Charles Duhigg author of The Power of Habit is back with a new book to bring his discoveries about the psychology of productivity. In Smarter, Faster, Better Charles uses his extraordinary Pulitzer Prize winning storytelling to recount his research and studies with renowned psychologists and productive people. I have not read Smarter, Faster, Better but it’s already synced to my Kindle and is next on my list.

I wanted to discuss one portion of Charles’ new book that I previewed and listened to Freakonomics talk about on their podcast. That is the power of choice.

To paraphrase a portion of Charles’ book, a test was performed on several individuals. They participated in a simple guessing game. A computer would generate a number between 1 and 10 and the subject had to preemptively guess if the number was greater or less than 5. Simple enough. The game stimulated the part of the brain that is responsible for motivation and intrigue.

Then a second group played the same game only the computer would take turns making their decision for them. Their odds of winning were still the same. Participants were only out of control for a brief second and it really didn’t matter. However, their feeling of choice was diminished and their excitement and motivation to play the game decreased drastically as indicated by their brain function.

The takeaway is that choice has a huge impact on our productivity. If given a task and told how to complete it, generally we will be less productive and lose interest. However, if we are given a task and ask ourselves “Why am I doing this?”, and remind ourselves “I am choosing to do this. This is why. Here is my choice for how to proceed.” The marines call this a bias towards action. Recruits use a variation of this method when given orders or commands.

A lot of this thinking stems from the locus of control mindset. I’ve always held the mindset of an internal locus, but this internship blindsided me. I’ve applied this thinking to my work and noticed an instant increase in motivation, happiness, and appreciation for my work. My internal locus was being distorted by a daunting list of tasks that seemed more like chores than challenges. Applying and reapplying this thinking is going to be one of many keys to my success. I’m sure I’ll find more as I make my way through Charles’ book.

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