Charles Duhigg: How to Tap into the Transformative Power of Real Productivity

Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter and the author of Smarter Faster Better, about the science of productivity and The Power of Habit, about the science of habit formation in our lives, companies, and societies. You can connect with him and learn more at

Favorite Success Quote

“Think more deeply about what’s going on so that I can determine how I should respond?”

Key Points

1. Ask Yourself “What Do Really Want Out of This?”

One of the greatest tragedies of modern society is that most people are vigorously pursuing goals that aren’t congruent with who they are and what they really want.

Society, our friends, and our families all encourage us to earn more money, pack on more muscle, get married (or not), buy a house, and do what “good” little boys do.

Unfortunately, most people never actually take the time to ask themselves what they really want.

They never set aside the time to think purposefully about their life, their vision, and their goals.

As a result, more and more people arrive at their deathbeds wishing that they could live their lives over again in a different way.

I want to encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself “What do I really want from this?”

In every situation, whether it’s in the bedroom, the boardroom, or the gym, set aside the time to think deeply about what you really want and how you can attain it.

2. Your Habits are Predicated on Queues, Actions, and Rewards

While the old saying, “Knowing is half the battle” might be a little bit hyperbolic, it’s origins are found in reality.

If you don’t truly understand a system, process, or job, you will never be able to accomplish it successfully and nowhere is this truer than in the realm of productivity, habits, and performance.

Most people simply assume that they are lazy or a procrastinator or just plain unlucky.

But the reality is that most people have never been taught how to properly build the habits of success into their lives.

Luckily, building a habit… Any habit is very simple (notice I did not say easy).

Habits can be broken into three parts: The trigger, the action, and the reward.

If you’ve ever been addicted to cigarettes then I have no doubt that you are uncomfortably familiar with this process.

You see a cigarette or experience stress (the trigger), you pull out a smoke and light it up (the action/habit), and then you experience a buzz from the nicotine and a sense of relaxation (the reward).

But the same pattern can be found in positive habits.

For example, you might see your running shoes and gym clothes (the trigger), decide to go workout (the action), and then experience a rush of endorphins and endocannabinoids that give you a feeling of elation and euphoria (the reward).

Every habit can be broken down into these three simple steps and when you understand this framework you will be able to manipulate your actions and outputs at will.

Pay close attention to the “Reward” element of this framework and you will be able to change your habits quicker and easier than you ever believed possible.

3. The Small Daily Decisions Matter 

It doesn’t matter what you had for lunch today, if you went to the gym or not, how many drinks you had, or how much you slept.

But what does matter is what you consistently have for lunch, how often you go to the gym, how frequently you drink, and how serious you are about the quality of your sleep.

For most people, there is no one action that will make or break their life and success.

Instead, their lives are the direct result of thousands of tiny actions and decisions made overtime.

When you realize this, you will begin to see the small decisions in a different light.

Because even though one action might not make a difference today, when that action is repeated and compounded over years and decades, it will literally determine the quality and capacity of your life.

4. Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals 

With the new year right around the corner, many of you are undoubtedly setting New Year’s resolutions.

Although I think resolutions are a terrible idea (which I will be discussing in an upcoming article), if you are going to set resolutions, Charles shared a few simple tips to help you actually stick to them this year.

For starters, you want to set two major goals, a stretch goal and an easy goal.

The stretch goal should scare the crap out of you and be something that you aren’t 100% certain you can achieve.

It shouldn’t be unrealistic, just difficult.

Your second major goal should be an important habit or result that you know you can achieve if you are simply willing to put in the work.

Once you have your goals, you are going to break them down using the SMART formula.

  • Specific: What do I want to achieve? Who is required to achieve it? What resources will I need?
  • Measurable: How much? How many? How will I know my goal is achieved?
  • Achievable: How realistic is this goal based on my current restraints?
  • Relevant: Is this goal worthwhile? Is the timing right? Is it applicable in my current environment?
  • Time Bound: When will my goal be achieved? What benchmarks and checkpoints should I set for myself?

When you break down a goal in this manner, you clear all of the clutter from your mind and you’re left with nothing but clear, actionable steps that will help you get from where you are to where you want to be.

5. Assume That You Will Achieve Success 

One of the biggest roadblocks on your path to achieving your goals are your own limiting beliefs and b.s. internal stories.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret.

You are already doing better than you think you are and you’re much more likely to achieve success than you probably believe.

So why not act in a way that is reflective of this reality?

Assume that you will be successful at every endeavor you pursue.

Assume that if you are willing to stick it out and persevere, you will achieve your goals and dreams.

Act as if you are already successful, put in the work, and you will achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.

Influential Books

1. Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis

2. Draft No. 4 by John McFee

Next Steps

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