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 is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and the author of The Power of Habit. He is a winner of the National Academies of Sciences, National Journalism, and George Polk awards. A graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale College, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.
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.
"They" has taken on a not-so-new meaning lately. This earned it the scrutiny it needed to win.
- Merriam-Webster has announced "they" as the word of the year.
- The selection was based on a marked increase in traffic to the online dictionary page.
- Runners up included "quid pro quo" and "crawdad."
A review of the global "wall" that divides rich from poor.
- Trump's border wall is only one puzzle piece of a global picture.
- Similar anxieties are raising similar border defenses elsewhere.
- This map shows how, as a result, "the West" is in fact one large gated community.
Facebook's misinformation isn't just a threat to democracy. It's endangering lives.
- Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada.
- Over the years, Facebook's hands-off ad policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its political ads.
- Unregulated "surveillance capitalism" commodifies people's personal information and makes them vulnerable to sometimes misleading ads.
LGBT groups are saying that Facebook is endangering lives by advertising misleading medical information pertaining to HIV patients.
The tech giant's laissez-faire ad policy has already been accused of threatening democracy by providing a platform for false political ads, and now policy could be fostering a major public-health concern.
LGBT groups take on Facebook’s ad policy
According to LGBT advocates, for the past six months Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada. The ads, which The Washington Post reports appear to have been purchased by personal-injury lawyers, claim that these medications threaten patients with serious side effects. According to LGBT organizations led by GLAAD, the ads have left some patients who are potentially at risk of contracting HIV scared to take preventative drugs, even though health officials and federal regulators say the drugs are safe.
LGBT groups like GLAAD, which regularly advises Facebook on LGBT issues, reached out to the company to have the ads taken down, saying they are false. Yet, the tech titan has refused to remove the content claiming that the ads fall within the parameters of its policy. Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns told The Post that the ads had not been rated false by independent fact-checkers, which include the Associated Press. But others are saying that Facebook's controversial approach to ads is creating a public-health crisis.
In an open letter to Facebook sent on Monday, GLAAD joined over 50 well-known LGBTQ groups including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Academy of HIV Medicine and the National Coalition for LGBT Health to publicly condemn the company for putting "real people's lives in imminent danger" by "convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections."
What Facebook’s policy risks
Of course, this is not the first time Facebook's policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its ads. Social media has been both a catalyst and conduit for the rapid-fire spread of misinformation to the world wide web. As lawmakers struggle to enforce order to cyberspace and its creations, Facebook has become a symbol of the threat the internet poses to our institutions and to public safety. For example, the company has refused to take down 2020 election ads, largely funded by the Trump campaign, that spew false information. For this reason, Facebook and other social media platforms present a serious risk to a fundamental necessity of American democracy, public access to truth.
But this latest scandal underlines how the misconstrued information that plagues the web can infect other, more intimate aspects of American lives. Facebook's handling of paid-for claims about the potential health risks of taking Truvada and other HIV medications threatens lives.
"Almost immediately we started hearing reports from front-line PrEP prescribers, clinics and public health officials around the country, saying we're beginning to hear from potential clients that they're scared of trying Truvada because they're seeing all these ads on their Facebook and Instagram feeds," said Peter Staley, a long-time AIDS activist who works with the PrEP4All Collaboration, to The Post.
Unregulated Surveillance Capitalism
To be fair, the distinction between true and false information can be muddy territory. Personal injury lawyers who represent HIV patients claim that the numbers show that the potential risks of medications such as Turvada and others that contain the ingredient antiretroviral tenofovir may exist. This is particularly of note when the medication is used as a treatment for those that already have HIV rather than prevention for those that do not. But the life-saving potential of the HIV medications are unequivocally real. The problem, as some LGBT advocates are claiming, is that the ads lacked vital nuance.
It also should be pointed out that Facebook has taken action against anti-vaccine content and other ads that pose threats to users. Still, the company's dubious policies clearly pose a big problem, and it has shown no signs of adjusting. But perhaps the underlying issue is the failure to regulate what social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism" by which people's experiences, personal information, and characteristics become commodities. In this case, paid-for personal-injury legal ads that target users with certain, undisclosed characteristics. It's been said that you should be wary of what you get for free, because it means you've become the product. Facebook, after all, is a business with an end goal to maximize profits.
But why does a company have this kind of power over our lives? Americans and their legislators are ensnared in an existential predicament. Figure out how to regulate Facebook and be accused with endangering free speech, or leave the cyber business alone and risk the public's health going up for sale along with its government.