Goals Toolkit: How to Set & Achieve Your Goals | Huberman Lab Podcast

Goals Toolkit: How to Set & Achieve Your Goals | Huberman Lab Podcast

Goal Setting Toolkit (00:00:00)

  • The podcast discusses scientific and science-based tools for everyday life focusing on goal setting and achieving goals.
  • Concepts discussed are derived from the presenter's own research and collaborations with Dr. Emily Baltis, New York University, and Dr. MAA Shankar.
  • Key takeaways include how to select goals, measure progress, initiate and sustain motivation and dispel some myths about goal setting.
  • Goal-setting protocols will be covered including how to identify goals, maintain pursuit, evaluate progress, and post-goal evaluation.
  • The suggestion is that implementing even a subset of the provided protocols can significantly improve the chances of setting appropriate goals and achieving them.

Biology of Goal Setting & Pursuit (00:04:43)

  • Goal setting and pursuit involve specific neural circuitries of four major stations: the amygdala, the basal ganglia, the lateral prefrontal cortex, and the orbital frontal cortex.
  • The amygdala handles arousal levels and communicates feelings such as fear, anxiety, and positive experiences.
  • The basal ganglia are involved in generating and withholding actions, which is essential in goal setting since it requires initiating and inhibiting certain actions.
  • The lateral prefrontal cortex is crucial for immediate and long-term planning while the orbital frontal cortex evaluates current emotional and arousal state in relation to goal pursuit.
  • Knowledge of these neurological underpinnings can help to customize goal setting and pursuit protocols to one's unique needs.

Tool 1: Choose a Priority Goal (00:08:50)

  • Regardless of the nature of one's goal (fitness, academic, work, or relationship), we all use the same neural circuits for goal setting and pursuing.
  • Multiple goals often lead to failure, therefore, choosing one specific goal known as a 'priority' increases the likelihood of success.
  • While it is essential to maintain other aspects of mental and physical health, focusing on one major goal is recommended.
  • The goal chosen should reflect personal values, motivation, resources, and serious consideration of the chosen objective.
  • For some people, writing out different potential goals, crossing off the ones to be put on hold, and circling the chosen main focus could be beneficial.

Tool 2: Pursue Lofty Goals (00:12:04)

  • Achieving lofty goals requires invoking sufficient arousal network, involving the amygdala and other brain structures, which encourages people to pursue the goal.
  • The pursuit towards achieving a goal often involves discomfort, frustration, anxiety and errors.
  • These uncomfortable states trigger modes of neuroplasticity, which projects a change in the neural circuitry aligning with the attainment of the goal.
  • Prioritizing and pursuing a specific goal, which may be difficult to achieve, leads to progress and performance beyond current capacity.
  • Frustration and anxiety experienced during this process are essential, as they pave the path to neuroplastic changes leading to learning.
  • Regarding the Orbital Frontal Cortex, it assesses feelings in a given moment, understanding the context of frustration or anxiety during goal pursuit. It also promotes neurochemical shifts for neuroplasticity.
  • Neuroplastic changes that enhance future performance don't happen instantaneously, they are triggered by the frustration during the learning process and the rewiring of neural circuits happens during deep sleep and other forms of deep rest.

Tool 3: Define Verb Actions, Measurability & Specificity; Writing vs. Typing (00:17:23)

  • After setting a specific priority goal, it's important to define the specific actions or verbs involved in achieving the goal.
  • Goal setting should be inscribed with detail on paper. Writing the goal down tends to engage neural circuitry more effectively than typing it out, enhancing knowledge embedding in the nervous system.
  • Defining the verb actions involves stating the amount of time one would spend weekly, in pursuit of the set goal.
  • Specificity and measurability are key elements in the goal-setting process. The more specific and measurable a goal is, the higher the probability of achieving it.
  • Setting specific goals, defining the actions and deciding the time allocation significantly increases the success rate.

Tool 4: Visual Reminder Myth; “Post-It Fallacy” (00:24:06)

  • Contrary to popular belief, consistently placing a reminder (such as a post-it note) in a static location does not increase goal attainment. This is because our visual system adapts to regular elements in our environment and 'cancels out' their impact.
  • Rather than leaving a static visual reminder, it is more effective to refresh that reminder each day in a new location. This prevents the habituation effect and keeps the goal top of mind.
  • This principle even extends to digital notifications, which become less effective if they become too regular and predictable.

Tool 5: Accountability Myth, “Don’t Tell the World” Rule (00:26:44)

  • The common practice of announcing goals to spur accountability can backfire. The initial positive feedback often triggers reward systems in the brain, leading to decreased motivation to actually pursue the goal.
  • It is best to keep goals private before taking action towards achieving them. Telling someone who doubts you can spur motivation through creating friction, but this has potential psychological downsides.
  • Accountability can still be valuable in some forms, such as 'tough love' reminders to stay on track from a trusted individual.

Intrinsic Motivation & Goal Achievement (00:31:35)

  • The friction model of achieving goals (proving others wrong) can work, but it can also detract from the goal itself if too much focus is placed on proving others wrong.
  • Intrinsic motivation, the motivation tied directly to the process of pursuing a goal, is the most powerful and sustainable form of motivation.

Tool 6: Measurable Goal; Quarterly Cycle (00:33:54)

  • Goals should be measurable with a clear timeline, with an overall time to achieve the goal and the daily/weekly hours dedicated to it.
  • Setting an overall goal for a 12-week (quarterly) period, regardless of whether it takes longer or shorter to achieve, is recommended based on numerous societal, work, and seasonal factors.
  • It is crucial to define how many hours will be dedicated to the goal each week and day, and on what specific days.
  • Writing down the specific actions and time commitments for your goal in complete sentences greatly increases the likelihood of achieving those goals.

Tool 7: Quantifiable Goals; Book Writing (00:37:35)

  • Achievable goals can be quantified in different ways such as setting a target time for running a mile or completing an academic degree.
  • If the chosen goal does not have a clear quantifiable result, like learning conversational French or writing poetry, the quantity is based on the time spent practicing or engaging in verb actions for achieving the goal.
  • For goals that are not easily quantifiable, it's important to be precise about the amount of time allocated to working towards the goal.
  • For instance, writing a book. The focus should be on setting a specific timeline for writing a specific number of words each day, rather than fixating on the end result such as achieving best-seller status.

Tool 8: Visualization of End; Motivation & Negative Thinking (00:43:34)

  • When starting towards a goal, it's important to consider whether your motivation towards achieving it is high, low or variable. The strategy for goal pursuit should change depending on the motivation level.
  • If you're motivated and want to pursue the goal, spend a few minutes visualizing the positive outcome and feeling that might come with goal achievement.
  • However, if motivation is lackluster, literature suggests that visualizing failure and the negative emotions associated with not accomplishing the goal can help stir action. This is done by triggering certain elements of your nervous system and hormonal system more effectively.
  • Thus, negative visualization can be a useful tool when motivation is low. This doesn't mean self-deprecation, rather it's about picturing the disappointment of unachieved targets.

Tool 9: Visual Target/Finish Line Training & Perceived Effort (00:51:44)

  • The topic discusses the usage of various tools for sustaining effort and motivation in the process of goal pursuit. It explains a science-based protocol on starting towards your goal each day.
  • The key is to maintain an optimal focus on the goal and update or refocus, especially if it starts to dissipate. Focus is not just visual; it involves cognitive focus which is related to how you maintain motivation and alertness.
  • The visual system plays a vital role. Being able to narrow or broaden visual attention can influence a person's cognitive focus, readiness to perform and alertness.
  • Narrowing visual attention to a specific point increases alertness due to the release of neurochemicals. On the other hand, relaxing visual focus turns off the release of these neurochemicals.
  • This motivation strategy works when you lack motivation during a training block or task. The suggestion is to focus on a visual target related to the work you perform and try to maintain this focus for given periods, ideally for 30 to 90 seconds.
  • This focus technique results in increased alertness, increased blood pressure, release of dopamine and other molecules in the brain, all of which collectively increase motivation and focus.
  • Maintaining this focus can decrease perceived effort on a task and also reduce the completion time, i.e., more work is accomplished in less time.
  • Regular practice of this technique can make it more effective. However, it still requires a fundamental base of good nutrition, appropriate amount of sleep, stress management, social connections, sunlight, etc.
  • The increase in blood pressure is transient and safe, bolstering the autonomic nervous system temporarily and then receding after a while.
  • The tip shared includes taking breaks to rest the eyes, switch to a panoramic vision mode, breathe, and relax before resuming the focus technique for better goal pursuit.

Tool 10: Distance from Phone (01:05:50)

  • The tool suggests achieving goals by minimizing phone distractions. This could be by switching to airplane mode, turning it off or placing it in another room during tasks that require focus.
  • It's not productive to have the phone facing up with WiFi and cellular service on, if a task does not involve the phone.
  • Extreme measures could include handing the phone to another person for safekeeping during a designated period, as a way to reduce impulsive use of the phone.

Tool 11: Random, Intermittent Reinforcement; Cognitive Rewards (01:08:31)

  • Dopamine, as the molecule of motivation, plays a crucial role in maintaining motivation towards goal achievement.
  • Consistent motivation is achieved through random intermittent reinforcement, not just rewarding yourself each time you achieve a milestone or only when the entire goal has been attained.
  • Random, intermittent reinforcement involves randomly deciding whether to reward yourself after the completion of a milestone.
  • Cognitive rewards refer to internal gratifications such as acknowledging progress or attaining set goals, which contributes to mental health, physical health, and performance.
  • This tool can be applied to both physical and cognitive rewards, enhancing long-term motivation and increasing the probability of success.

Tool 12: “Middle Problem”; Time Chunking (01:17:11)

  • The "middle problem" refers to the lack of motivation people often experience in the middle of pursuing goals, whether it's a learning project, a work week, or a longer term project.
  • It's a common issue and has been studied extensively.
  • Acknowledging the presence of the "middle problem" can help individuals overcome the decrease in motivation.
  • The most effective way to overcome the "middle problem" is by dividing the middle part of a goal pursuit into three separate smaller sections.
  • This technique, known as time chunking, makes the task more manageable and improves motivation levels, due to the sense of achievement from completing smaller tasks.
  • This approach can be applied to both short-term tasks like a one-hour learning session and longer periods of work, like a week-long project.

Tool 13: Circadian Rhythm & Attention (01:23:16)

  • Optimal performance in goal setting and pursuit can be influenced by the state of mind and body, which can be affected by things like sleep, personal life situations, diet, etc.
  • In addition to these factors, circadian rhythms, natural physical and mental cycles that repeat roughly every 24 hours, also play a critical role in attention and focus.
  • Research shows that there are three peak times during a day when most people's focus and motivation are at their highest: 30 minutes, 3 hours, and 11 hours after waking up.
  • This rhythm can vary depending on factors like quality of sleep and can be utilized to optimise the scheduling of goal pursuits where high levels of focus and motivation are required.
  • While aligning goal pursuits with peak attention times can be beneficial, it's important not to consider this as a rule, as individuals' schedules can vary due to work, family, etc.
  • Engaging in the goal pursuit, regardless of the timing, is the most important aspect of goal achievement.

Tool 14: Protocol Flexibility, Subjective Feelings (01:30:09)

  • Our subjective feelings of energy and well-being are not only influenced by our amount of sleep but also by our perception of the previous day and the day ahead.
  • Successfully completing tasks that we set for ourselves can give us a significant energy boost.
  • Though sleep is crucial, accomplishing a task, even if it means sleeping less or working during hours of low attention, can give us a feeling of accomplishment, which can be linked to the release of dopamine and other neurochemicals.
  • There are natural peaks of attention and focus 30 minutes, 3 hours, and 11 hours after waking up.
  • The primary importance lies in setting specific, quantifiable goals and following through. Focus more on taking action, rather than getting caught up in the minutiae of the process.

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