Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
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Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Want More Motivation? Take This Counterintuitive Lesson from the Marines.

Probably few organizations value self-motivation like the US Marine Corps, so when their recruits began showing deficiencies, officers dug into the latest psychologist research. Here's what they found.

Charles Duhigg:  One of the things we know about motivation is that we’re able to trigger those parts of our neurology that are related to motivating us when we feel in control. And very frequently this comes from making a choice: something that allows us to assert ourselves into a situation. One of the most fascinating examples of this is how the Marine Corps revamped basic training. So about 15 years ago the Marine Corps found it was having this problem: they were getting a bunch of recruits that were coming in who were completely unpracticed at self-motivation. They essentially had never learned the skills of this. Now for the Marine Corps this is a real problem because the Marines are kind of different from other branches of the military. They’re usually the first in and the last to leave. And so what they need is they need real self-starters, people who know how to take the initiative, but the recruits that are coming through the door at boot camp were just completely unpracticed at this. Charles Krulak, who is the head of the Marine Corps, told me that a lot of these recruits had never been on sports teams, they had never learned how to assert themselves, they had never practiced self-motivation. So Krulak looked at the literature and he found that there were a bunch of studies that said the most effective Marines are ones who have learned an internal locus of control. We all have an internal or external locus of control and what that means is it’s how we see the world whether we believe that we have the ability to assert ourselves and control our destinies or whether we believe that the things that happen around us determine whether we’re successful or not. Krulak wanted to teach his recruits how to have an internal locus of control, what in the Marines they call a bias towards action, and so he redesigned root boot camp completely. Now when recruits enter boot camp, instead of learning discipline and learning how to follow orders, which is how most of us think about it (that’s the cliché), instead they’re trained on making decision after decision after decision: taking control and serving themselves in ways that maybe they didn’t even expect they would need to. At the end of boot camp is this thing called the crucible. It’s a 56 hour obstacle course that every recruit has to complete in order to become a Marine. And during the crucible what’s really interesting is some of the obstacles can only be completed if you kind of disobey the orders you’re hearing. One of my favorites is this thing called Sergeant Timmerman’s Tank where you have to use these ropes and logs to move across this big sand pit.

And you’re told not to do anything unless you get a direct order from your platoon leader, but the thing is everyone’s wearing gas masks. You can’t hear your platoon leader and your platoon leader is wearing a gas mask. Whatever he shouts nobody can make out. The only way to actually do the obstacle is if everyone pretends that they’re listening to their platoon leader and sort of self-organizes on the fly. Now we don’t think of the Marines and we don’t think of the military as some place that teaches us to be subversive. But this is the biggest insight is that when people feel the subversive instinct, when they feel this need to take control and assert themselves that’s when they learn how to generate self-motivation. And the more that we can give that to kids or our coworkers, the more that we can encourage it in ourself. That feeling that you’re on the freeway and you’re stuck in a traffic jam and you want to just take that exit because it feels so good to be in control, that’s where motivation comes from. So anyone can learn a bias towards action. In fact it’s something that we can learn at any stage in life. One of my favorite studies about motivation comes from this examination of how nursing homes work and why some people succeed in nursing homes and other people sort of just get old and pass away. And what they found is that the people who are most successful in a nursing home setting are the ones who try to break the rules. So one of my favorite examples is that they were talking to a group of nursing home residents in Santa Fe and they found that the people who lived the longest, who sort of did best once they were in the nursing home was this group of seniors who as soon as they got their meal tray from the cafeteria where the nursing home would tell them you should have this to eat and that to eat they would trade among themselves and kind of make their own meals. And they talked to this one guy and he said that he always traded away his chocolate cake and that he actually loved chocolate cake. But that he would rather eat a meal of his own creation than just placidly take what was being handed to him. And that’s actually why he was successful in the nursing home is because people who look for ways to prove to themselves that they’re in control whether they’re in control of their own life or whether they’re in control of their own decisions, those are the people who manage to motivate to exercise more and to keep up relationships with friends and to partake in the community. This subversive instinct, if you can encourage that then you learn how to self-motivate and it just pays these huge dividends in your life.

Probably few organizations value self-motivation like the U.S. Marine Corps, so when their recruits began showing deficiencies, officers dug into the latest psychologist research. What they found is that one's "locus of control" greatly determines the extent of self-motivation: do you believe you are firmly in control of your destiny or that external events determine your life? Individuals whose locus of control is internal, i.e. they believe they control their own destiny, have a greater impulse toward taking action. New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg explains how the Marines took this data to better train their recruits.


Duhigg's latest book is Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.

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The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

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Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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