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:
- The 85% rule
- Initial focal visualisation
- Aged self-image
- Goal visualisation at the start
- Failure visualisation to carry on
- Challenge/reward balance
- Avoid goal distraction
- Specificity of goals
- Space-time bridging
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’.
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.