Setting and Achieving Goals

Huberman Podcast

A new podcast has been skyrocketing on the internet over the last few months: The Huberman Lab podcast. Set up by Prof Andrew Huberman, professor of neurobiology at Stanford university, this (almost weekly) podcast aims to present insightful biological explanations and life tips supported by peer-reviewed research.

My wife and I discovered back in October after his episode on Dopamine made a splash on social media. We have since been trying to keep up with his release; mostly failling since the episodes are often released weekly and are information dense & long (1-2hrs). These episodes never miss to trigger a discussion between us and how we could potentially change of our habits in line with the reported research; my wife now likes to promptly open the curtains to see the sun in the morning!

I’ve got a feeling that his (future) episodes will make a recurrent appearance on this blog…

The One About Goal Setting

The latest episode on ‘Setting and Achieving Goals‘ is again very interesting and thought provocative. Prof Huberman has once again packed this episode (2-hour long!) with biological explanations on what motivate us to achieve the goals we set to ourselves (surprise, surprise! It includes dopamine).

As you may have already experienced yourself, the literature and social media on this topic is very prolific and provide enough claims about overriding the motivation problem that it could solve the World and more.

Prof Huberman focused on the scientific literature and came up with 9 life-hacking tools to approach goal setting and achieving:

  1. The 85% rule
  2. Initial focal visualisation
  3. Aged self-image
  4. Goal visualisation at the start
  5. Failure visualisation to carry on
  6. Challenge/reward balance
  7. Avoid goal distraction
  8. Specificity of goals
  9. Space-time bridging

Some Reflections

As Prof Huberman said in this episode, most of these points have been covered with different names in popular motivation books and some of them even seem obvious once you have experienced them at some points in your life.

I’m not going to comment on every of these points as the best would be for you to listen directly to the podcast. What I’ll share however are some (fairly hot) takes.

The 85% Rule

This one refers to managing the challenge level of the intermediate goal we are currently tackling. The idea consists in setting the difficulty level such that we succeed 85% of the time and fail 15%. The former reassures us that we are not overwhelmed by the task, while the latter keeps up on our toes and curious enough to put efforts into it. This applies typically when learning something.

I straight away thought about my own learning journey and present role as a teacher. Keeping the motivation high requires to make the goal look achievable but not too easy and I concur with this; not too sure about the stated ratio but apparently some research backs it.

This is definitely a point I need to remember when setting up a course and writing a specific lecture. The students should be able to grasp the vast majority of the points with minimal reflection (the 85%) but should nevertheless feel challenged by the new material presented to them.

Visualisation and Planning

All the points about visualisation and specifity of goals can be grouped under the classic project management umbrella. The final objective (e.g. mastering control theory) should feel grandiose enough to motivate us to start this journey in the first place.

However, this long-term vision can quickly become toxic as the goal may feel unattainable when we realise that hardly any (relative) distance has been covered after the first few steps. To counteract this stage, breaking down the journey into smaller steps and visualizing the eventually of failure will help to keep motivate and pushing forward.


The point about avoid goal distraction rang particularly home.

Having too many concurrent goals (also read projects) turns out to be counterproductive. Since our efforts become divided, our progress on each goal also slows down; potentially leading to a loss of motivation and an endless cycle of underperformance. In extreme (but unfortunately common) cases, burnout can appear and take hold (as I battle with myself cyclically for years).

In the world of university, academic time is often considered by many (including academic themselves) as of free and limitless. This combined with an environment prone to generate ideas (we are all educated in doing research after all) leads to a propension to often accept new projects, big and small.

However, the physicality of life and the absence of cloning (a recurring joke amongst academics) means that we become overcommitted and cannot deliver on all these projects.

This is further compounded by the fact that each of these projects often involves different stakeholders (e.g. students, industrial partners, various part of the administration, other colleagues in and outside our home university) and their lack of global vision on our workload (as well as our inability to communicate it) gives the impression that we are almost purposely making no progress on the project they are involved in.

As part of this year’s resolution, I will develop my assertiveness and let go of some projects/ideas as well as saying ‘no’.

Closing Words

And what do you think? How do you motivate yourself to set and achieve goals? Do you have some good references to share on this topic?

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.

diary Teaching

Tips for Preparing a New Course (Part 1)

A Reflective Prompt

This week, two colleagues interviewed me regarding my experience of setting up two brand-new courses over the course of my (so far) short lectureship.

These colleagues were tasked to write a short blogpost about the tips from a colleague who recently set up a new course as part of a training programmes that they are both attending together. Since my tumultuous lectureship started with creating two courses from scratch over the course of two years, I turned out to be a prime candidate for their weekly assignment. Always happy to help, their questioning prompted my mind to perform a little bit of self-reflexion on my own experience.

After all, I could also write this blogpost and share these insights with you.

A Bit of Context

First, I suppose that detailing what my experience consists of on this topic.

I started my lectureship in August 2017, following a successful interview at the School of Engineering from the university of Edinburgh. The recent opening of the MSc Electrical Power Engineering (EPE) – sister MSc programme to the established and successful MSc Sustainable Energy Systems (SES) – supported the creation of a new academic position (which I took) but was also accompanied by a host of new courses to support the new MSc proframme.

Within the first month of my appointment, I was tasked with creating the new ‘Distributed Energy Resources and Smart Grid‘ course which was authorised by the board of study before I was even interviewed for this position. This meant creating the structure, taught material, exam, and coursework for this course whose learning objectives were already set.

For the second academic year, more new courses had to be created and I ended up being once again course organiser / creator of the ‘Advanced Control for Power Engineering‘ to provide more optional courses for the MSc EPE and differentiating its programme from those of the MSc SES. This also meant creating everything but I benefitted from my own expertise being more aligned with this course’s content compared to the first one.

All in all, these experiences provided me with a crash course into how to create new courses. There is still so much for me to learn about pedagogy and teaching matters but I do have these unique experiences, which are worth sharing.

Closing Words

This blogpost is getting quite long and I have listed a lot of points to share. So I suppose this is going another multihpart post.

What do you think I’ve learned from these experiences? Which parts would you like me to specifically share in part 2 of this blogpost?

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.


Quick Tip Against Overcommitments

This one is going to be a short blogpost as it’s already quite late. In addition to the numerous meetings today, I had the pleasure to catch up with a colleague I hadn’t seen in a while.

We discussed about the state of Academia (a common discussion topic obviously) and logically ended up on ideas to say ‘no’ to avoid overcommitments.

This trick is to delay your decision until the evening. After a long day at work, our tired mind is more likely to ask how much work and what are the outcomes of this proposal. Therefore, we might be in a better situation to assess whether this new project is worth our time and efforts.

At the opposite to taking the decision the morning when we are still full of energy and motivations for loads of ideas with less consideration for how committed we already are.

I think there is a point there and I’ll keep this in mind for the future.

Thanks for reading, see you tomorrow.