As with anyone else, over the years I’ve heard about and halfheartedly tried pursuing various goal setting methods with varying results. I recently listened to Andrew Hubermann’s podcast titled Goals Toolkit: How to Set & Achieve Your Goals, and made some notes around the same. I’m hoping the fact that these methods are research backed appeals to the nerd in me, and gives me a better chance of getting to my goals in the long run.

Setting a Goal

  • It is highly recommended to pick one goal you want to try to achieve. Don’t get trapped with the “overhaul” approach of changing a lot of things at the same time.

  • To prioritise goals worth achieving write out various things you want to do, cross out the low priority ones, and circle the highest priority ones.

  • Specificity and Measurability come up again and again in scientific literature (e.g SMART Goals), and is a proven way to get to goals more often.

  • Make sure to outline specific verbs and actions needed to achieve the goal.

    • This is easy for finite goals, like running a marathon.

    • If you can’t quantify the steps easily, quantify the time. For instance, he best authors don’t wait for inspiration to come, but block a time/or write a number of words everyday. Consistency is key.

  • In general, figuring out how many hours each week, on each day and which days a week is enough for 90% of goal pursuits.

  • The recommendation is to break down goals into 12 week cycles.

  • 💡 Writing down the goal with pen/pencil engages your neural circuitry differently and embeds knowledge into your nervous system.

  • Myths

    • If you set easier goals, you’re more likely to achieve them.

      • ❌ It’s difficult to generate lasting motivation if things are too easy to do.

      • ✅ Instead, try setting a goal that’s slightly beyond your capabilities. It forces your brain to create conditions conducive to neuroplasticity.

    • Sticking a post-it note with your goals somewhere will help you reach your goal

      • ❌ Anything that shows up in your natural environment too often gets cancelled out.

      • ✅ Write down a new post-it note every day and put it in different places in your natural environment

    • Tell everyone about your goals. Accountability helps you stick to your goals more.

      • ❌ The positive feedback from social sharing engages reward systems early, and your energy to pursue the goal dissipates.

      • ✅ Don’t tell anyone prior to taking action towards your goal. If you really want to tell someone, try telling someone who doesn’t believe in you. Or get one person who only gives you tough-love accountability and no validation.

Goal Pursuit and Staying Motivated

  • Initiating your goal pursuit

    • Counterintuitively, negative visualisation has been proven to increase levels of motivation.


  • Staying motivated

    • Vergence Eye Movements

      • Your readiness to do work is heavily anchored in your visual system

      • When you want to relax, use your peripheral/panoramic vision. For instance, when you want to take your mind away from work, go look at the horizon.

      • 💡 When you lack motivation, focus on a visual target within the general range of your work you’re performing, narrowing your cone of attention. Set a timer and (between 30 to 90 seconds)

        • This releases neurochemicals that increase alertness and arousal. Increases systolic blood pressure and dopamine release.

        • It’s proven to indicate decreased level of percieved effort and you get shit done faster.

        • The effect of this is transient, so you might have to do it in regular intervals.

    • The Best Productivity App

      • It’s built into your phone. It’s called Airplane Mode or the Off Button
    • Random Intermittent Reinforcement

      • Dopamine is the molecule of motivation.

        • If you reward yourself everytime you get something done, you reduce the potency.

        • Also, if you only view accomplishment as reward, you undermine the probability of success

      • A proven way to build muscles for self-generated motivation and neuroplasticity is by using random intermittent reinforcement (same thing they use in casinos).

        • 💡 Flip a coin after you do a task and decide whether to reward yourself.
        • Rewards can be physical (things, experiences) or cognitive (patting yourself on the back, positive reinforcement)
    • The Middle Problem

      • With every goal pursuit, you have more motivation at the start and end, but not in the middle

      • Simplest way to overcome it is by acknowledging it

      • Another way is to divide the middle part into it’s own start, middle and end (chunking)

    • Circadean Rhythm and Attention

      • 💡 For particularly hard goals, you have the most amount of motivation 30 minutes, 3 hours and 11 hours after waking up.

      • It’s valuable to schedule work around these times.

      • Doesn’t have to be a hard rule, actually engaging in Goal Pursuit is more important

    • Subjective feelings of energy

      • How positively you feel about your previous day, and what you want to get done in the current day can effect your levels of energy.

      • Keep this in mind when gauging your energy levels.


  • Brain parts Involved

    • There are 4 hubs of the brain that contribute to goal setting and persual.

      • Amygdala: Responsible for arousal, fear and positive valence experiences

      • Basal Ganglia: Modulates go and no-go decisions

      • Lateral Prefrontal Cortex: Gives temporal awareness, and involved in immediate and longterm planning.

      • Orbital Frontal Cortex: Evaluation of current emotional state. Registers your anxiety and frustration when pursuing a goal and allows for neuroplasticity.

  • There are always other issues in play, don’t forget about them: sleep, psychology, stress, life events etc.

flowchart TD
    A{Do I want to pursue this goal?}
    A --> |No| B[Go back to goal setting]
    A --> |Yes| C{Am I motivated?}
    C --> |Yes| D[Visualize positive outcome for 1-3 minutes]
    C --> |No| E[Visualize negative outcome for 1-3 minutes]