who are just consistently sitting on the periphery and not saying anything. But getting people to all speak up, that's not enough on its own. If you want to make a team productive, if you want to motivate a team to really come together, then the second thing you also have to do is you have to engage in what's known as ostentatious listening behaviors, which basically means I show you that I'm listening by doing things like picking up on nonverbal cues, or by saying, "Jim, what I hear you saying is this. That I demonstrate to you that when you speak, I actually hear it."
[00:23:56] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah. Like a kindergarten teacher who's like, "Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. When we go outside and play, we have fun. Right?" Almost like that, only hopefully a little less condescending.
[00:24:07] Charles Duhigg: But we've all been in those meetings, right? Where like someone says like, "Hey Jim, that's a great idea. What I hear you saying is X," like, it feels like, "Finally somebody gets me, they understand what I'm saying." These two behaviors, this equality in conversational turn-taking and this ostentatious listening, what Google and many other researchers have found is that it creates this atmosphere that we refer to as psychological safety that allows people to come together as a team, much, much better, allows them to gel and work together.
[00:24:36] So you might be on a team with people that you don't like, right? You think they're boring, or you think they're dumb, or you just don't get along with them. They wouldn't be your friends. But if everyone in that room feels like they can talk up and they're all speaking up and everyone in that room feels like each other is listening. That team is going to end up being much more productive than another team that might be filled with geniuses, but where half of them are silent half the time and nobody really feels like anyone's listening to them.
[00:25:00] Jordan Harbinger: Exactly. It's kind of like talking to my dad where, you know, you're not sure if he's listening or if he even heard you at all. And then when you say, "Hello, are you paying attention?" He says, "Yeah, I heard you already." You have to actually make people feel valued, feel heard. This is almost Pavlovian, right? Oh, people care about what I'm saying. I'm going to be more engaged. Therefore be a little bit more present.
[00:25:20] Charles Duhigg: Exactly. I'm going to be more present. You know, I spent a long time in Google and one of the chapters is actually about how they do this in Google. So they've come up with a bunch of like simple rules to help this happen. And one of the rules is that when a meeting starts, everyone's supposed to close their laptop because by closing your laptop, you have to make eye contact with each other much more often. And you can show that you're listening much better if you're making eye contact. And the interesting thing about this is that if you think about it Google as a tech company, right? As one of the most successful tech companies on earth has a rule that you have to close your computer when you start a meeting, because they know that that makes the meeting and the team more effective.
[00:25:56] And the people who recognize what implications their behaviors have, the people who recognize how to discipline their own thoughts and their own actions, those are the people who tend to engage more in these contemplative routines. They tend to have these practices, these habits that force them to think about what's really going on. And that really pays off over the long run.
[00:26:15] Jordan Harbinger: What about cognitive tunneling? This is kind of the opposite of that spectrum, right? And in many ways, this is a phenomenon that happens to you sometimes whether you want it to or not, and can cause death and destruction. So let's move from motivation and being more productive and more present to death and destruction and how to avoid it. Tell us what this is and throw a little backstory in there.
[00:26:37] Charles Duhigg: Sure. So this is one of my favorite stories from the book is the story of Qantas Flight 32, which most Americans aren't familiar with because it was an Australian airline that in 2010 Qantas Flight 32 is an Airbus A380 and one of the most complicated airplanes on earth that took off from Singapore airport, headed to Sydney, Austria. And about 20 minutes into the flight — it's a textbook perfect takeoff. It's a beautiful clear day. About 20 minutes into the flight, the pilots sitting in the cockpit, they hear this sound like thousands of marbles being thrown against the whole fuselage of the plane. Unbeknownst to them, what had just happened, is that there had been this freak accident. One of the fan blades on the turbine, in the jet's engine had become detached from the shaft and it had broken off in the head sharp through the wing, causing this hole in the wing. That was as big as two people's bodies, side-by-side. And at the same time that turbine actually hit another turbine fan blade. And it caused that fanblade to explode into thousands of pieces. And it was like the shrapnel of a bomb going off inside the wing, it cut through the electrical lines and the fuel lines and the hydraulics lines. When people later saw the wig, they said that it looked like someone had taken a machine gun and had just raked the bottom of the wing.
[00:27:49] As you might imagine this isn't great for an airplane, right? In fact, it knocked out 22 of the 24 major systems that make an airplane work. It's the worst mechanical, mid air disaster in modern aviation. So what's interesting is that the pilots and in particular the captain, a guy named Richard de Crespigny, they're sitting in the cockpit and suddenly their dashboard lights up with all these alarms and they start responding to them. So Richard de Crespigny had been trained by the Australian Air Force how to fly. And when you're trained by the Air Force in being a pilot, they tend to teach you this thing known as situational awareness or building mental models. And what we know is that building mental models, it's at the core of how we teach ourselves to focus. People who are better at focusing, they tend to be ones who build mental models with a little bit more detail than everyone else. And essentially a mental model is like a story we tell ourselves about what's happening as it occurs. And our brain uses these mental models to figure out: what do I pay attention to? What can I safely ignore?
[00:28:46] And Richard de Crespigny was so into this idea that he actually had taken his co-pilots through building mental models. Earlier that day, as they had taken a shuttle from the hotel to the airport, he had asked them basically to tell him a series of stories. He would say things like, "Okay, so let's imagine engine two goes out, what's the first word out of your mouth? Where do your eyes go? What are you going to do with your hands, first thing?" So as soon as this emergency happens on Qantas Flight 32, if you listen to tape recordings of the cockpit, what you basically hear are people speaking in very short, calm sentences. It's almost as if they're reading from a script because they had practiced what they were going to do in case of an emergency. And in most flights that would have saved everyone on board, because this is how in an emergency, you know how to focus, is you've thought ahead of time of how things are going to unfold.
[00:29:35] In this case though, the mechanical damage was so extreme that there was no way to have enough scripts in someone's head to keep track of what they ought to pay attention to. As soon as they would solve one problem, 10 more alarms would go off and they would solve some of those alarms. And that would set off another 10 alarms. And at that moment, Richard de Crespigny starts falling into what is called a cognitive tunnel, which you'd asked about.
[00:29:58] A cognitive tunnel is something that we've all experienced, which is that when there's too much information around this too many stimuli, our brain tends to start focusing on the most obvious inputs possible. If you've ever been driving down the road and you're going the speed limit and you see a police car and you suddenly hit the brakes, even though you don't need to, that's because you fall into a cognitive tunnel. Or if you've ever walked into a meeting and there's three people talking to you and your boss asks a question and you blurt out a reply to that question, instead of taking a minute to think about what you really want to say. That's because you're in a cognitive tunnel. You're overwhelmed by the amount of information around you that you stop thinking and you start reacting.
[00:30:38] And if you're in a meeting or if you're in a cockpit, that's really, really dangerous. Right? Because instead of trying to figure out what are the problems I should be thinking about, you simply start reacting to all of the emergencies around you. And at that moment, Richard cremini does this kind of interesting thing in order to pull himself out of this cognitive tunnel because he feels himself being drawn into it. He knows how cognitive tunnels work.
[00:31:00] Jordan Harbinger: How do you know when you're falling into a cognitive tunnel? Is it just I'm only thinking about the next emergency and you don't zoom out and take the time to look at the bigger picture because you're panicking. I mean, is there some sort of flag where we can go, "Oh, I'm in a cognitive tunnel or I'm about to go down a bad path"? How do we stop ourselves? What signs are we looking for?
[00:31:19] Charles Duhigg: I think we all know when we're in a cognitive tunnel, right? We all feel that instinct where we sort of feel a little bit overwhelmed instead of being in control, instead of being in charge of ourselves, we simply start reacting. We've all felt that before. And more importantly, the more that we think about and realize that this can happen, the more we're prepared to recognize it. I think for all of us, this is why building mental models is so important is because if you sit down and you visualize this meeting, that's about to occur. And most of us, when we're looking at our schedule, we say, "Okay, I have a meeting from 10 to 11. And my goal is that I want to get my idea out there." The most productive people, what they do is they visualize that meeting. They come up with a mental model, they tell themselves a story that's just half a degree, more specific than everyone else.
[00:32:00] They say, "Okay, I've got a meeting at 10 o'clock. And the way it's going to start is that Jim is going to bring up his dumb idea because Jim always brings up his dumb idea. And then Susan is going to disagree with Jim because Susan hates Jim. They used to sleep with each other. She always disagrees with him. And at that moment, that's what I'm going to come in with my brilliant idea. And because I'm going to be the voice of reason, everyone's going to listen to me." That's how we avoid cognitive tunnels or that's how we recognize them is that we think through, with a little bit more specificity, what we expect to occur. And then when we're sitting in that meeting almost subconsciously, our brain starts comparing what's actually happening to the story that we told ourselves. It's inside our head.
[00:32:39] And in doing so if a suddenly something goes completely off the rails, if suddenly I find myself not paying attention to what's actually going on, or I'm simply reacting, or I'm feeling overwhelmed, we're much more likely to recognize that if we have a vision in our head of what we expected to occur, if we've been telling ourselves a story of how we expect our day or this meeting or this conversation to play out. And that's really, really important. That's why mental models are so powerful, is that they give us an opportunity to compare what's happening to a story inside our head and to ask ourselves like, "Am I acting the way that I wanted to? Or am I simply reacting to all the stimuli that's around me?"
[00:33:21] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Charles Duhigg. We'll be right there.
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[00:35:11] This episode is also sponsored in part by Progressive. What's one thing you'd purchase with a little extra savings, a weighted blanket, smart speaker, maybe a little nose hair trimmer. I recommend the nose hair trimmer just between you and I. Well, Progressive wants to make sure you're getting what you want by helping you save money on car insurance. Drivers who saved by switching to progressive save over $700 on average, and customers can qualify for an average of six discounts when they sign up. Discounts like having multiple vehicles on your policy. Progressive offers outstanding coverage and award-winning claim service. Day or night, they have customer support 24/7, 365 days a year. So when you need them most, they're at their best. A little off your rate each month goes a long way. Get a quote today at progressive.com and see why four out of five new auto customers recommend Progressive.
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[00:36:03] Jordan Harbinger: And now for the rest of my conversation with Charles Duhigg.
[00:36:08] The mental model stuff is super interesting to me because at least when I was a kid, I started visualizing things like this. And I know that when I play sports, I visualize things like this. And even football coaches to be like, go through the plays in your head, on the bus on the way to, you know, the next middle school or high school or whoever you're playing against that day. Does your coach ever do that stuff with you? They're like basic visualization. And this seems like it's very similar where, you know, our coach would say something like what happens when you miss your block? What happens if you see a hole and it's not the whole you're supposed to go through, what do you do? Look at this, think about this. And you're going through this in your head. And I think it's very important to do that even in your business or in your family or in your daily life because if something doesn't work out, if you've got the backup plan is not just a backup plan, but something you've gone through in your head so that you've emotionally prepared yourself, plus came up with a backup plan or a plan to deal with that particular scenario, that panic wave doesn't really hit you. Or it doesn't really hit you as strongly because instead of slamming you into a wall, it just changes your direction.
[00:37:07] Charles Duhigg: Yeah. That's exactly what. We're very accustomed to athletes talking about how they visualize. In fact, Michael Phelps in The Power of Habit, there's this whole section about how Michael Phelps' coach taught him to visualize every single race to what it would feel like for his hand to come out of the water. And as a result, when you talk to Michael Phelps about what it feels like when he sets a world record, he'll tell you that it actually feels kind of anticlimactic. He's just following the script, inside his head. He's just doing what he's imagined thousands of times before. Doing it isn't that different from actually just imagining it. And that's why he's so fast. He doesn't have to think it becomes a habit.
[00:37:44] Jordan Harbinger: Shifting over to creativity as well, you've got a lot of great information about this. First of all, how do you measure creativity? You have some tips and some ideas on how to manage to increase creativity, but how do you manage something like that? How do you measure something like that?
[00:37:59] Charles Duhigg: I think what researchers have looked at is they've looked at why some people seem to be able to be more creative on a productive schedule. So why do some people have the ability to say — if you say to them, "I need a good idea in two days." They come back with a good idea in two days. There seems to be some process. And in fact, that's what we know about creativity is that most people think of creativity as like the expression of an artistic mind, but that tends not to be true. The breakthroughs that in retrospect, people end up saying are the most creative, they tend to be the product, not of a particularly creative individual, but rather a particularly creative process. And that people who are creative tend to commit to that process and it yields a new idea kind of on a schedule.
[00:38:48] Jordan Harbinger: And how do we increase creativity? One of the examples you give is creating artificial deadlines. So for example, if we need brilliant ideas in two days, we make the deadline in one day, and then hope we can clean it up slightly thereafter. What other ways do we have of increasing creativity on demand?
[00:39:06] Charles Duhigg: Well, I think the point is there's not a lot of research to show that an artificial deadline helps creativity. What we do know is that when people tend to have a process, they go through that, that process brings them to a conclusion on a predictive schedule. So one of my favorite examples is Frozen, the making of the Disney movie Frozen. Everyone knows that Frozen is like this huge black box. But what most people don't know is that Frozen was literally on the brink of disaster until just months before it was in the theaters. But Disney has this basic philosophy, which comes from Pixar because the guys who run Disney are the guys who founded Pixar and their basic philosophy is anyone can be creative if they have the right process. And what the process ought to be is a process that forces you to think about your own experiences and to juxtapose your own experiences in new and original ways.
[00:39:57] So rather than coming up with a completely original idea, the goal of the process is to get you to take old ideas, old cliched concepts, and to put them together in new combinations. And the way that this works with Disney in Frozen. They had been working on the movie for like two years and basically like it wasn't working, they had all these original scripts and the original script, Elsa and Anna, the two main characters. They're not sisters, they're like enemies. And one of them is the snow queen and she's this evil woman who lives up on a hill and she attacks the town. And then they tried making them sisters but one of them is like an orphan who didn't know she has a sister. They tried all this stuff and it just didn't work.
[00:40:35] And so they sat down and said, "Look, we're almost out of time. We got to figure out how to make this movie. Here's what I want you to do." They had this big offsite meeting, the producer of the movie said, "I want us to go around and I want you to talk about the two ideas that are most important to you. Whether those ideas work together or not, let's just get cliched ideas on the table to play with." And they went around and the first idea that people said is, "Well, look, we want to tell a story about princesses, right? Because Disney knows princesses better than anyone else. We know that we can tell a story about princesses better than anyone. So that's the first cliche we want to deal with is princess." And then the producer said, "Okay, so princesses, let's start there, but we need another idea. We need something to juxtapose with that. That seems creative and new." And as they're going round, he said, "Look, draw on your personal experiences." And they're going around.
[00:41:20] And what's interesting about Frozen is that there was an unusually large number of women working on that project. In fact, the co-director is the first female director in Disney's history, a woman named Jennifer Lee. And as they're going around, and they're talking about this, the women who were working on it and the men, but most importantly, the women are saying, "You know, one of the ideas that's really important to me is sisterhood." Like what's interesting about sisterhood is it's complicated. It's not that usually there's like a good sister and an evil sister. It's that like both sisters are usually kind of screwed up. Right? And you like come together and you're friends and then you have a falling out and then you come together again. And so like, sisterhood is kind of cliched, right? There's all these books about sisterhood. There's literally hundreds and hundreds of books about sisters. But we don't have to reinvent the wheel here. All we have to do is find two ideas that seem interesting and then figure out how to jam them together.
[00:42:06] And so they said, look, "What if we wrote a movie where it's about princesses and those princesses are sisters and the sisters save each other. Instead of a prince coming in and saving the princess, the sisters both save each other." And once they did that, all these creative opportunities opened up because now you can have a prince and it can turn out that the prince is the bad guy, but we don't have to reveal that to the end of the movie. And moreover, we can have these two sisters and they're fighting with each other, but you don't know which of them is good and which of them is bad. And then what if it turns out that they're both kind of good and they're both kind of bad, all of a sudden these creative opportunities opened up, but it was only because they took these two cliches, princesses and sisters, and pushed them together that they felt this opportunity to be creative. This is called innovation brokerage. And what it reflects is that the most innovative people, the most creative people, they tend to be people who collect ideas and then figure out how to fit those ideas together, rather than trying to come up with a completely new idea on its own.
[00:43:08] West Side Story is exactly that. It's taking Romeo and Juliet and it's taking racial gang warfare in the 1950s and jamming them together or Hamilton, right? Hamilton is taking hip-hop, which has been around for 25 years now and the founding fathers, which is like the most cliched story on the face of planet and jamming them together. Or the invention of the bicycle helmet. The invention of the bicycle helmet happened when a guy who used to build boat hulls was hired to come up with a new football helmet idea. And he said, "Why don't I just build a boat hull as big as someone's head?" None of these on their own are creative ideas, but they become creative when these two old ideas are pushed together.
[00:43:48] That's how you make productivity happen on a schedule. If you say to people don't come up with something entirely new, instead look at the ideas that to you see meaningful, seem old, or these ideas that you've played with for years and figure out how to juxtapose them together.
[00:44:04] Jordan Harbinger: How do we get people to generate these types of ideas? I mean, it seems like a big blank slate. Everybody's full of ideas. Everybody's full of input throughout their life. Is there anything that you can point to that allows this to come out more easily?
[00:44:17] Charles Duhigg: I think we can do it right now. Like what's a creative project that you have?
[00:44:20] Jordan Harbinger: I create this show and I interview people multiple times per week.
[00:44:24] Charles Duhigg: Okay, the interview is pretty much a cliche, right? You ask people questions about what they've got going on. When you have conversations with friends, what's the most meaningful part of those conversations? Like what do you find is important about the last conversation you had with a family member or friend?
[00:44:41] Jordan Harbinger: Huh? Interesting. Probably their feelings about whatever it is we're talking about.
[00:44:46] Charles Duhigg: Okay. We have two cliches, right? The interview program, someone's written a book, you're going to ask them about their book. And then we have another cliche, which is that when you talk to your friends, you like to talk about feelings. You like to talk about like what's going on with their emotional lives. And so you juxtapose those and you've got to create a show. You say, "Look, I'm going to talk to you about your book, but rather than just asking you to tell the stories about your book, tell me like why you wrote this book. Like, what are the emotions that are driving this book? Why did you spend two years trying to take these ideas and put them down on paper? That's Terry Gross. That's Fresh Air. That's exactly what she does for the most popular interview show on radio. Like that's how you create something new if you look for these things that seem important to you. So important you've maybe stopped paying attention to them and you try and push them together in new ways and something creative comes out.
[00:45:35] Jordan Harbinger: I know everyone's expecting this, so I'm just going to do it. Why did you spend two years creating this?
[00:45:42] Charles Duhigg: Writing this book?
[00:45:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:45:44] Charles Duhigg: So the reason I spent two years writing this book is because I wanted to figure out why I wasn't as productive as I should have been. So I started working on this book the same year that The Power of Habit was published. I had written The Power of Habit and it wasn't certain that anyone would read it. And then it ended up doing really, really well, like way better than I expected it to. And I felt really lucky. And that same year I was working on a series for the New York Times called the iEconomy that ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize. And so professionally, it was like a great year for me, right? I have a book that's doing well. I'm working on this big, important series for the New York Times. And I would come home and I would say to my wife, "Like, if this is what success feels like, then sign me back up for failure because like this is miserable." I would get home every night and I would have like a hundred emails to deal with. And I would have all this crap I should have done during that day. And instead of like having dinner with my kids and putting them to bed, I would have to like sit in front of my computer and deal with all these tasks.
[00:46:36] And I thought to myself, "Why does it seem like there's all these other people who are so much more successful than I am without being stressed out of their mind?" President Obama only has the same number of hours in each day that I do. Why does he get so much more important stuff done? Why do I feel so overwhelmed by the minutia and the chores of life? And honestly, it was really devastating, right? Because like I had worked for so long to try and write a great book. I worked for so long to become a great newspaper reporter. And now that I'm doing both of them, it's like a punishment. So that's why I wrote the book was because I wanted to understand there are these people out there who seem more productive. They not only seem like they get more done, they seem happier getting things done. They seem like they're in more control of their life. I wanted to understand what was the secret that they had found. How can I be successful in accomplishing the goals that are most important to me without making huge sacrifices, without feeling emotionally adrift. And so that's why I wrote the book.
[00:47:34] Jordan Harbinger: Do you feel like you've come much closer to accomplishing that goal?
[00:47:37] Charles Duhigg: Totally. When someone teaches you how to think about thinking, when someone teaches you how to like take control of your life and your brain, it's transformative. So I have all these contemplative routines now. Right? Like I go home and I tell my wife about what's going on with my day, the parts that I like and I dislike that I mentioned before. And like, as a result, I'm so much less stressed about the choices I have to make, because I know that I'm going to have a chance to review them with my wife. So I make a mistake, that's okay. It's just an experiment. I'm going to get to review the data with my wife later on and learn how not to make that mistake again. In the morning when I'm riding the subway, as I mentioned, I kind of visualize my day. And now when I go through my day, I get so much more done. And that anxiety of like making the wrong choice, that's kind of been removed because I know how I want my day to unfold. I know what the most important thing to get done this morning is, and I know how I think I'm going to get it done. I have all these contemplative routines, these habits that I've tried to build into my life. And yeah, not only do I get more done, but like when I get home, I get to have dinner with my kids and put them to bed. Not feel like I'm running all the time just to stay in place.
[00:48:42] Jordan Harbinger: Well, Charles, thank you so much. Is there anything else that I haven't asked you that you want to make sure you deliver?
[00:48:47] Charles Duhigg: We are living through this really interesting and weird time. Like the world is literally changing around us and for years I was skeptical when people would say everything's different now, but most economists, most social scientists, they agree. We are living through an economic revolution that will leave our society as profoundly changed as the industrial revolution did and the agrarian revolution. The thing about times like this is they are very anxiety producing. If you go and you look at diaries from a hundred years ago during the industrial revolution, what you'll see is you will see people freaking out about how the world is changing and feeling completely uncertain.
[00:49:23] And at the core of these changes are usually debates over the definition of productivity. Is it more productive for me just to create widgets or is it more productive for me to sit and daydream and come up with a brilliant idea? Or is it more productive for me to spend time with my kids and be happy? A debate over productivity is happening now in a way that our parents, our grandparents didn't really have to experience. And the fact that people feel anxious about that, that is okay. They shouldn't feel bad about feeling anxious. It's just a characteristic of this period, but there is an answer to it. The answer to it is to figure out how to push yourself to think more, how to push yourself to focus on the right goals, and to write to-do lists the right way, and to become an innovation broker, and to build mental models so you can focus better. For the first time, we actually understand how the brain works well enough that we can govern our thinking in a way to become more successful. Teaching yourself to think more, that relieves the anxiety. Because once you are in control of how you think, there's nothing that you can't get done.
[00:50:27] Jordan Harbinger: Charles, thank you very much.
[00:50:29] Charles Duhigg: Thank you.
[00:50:32] Jordan Harbinger: If you're looking for another episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show to sink your teeth into, here's a trailer for another episode that I think you might enjoy.
[00:50:39] Joe Navarro: There is no pill that cures malignant narcissism. There just isn't. You can't take a pill for it. Character flaws are fixed and rigid, and they remain with us and it would take heroic efforts on the part of the person to overcome these things. Only they can fix themselves.
[00:51:01] Jordan Harbinger: The point is things will not get better so document everything. The person with the best set of records of events wins.
[00:51:09] Joe Navarro: I have to be honest and say, look, as you said, Jordan, it's not going to get better. Things will get worse. And unfortunately, it usually does. And the. That pays the price are those that are closest to the malignant narcissist. Once I teach you to look for these behaviors, you will never forget them. You will be more aware that you will be able to notice them. And when we begin to accumulate these behaviors and we aggregate them and they go into that checklist — you know, there's 130-something items on the predator checklist and you say, "Wow, this person tops fifty, this individual will put you at risk. They will victimize you. It doesn't matter where you're at. There is no safe place. There is no safe church. All it takes is one predator to undo all of that.
[00:52:13] Jordan Harbinger: For more on dangerous personality types and how to spot them before they can do damage to you or those you love, check out episode 135 with Joe Navarro here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:52:25] I love stuff like this. I love the science of motivation, internal versus external locus of control, and of course, the idea of choice. The fact that we can teach other people to create and see more choices is extremely powerful, especially, look, if you're a parent or you manage people at work just about anybody or you want to be more persuasive, so this episode is right up my alley here. Hence me bringing it out from the vault. I hope you enjoyed it as well.
[00:52:49] Big thank you to Charles Duhigg. His books will be linked up in the show notes. And please use our website links if you buy the book. It does help support the show. Worksheets for the episode are in the show notes. Transcripts are in the show notes. Our YouTube channel is jordanharbinger.com/youtube. And our clips channel is jordanharbinger.com/clips. A lot of stuff you can't find anywhere else. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram, and you can also hit me on LinkedIn.
[00:53:12] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same software systems and tiny habits that I use every single day in our Six-Minute Networking course. The course is free. There's no nonsense upsells. I don't need your credit card. Just teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty. Most of the guests on the show actually subscribe to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:53:32] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's interested in productivity, choice, psychology, habit development, share this episode with them. I hope you find something great in every episode of this show. So please share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[00:54:08] This episode is sponsored in part by LifeLock. Researchers have determined that email phishing attacks and brute-force attacks are the two most popular and successful methods cybercriminals use for ransomware and extortion attacks on corporate networks. These attacks are simple to attempt, difficult to detect, and can come with big rewards for cybercriminals. You've probably seen a bunch of this in the news. It's important to understand how cybercrime and identity theft are affecting our lives. Everyday you put your information at risk on the Internet. In an instant, a cybercriminal can harm what's yours, your finances, your credit, your reputation. Good thing, there's a LifeLock. LifeLock helps detect a wide range of identity threats, like your social security number for sale on the dark web. If they detect your information has potentially been compromised, they'll send you an alert.
[00:54:49] Jen Harbinger: No one can prevent all identity theft or monitor all transactions at all businesses but you can keep what's yours with LifeLock by Norton. Join now and save up to 25 percent off your first year by going to lifelock.com/jordan. That's lifelock.com/jordan for 25 percent off.
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