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A Rower, A Podcast And A Chance For Olympic Glory

Stashed in: Motivation, Productivity, Awesome, Stories, Olympics!, Freakonomics, Podcasts

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Do you read all the self-improvement lifehacking stuff on sites like this but aren't sure whether it works? Some evidence from a failed Olympic hopeful!

Listening to Freakonomics podcasts about productivity actually works?! Cool!

This is a great story:

"I was not in the best of mindsets, and I said, 'I cannot listen to music for four hours on a good trip — and coming through Connecticut usually adds another hour or two.' And I said. 'I can’t listen to music anymore. I need something else to distract me,'" he recalls. "A friend in college said, 'You know, I always listen to podcasts.' So I said, 'All right, I’ll check this out,' so opened up the podcast app on my phone and I said, 'All right, this one looks like it would be entertaining.'"

No, the podcast wasn't National Public Radio's award winning sports program.

It's called Freakonomics, and it's produced by our friends down at WNYC. Freakonomics explores what it calls "the riddles of everyday life and the weird wrinkles of human nature." And the riddle Freakonomics took on in the episode that just happened to pop up on Anders' podcast app? How to be more productive.

"How to be more productive is something I want to do, so I said, 'All right, I'll listen to that one,'" Anders says.

Anders just happened to discover Freakonomics in time for "self-improvement month." Listeners to the program had shared their personal goals — things like learning to knit a scarf, improving their guitar playing skills, and spending more time with their family. One caller wanted "to become a better American."

None of the Freakonomics listeners — not a single one — said they'd like to row for the U.S. Olympic team.

But it wasn't talk about goal setting that would put Anders Weiss on the road to Rio. It was when Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner paused briefly to ask his guest, author Charles Duhigg, about motivation.

Duhigg explained that there are two types of motivation: internal and external. Let's imagine two students are studying for the same test. Both might spend the same amount of time studying. But the first student believes the test is primarily a measure of how smart he is. So he studies, because that's what you do, but his studying is not very productive. That's external motivation — the belief that his success isn't entirely in his control.

The other student believes that her test score will be a result of how hard she studies — not how smart she is. And that is entirely in her control. So when she studies, she really studies.

Duhigg explained that this kind of internal motivation leads to much better results. That's something 23-year-old Anders Weiss just hadn't figured out yet.

"I put a lot of work in in athletics. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, I’m so talented. I’m going to just lie on the couch.' I still did all the work," Anders says. "But that work to me wasn’t work to win, it was work to showcase my talent."

This is really a small distinction, but it's important. Anders was working hard. He was talented. But so was everyone else. And this podcast — and the science behind it — was telling him that if he believed he was in control of how quickly he could move the boat — if he didn't give in to the idea that his top speed was limited by his genetics — he could work even harder, and the work he put in would be more productive.

This idea might have been new to Anders, but Charles Duhigg told Freakonomics that it's something that the U.S. Marine Corps figured out a while ago:

The Corps, as a whole, never tells anyone that there’s such a thing as natural-born leaders. Because that implies that you don’t have any control over whether you’re a leader or not. Instead, what they do is they complement shy people who take a leadership role. And they say to them, “Look, I know it was hard for you to do that, but you did a great job.”

And that's it. Three minutes and 41 seconds. And the podcast moved on to discussing "how to make to-do lists that really work."

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