Brain Science – Episode #8

The mechanics of goal setting

setting yourself up for success, not failure

All Episodes

Mireille and Adam discuss goal setting and the different types of goals we set. We reflect on how can you set goals that work for you and measure them. We also talk about how you go about building the behaviors that align with your identity and resistance we face when we do this. We also share our 2020 goal for Brain Science. This is a must-listen episode to get a grounded perspective in planning your goals for this year and decade.


Notes & Links

📝 Edit Notes

Goal setting — are you ready for the new year/new you?

​​The Marshmallow Test (Carol Dweck, Ph.D.) — The role of delayed gratification in growth mindset and why self-control is the engine of success.

​​3 types of goals

  • Outcome - Outcome goals are very often binary and involve winning, for example, wanting to win a gold medal or wanting to be the largest company in your sector. Whilst outcome goals are hugely motivating, they are not under your control as they are affected by how others perform and/or other external forces.
  • Performance - A performance goal is a performance standard that you are trying to achieve. These are the performance standards you set for yourself to achieve if you are going to build towards your outcome goal. Over time, performance goals build upon one another to help you achieve your outcome goal.
  • Process - Process goals support performance goals by giving you something to focus on as you work towards your performance goals. Process goals are completely under your control. They are the small things you should focus on or do to eventually achieve your performance goals.

​​The Kaizen Way - “itty bitty” steps to move you in the direction of the goal you want to achieve.
​​Areas of life for goal setting: vocational, relational, personal, financial, health, etc.

“SMART” Goals

  1. Specific
    ​2. Measurable
    ​3. Achievable
    ​4. Realistic
    ​5. Time Bound

​How committed am I? ​​If I’m optimizing in one way, it will invariably affect other aspects of my life. Therefore, have I considered the implications of this goal in my life?

​​The Role of Identity in the goal setting process. Are my goals aligned with my identity?

Accountability and Goal Setting

The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) study on accountability found that you have a 65% of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.

The WILL and the WAY

​​There’s a lot of research around this at the Social and Affective lab at the University of Oregon. Will and Way –– “The will refers to the motivational and affective processes that drive goal pursuit such as approach motives, and the way refers to the suite of cognitive capacities and abilities that enable goal pursuit such as inhibitory control. Neither part is sufficient on its own; both are necessary for effective self-regulation.” (

Inhibitory control is a major part of goal achievement. I have to be able to “inhibit” my desire/drive for another behavior and replace it with the more adaptive or desirable one.

Our goal for 2020?

The goal for Brain Science in 2020 is to ship WEEKLY episodes (YEAH!). Can you help us achieve our goals? Give us feedback. Join us in Slack to share YOUR circumstances or challenges so we can work with you to help you hack it! Or get in touch on Twitter via @Changelog or @BrainScienceFM.


📝 Edit Transcript


Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧

Good morning, Adam. How are you?

Well, I am preparing for a new decade. How about you?

Yes, and I always get excited around this time of year, because I’m very much a goal setter… What about you?

I’m a goal setter. Yes, I’m a goal setter. I think I let myself fail too often, or at least in my own eyes, because I have such high expectations from myself… So I feel like I’m a goal setter, and then I think I fail a lot, too.

Well, I think that’s a great part with setting goals though, in that we don’t get better at anything we don’t practice, and at least if you’re practicing, you’re moving in the right direction.

Right. I look at failure as progress. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

Sure, exactly. And I would say too that even the failure is feedback, so it gives you an opportunity to redo, revise and look at other ways that you could optimize…

Ooh, okay…

[laughs] Right? So I just always get excited… I’m sort of like a kid, in some ways. A new day, a fresh start, the new year… I don’t only set goals at the beginning of the year, however at the end of each year I’m always looking ahead and I feel like this year even more so, with it being the turn of the decade… Because I’ve been married for ten years now, so I know what I’ve done, what we’ve done in these ten years, so I look forward with the anticipation of like – I get excited and giddy over what could happen in the next decade.

Right. When you’re a planner, you can’t help but goal-set, right?

Right. Are you familiar with [unintelligible 00:02:41.23] out of Stanford, with the marshmallow test? She did this study some years ago, and it was a longitudinal study around giving kids the option between having one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows later. And what she looked at was the way in which the two marshmallow, the delayed gratification - when kids opted for the wait, that this paid off in years to come in terms of success; they were able to utilize this skill later on in life, not just in childhood. So it had far-reaching effects.

So whenever we’ve talked about habits, and the importance of that payout of dopamine in the immediate sense - but I get excited over these itty-bitty wins that move me towards that long-range, two-marshmallow sort of goal.

Gotcha. I heard somebody say recently this three-year aspect - rather than starting something new, expecting success right away. It was more like “I’m doing this knowing that what I’m doing today will bring success three years from now.” And I don’t know if that’s a one-to-one with that, but it’s this – we live in a very instant gratification world today.

[03:58] If you want to play a song, you’re reminded of a great, old song that you really love, what are you gonna do? You’re probably gonna open your phone, pull up Spotify and go to Search, and it’s probably gonna be there. You’re gonna push play and be gratified with listening to it, and have all those memories, and then go back to your day. Or a movie that’s probably on Netflix, or available for rent. There’s nothing that’s not available to us pretty much instantly when it comes to consumption.

Yeah, but then it makes it harder to stay in that pocket or that time under tension while you’re working to cultivate that longer-range goal. But that’s so much of life, and I think the longer that I live and the more experiences I have, the more I really become an advocate for invested in process-based goals, wherein I’m learning to fall in love with all of these itty-bitty wins along the way, so that I just want to keep going, because I can see evidence of my effort in whatever way I’m placing it.

Right. That’s an interesting perspective when it comes to process… Because process is sometimes hidden. You often have process, you’re not even aware of it, which kind of dives into the three types of goals that we have, which is outcome, performance and process. Let’s dive a little deeper into unraveling those… Because whenever I read over the notes, I was like “Wow, I see how each of these layer on like a cake”, and I never really considered dividing up what a goal is…

…and that’s what I love about doing this show - we science the heck out of it, essentially, to use the words out of The Martian movie from Matt Damon… We sort of break it down into how things actually work, into components that make a greater meaning to something.

Yeah, exactly. And that’s why I enjoy doing this too, because I continue learning and really consolidating the knowledge that I have, so that I can put it into practice more and help even the people I work with, and my kids, too… Right?

Yeah, absolutely.

There’s these three types of goals - there are outcome-based goals, there’s performance goals, and there’s process goals. They’re very synonymous with the word itself, so outcome-based goals are goals that are often binary and involve winning… Like wanting to win a gold medal, or to be the largest company in your line of work. So the big thing that I think is relevant when it comes to outcome goals is that these – goals can be really motivating, like “Yeah!! Let’s go for that! Let’s vest in that awesome outcome!” However, they’re not totally under your control.

I think a lot about it with the Olympics, of these athletes that train for years, and years, and years - performance and process, but all for this optimal outcome. But I remember watching at the winter Olympics recently, out on the ski hills, when snowboarders were affected by the wind.

Yeah… You can’t plan for that.

No. There’s all of these other variables which affect the outcome. And if I base all of how I feel on deriving this particular outcome, I’m actually going to vicariously condition myself that I’ll see it as a failure, if I don’t get the outcome I want, that it’s related to my effort, when it may in fact not be.

Right. Because your effort could have been perfectly on point. You could have had everything right when it comes to that, but the variables of the outcome just were not under your control, so you couldn’t have trained well enough to confirm these variables that were just not in your control.

[07:47] Yeah, and there’s been researchers who’ve broken down this construct of perfectionism… And what they’ve looked at is going “When is perfectionism maladaptive, versus more adaptive?” I would say in athletics, high-level athletes are perfectionistic, but in a good way… Because when it came down to it, there’s this one little area of perfectionism called concern over mistakes, and if they see the lack of achievement of that outcome-based goal as a failure, that’s when it’s maladaptive, versus they see it as like “Oh, I was so close…! I got silver in this category/sport.” So it then leads to more process in performance goals.

Do you think it makes sense to attach the phrase “Not yet” to an outcome goal then? Maybe you have a measurable where it’s time-based, if we get into SMART goals, or apply SMART goals to this… But I’m thinking maybe the phrase “not yet” might be helpful to round off or soften an outcome goal.

Yeah, exactly. This performance goal being it’s a performance standard that you’re trying to achieve. My largest file in this regard is really with graduate school; there’s a lot of performance and process aspects of getting a doctorate. I had these examinations, which I think were after my third year of graduate school, and it was basically everything I’d learned up to that point; about four days of testing, three hours of testing each day. And if I didn’t meet the criteria that I needed, I didn’t get to keep going. They were like “Nice try, but no, thank you.”

The buck stops here.

Yeah. So if I’m wanting the doctorate, then I have to look at what behaviors am I gonna do, what processes are involved in order to help me perform on those days in the way in which I desire to do.

When you think of this more in the tech community - are you aware of performance goals that would be relevant?

Well, let’s break this down a bit more. A performance goal is what - it’s a standard? Trying to achieve something? What exactly is a performance goal?

Well, I might think about releasing an app. To some degree that’s outcome, but your performance - it’s that standard, like “I am trying to write a language that can be applicable to users in this genre.”

So the process of that would be they provide the support to the performance. If you never got on your computer, I’m pretty sure it’d be hard to do any performing that would get you to that outcome.

Right, right. I would think performance is probably a lot like showing up, I would say. That’s part of process more than just performance, but I think once you’ve shown up, you’ve got to be in a mindset, you have to minimize distractions, which sort of leans into process again… So they sort of maybe even bleed together, in some cases…

But showing up – performance might be choosing the right team members, it might be even choosing the right kind of framework, maybe even the right kind of problem to solve.

Sure, yes. And I would agree, process is very much a part of the performance… Have you heard of the word kaizen?

I have, yeah.

Okay, so it’s very much the premise – it’s these sort of small, more bite-sized goals. So if you look at process and performance as like these itty-bitty steps that move you in the direction that you want to go. So then I’m reinforcing, I’m getting that nice hit of dopamine, because whenever we achieve our goals, our brain gives us that hit of that neurochemical that goes like “Oh, yes! Good job!”

“Do more of that!”

Yes. [laughs] Yeah, so it’s then amplifying desire and motivation, that I want to keep performing, to move me in the direction of that desired outcome.

[12:04] Right. What I found really interesting when I read through this was – I had never broken down goals to this degree… And I like the fact that now I understand that outcome goals are – I understand what they are, but they’re not fully under my control. But what is under my control is how I can perform, and the process I do to perform.

So I can control those variables and the outcome, as we said before, if we can say “Not yet” or find a way to soften it and round it off; then it makes it a little bit easier to show up every day, I suppose, and not feel like quitting. Because the reasons why you feel like quitting is because you don’t celebrate the small wins, or understand how to bite-size chunks of these goals to get there. And whenever the outcome doesn’t come because the variables are out of your control, then you’re like “Why did I even try? Seriously, why do I even try? Why did I do this?”

Right. You can learn to really focus on enjoying the process. Like, what is it that you do repeatedly because you simply enjoy doing it?

Right, absolutely. In some cases you might get into the technology businesses of any sort because of a large payout. It’s really well known that there’s a lot of money in technology, a lot of billions get tossed around whenever businesses get acquired… A more famous example was Instagram being acquired by Facebook for billions of dollars, and that was actually a small window of time whenever Instagram began, to acquisition.

So you might get into it for that kind of payout, but it’s just difficult to only focus on that singular outcome, that financial outcome. You really have to fall in love with – and what we have fallen in love with here at Changelog is the people. It’s not about just simply the technology we build, it’s about the people involved, the communities that get formed, the camaraderie, the community, the collaboration. It’s about the people and the intermingling, rather than just simply like “Oh, we’ve created this best software ever, that solves no problems.” It’s about the people, really.

Yeah, for sure. I think about – like, back in graduate school we talked about this camaraderie that we had, walking alongside each other, going through this thing, that not everybody was facing. So there’s this sort of shared outcome goal where we’re all going, but everybody’s got different performance goals, or process goals, because everybody’s in a different space, they separate individuals. But that collaboration just made it all the more desirable.

One of the things that I want to bear in mind as we talk through these goals today is that these don’t just apply in the professional or vocational sense… But we can set goals according to even relationships, as well as – I mean, a lot of people will do this with the new year, the health goals…

Right, yes.

The gyms get super-crowded in January.

Yes, memberships go up, it’s super-crowded in gyms, and then by February they’re back to normal.

Yeah, and I would say that a lot of people get discouraged, or it’s very common for people to be discouraged in cultivating, or sort of reaching their goals in health because of the way in which they set either unrealistic, or too big of a goal, that they can’t perform at that level. So now they’re getting that painful experience in their brain, of going “I’ve let myself down. I don’t feel very good. I don’t wanna show up again, because I didn’t achieve it.”

So with that, I want you to think of a criterion, because we’re all about utility; I don’t wanna just give data if it doesn’t help you do you better. So there are SMART goals. Have you heard of SMART goals?

Briefly, yeah. In a previous episode.

[16:06] Right. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. I need to be specific. I just can’t say “I wanna get better at coding.”

How would you measure that then? It has to be delineated or clarified, like “What do you want to do?” And then that Measurable is “How will you know when you’ve reached it?” So a lot of people in health would be like “Okay, I want to get to X weight. I want to be able to fit into this article of clothing.” But then I’m gonna look at “Is it achievable?” So I want to lose 50 pounds in a month, probably…

That’d be like some sort of Guinness Book of World Records kind of weight loss scenario, I bet, in a month…

Yeah. That really isn’t in your power to accomplish it; not for a lack of will, but again, it just isn’t adaptive in terms of doing yourself well…

It’s unlikely.

Yeah. And so… Realistic. Not only achievable, but is it realistic? 50 pounds in a month probably isn’t that realistic.

I can see how those two blend together, too - achievable and realistic.

Yeah. But can you really do it? And then Timely - when do you want to accomplish it by? And this is the thing - if I don’t necessarily set a timetable… I mean, I could say “By the end of 2020, this is where I wanna be.” Okay, but what if I said “By November 1st, 2020, this is when I wanna have this done. Can I do it in that time period?” So I’m being very deliberate about how I’m going to measure and identify where I’m trying to get to. If I was like “Hey, Adam, I wanna go on a road trip this weekend. That’s it.”

Where are you gonna go? For what reason? Who’s going with you? How will we pack?

Clothes will matter, because it could be hot, cold, wet, whatever…

It requires preparation. To know where you’re trying to go, it requires preparation.

Right. And so we want to take all of these things into consideration as we’re looking ahead, and trying to make ourselves better, improve upon ourselves in the years to come, or in the decade to come. So if we’re looking at even more so these (dare I say) principles that help us also perform better - there’s clarity, there’s appropriate level of challenge… We have to be committed to it, not just when we feel like it.

We need feedback around it. If I just do this thing – say I record a bunch of podcasts, but I never release it, I never find out what happens with it. I’m probably not going to get to a place I want to be.

And then how complex is that task? All of these things make a difference, as well. So we talked about SMART goals, but there’s also these properties that go “I have to be considerate of what is my commitment level.” If I am, say, about to become a new mom, or a dad for another time, it probably wouldn’t make sense for me to make a commitment to a goal that likely takes away from being with my family during that season.

So that isn’t good or bad, but like we’ve talked about in other episodes, I need to be considerate around the energy that I’m allocating in different places. So I might say “Okay, I’m gonna move over this goal as it relates to my relationships, and I’m gonna consider the way in which I show up for my family. I am going to come out of my office every day at five o’clock, because I’m going to make an effort to always be available, from the time I finish at five, until I go back in it at nine in the morning, or whatever.”

[20:15] Right. You’re describing my life, in a way…

That’s my goal. I try to get out of my office - and I work from home, which I’m very fortunate - and I try really hard to design my day… Sometimes I bleed over, and those are the days I kind of walk out a little upset with myself for not doing so… But my North Star is always 5 o’clock, regardless. I don’t have a commute, so I don’t have to worry about travel, or traffic, or anything else bombarding me, so I can leave my office and be at home at 5:01, for example… Seconds later, and walk out and do these things with my family.

Right. So if we’re talking about applying this in terms of a relationship, you’re saying “Look, I want to be a present dad and active dad, and that is evidenced by my availability or the time in which my family has access to me, and the way in which I participate with them.”

Yeah. Well, that also allows – children thrive on consistency, they thrive on routines, and that’s where they… They don’t understand they’re getting this, but that’s where they get their shelter, that’s where they get their comfort, that’s where they get their protection, is those boundaries that parents set for them. So if I don’t hit my goals, the interpersonal portion of that – it’s not just “Oh, I wanna timebox my work from 9 to 5”, which is a professional goal, so that I can have a life, the work-life balance, the work eight, play eight, sleep eight thing… I can leave my office at 5 o’clock - that’s a goal for me professionally, but then that also bleeds into interpersonal, which is I am able to give my family feedback that I care enough about them to enable that… And I build my day to do that.

So on the personal and professional side I’m achieving goals that I set for me for professional reasons, but then also for personal reasons - that I can enable my family to believe in me and to rely upon me at that time.

It’s interesting even in you commenting about that, because you just articulated the way in which there’s overlap between these goals.

So if I’m optimizing in one way, it’s also going to affect the other goals in my life.

That’s really interesting too, because I think so often people – and I don’t have any data to back this up, but my assumption is that people desire work/life balance; that’s a really well-known thing. But I think that it’s – and this has been a several-year journey for me, to fully understand what it means for me to have work eight, play eight, and sleep eight being the North Star for me with my life, because… You know, I’m 40 years old, I desire a life balance, because my age bracket, my energy level sort of requires it for other reasons… So if I can’t allow myself to set goals that affect - and understand how they affect - both sides of my life, both personally and professionally, or relationally, then I’m not gonna do myself a service by setting goals that are not achievable professionally, that destroy my family life.

My goal is a happy family. We are a family-based business. For Jerod, if something comes up for him and it’s family - do it, bro. I’ve got you. I’ve got your back, whatever needs to take place. And the same for him to me. Because that’s our business’ DNA, to be family-focused, to understand that family comes first in everything. Even the amount of conferences we go to each year, even the things we get ourselves involved in when it comes to business - it isn’t simply based on “Can we make money? Will we enjoy it?”, it’s “How will it affect our families?”

And that is an excellent question, because you’re getting at this sense of commitment as it relates to constraints, and saying “If I don’t manage all of these dimensions of my life, and the things that I care about are prioritized, then I might actually get to an outcome that I didn’t really want.”

But it means that you have to be deliberate around planning and going “What can I actually commit to?” Because if it’s saying “I have this many conferences and I’m going to be gone ten times throughout the 12 months for an average of five days…

That’s 50 days, ish…

Yeah. And so you have to look at “Can I make the commitment around this goal?” And I think it’s interesting, because we can look in different lanes of life and sports… People talk about the upside and all the glory, and here’s what you get when you are at a professional level, or competing in that upper echelon, but there’s a lot of sacrifice because of that commitment.

Right. Well, I think some of this might even bleed into the understanding of identity… Because I know who I am, so maybe in the case of an athlete - I’m not saying this is the case for all athletes, but most athletes that are in that age or that performance bracket usually are single. Or they’re not married. They might be dating, they may be available or whatever it might be, but their relationship is their mission, in a sense. They’re married, essentially, to their athleticism, their commitment to their workout schedule and their routines, and at some point – I watch a lot of mountain-biking, and it’s really interesting to watch like the World Cup level of Enduro racing. These people are so committed to their – in this one interview, this person was like “I can’t imagine doing what I’m doing now if I was married and had a family.” Because they literally travel the world.

Their season is nine months long and they literally go from New Zealand, to Canada, to South America, to the U.S. somewhere, and they’re literally all over the map, all year long, and that’s just not the case. Back to the point I’m trying to make here is the identity piece, because I know – my identity is rooted in being a good husband, my identity is rooted in being a good dad, my identity is rooted in being a great business partner… Then I’ve gotta do things – because of that, because of who I say I am, I’ve got to set goals that are according to the identity I believe I am, or desire to be.

Yeah. And this is why, if you set up goals that are inconsistent with your identity, that you are less apt to achieve them. We talk about things being ego-syntonic or ego-dystonic. Like it fits with who you say you are, or it doesn’t and it’s more abrasive… So we all make decisions around this as based on our self-concept. And I really took a hard look at this when I had children, because I had a lot of investment in becoming a psychologist at that point, and I thought I was headed on one trajectory… And I was not prepared for the way in which motherhood changed me, to go “Okay, so this is a side of me, this professionalism, and I want to be able to provide for myself and my family. However, never at the expense of my children and my family.”

Right. There’s some lines you won’t cross, essentially.

Yeah, so it’s meant saying no to other professional opportunities, because I prioritized my family and my commitment to them… Because I only get 18(ish) years, and then that chapter. So I try to be very deliberate around the activities, and really savoring the times that I have with my family right now.

[27:59] And being present is so important, especially when it comes to – I mean, any relationship really, but specifically with a spouse or children… Because being present and being aware - you can be in the moment with a loved one… Let’s just say kids. But if you’re tied to Twitter, or your phone, or something that’s distracting you, and your kid’s talking to you and they say “Daddy/mommy, did you hear what I’m asking you to play with me?” What kind of feedback does that give your children, or your child in this case? You’re not present, you’re not aware, you’re not in the moment, and quite literally we cannot rewind time. We can’t get those moments back, so once they’re gone, they’re gone.

That doesn’t mean, “Oh, guilt trip forever. Be present every single moment.” It just means be aware of where you’re not putting your value in… And if those moments are truly valuable, then find ways to say no to things, potentially even dealing with addiction. Addiction to an app, for example; addiction to that dopamine hit whenever you see a like, or a retweet, or a Twitter thread you put out there blows up and gets on Hacker News, or whatever it might be…

You’ve gotta find ways to understand and be aware. I think awareness is really a key aspect when it comes to any of these goal settings. If you’re not aware of who you are and what you’re trying to do, then how can you truly set and deliver on your goals?

Yeah. It’s interesting, when my husband and I were first married, we would go on what we’d call these eight-mile walks, that just happened to be this loop where we lived… But we would run part of it, and walk part of it. And that was really where we had a ton of conversations around where we were going and what we were trying to get done, because we knew – and this was before kids even. And going “If and when we have kids, if that is an option for us, this is what we wanna cultivate for our family.” So it meant making sacrifices for both of ourselves professionally, because we wanted to be on the frontlines with our kids for the first five years… Because it was so critical for us to feel like – we jokingly said that it’s our time to mess up our own kids; we wanna have an opportunity to cultivate what we desire, and knowing that we’re gonna err… But we wanna give it our best shot. And that they’re our kids, they were on purpose, wanted, so here’s what we’re gonna do.

So when you’re talking about even being distracted, in the moment, we work really hard at looking at each other. So our kids even correct us now. They’re like “Mom, you’re not looking at me. Look me in the face, I need your face.”

Like when you’re talking, or…? What’s the example?

Yeah. I mean, it could be anything. Because I do some work at home as well, so I’ll need to do that… So they’ll interrupt, or I’m trying to help them with homework at the same time, or they’re trying to tell me a story and I’m like “Yeah, yeah.” They know when I answer “Yeah, yeah” I’m not really–

Right… Oh, my gosh. The telltale signs of distraction.

And so they’re like “Mom, can I have your face?” They’ll literally ask me, like “I just need your face”, because they know that they have my attention then, and I’m actually listening to what they say.

Right. That’s really interesting to think about that. Eye connection is one of those – I don’t know the science behind it, so back me up here, but whenever you look somebody in the eye, there’s a human-to-human, one-to-one, peer-to-peer, clear, distinct connection that can’t be disregarded. If you ever find yourself in a room full of people, you kind of know when eyes are on you. You can look at somebody and the next thing you know you’ve caught eyes with somebody you don’t even know, and they look away. There’s some sort of interaction there with humans looking each other in the eye.

[31:57] Well, and I would even make it a little broader, in just looking at a face in terms of facial expression… Because there’s so much more data as it relates to how you say things, the way in which your face contorts. Because emotions, generally speaking, are universal in terms of how we express them with our face. So I’m losing a whole piece of data when I don’t look at people, because it’s actually related to even empathy, and the neuroscience of mirror neurons… So that I can actually have more of an emotional awareness of another person. So it just changes even the way in which the interaction feels.

I mean, I can interact – it’s funny now, working in psychology, because people will tell me that they “talk to” somebody, and I always clarify, and say “You mean, you actually had a conversation face-to-face, you texted them, or was it online?” Because that is relevant.

Yeah. We’re a little off base on goal-setting; I think it may tie back to some degree, but… I like the aspect of this missing data in a conversational context. If you don’t see somebody’s face and you only see their text message - it could be a commit message, it could be a response or a comment on a commit, or an issue on GitHub, or something like that, or Twitter… You’re missing – not only is it brief, in brevity, but it’s missing some components, it’s missing its full dynamicism… But it’s really missing somebody’s face and context, so it’s easy to get even charged, triggered or upset by something, because we literally are acting on their emotions under a lack of detail around a context… And we allow ourselves sometimes to not see the full depth of what someone was trying to say, because you literally only got the text; you didn’t see their face, you don’t understand what the circumstances were… It’s sometimes easy to assume or presume what they might be, but we don’t know what happens when we do that.

Right, yeah. This can sort of keep going back to the goals - there is also a huge component of social factors when it comes to goal-setting. We are more apt - just like I talked about in habit formation - to cultivate habits and to do things embedded in other social relationships. So you could ask yourself “If this is the goal that I have…”, say I wanna create this healthy habit, or I’m trying to release an app within the next year - then who are your people that are gonna help support you in doing that? Or do you have the people in your life who are like “Nah, man. Forget it! Come out with us! Let’s go play!”

Right. That’s part of the goal-setting, to get the right kind of tribe around you. Or enable your tribe that is around you to support you in your goals.

Yeah. And it was interesting, the American Society of Training and Development - they did a study on accountability and found that you have a 65% more chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And that if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person who you’ve committed this commitment to, you will increase your chance of success by up to… Are you ready for it? 95%.

Wow. I mean, who wouldn’t wanna do that then, with those kinds of stats?

Right? We’re gonna do this live, for Brain Science. Are you ready?

Okay, let’s do it. I’m scared… What is it?

[laughs] Well, integrity is really important to me, so I always say I don’t ask people to do what I’m not willing to do myself…

So we have had conversations - Adam and I have had conversations around our goal for Brain Science… And that our goal for 2020 is to get this to a weekly podcast.

[36:06] So you guys can comment, tell us ideas, topics you want to have us talk about, because we want to share with you and give you guys more of what you’re looking for.

What do you think?

I like that. I think involving the community is really important, because what point would it make for us to have these conversations and to develop this show if it didn’t actually solve the problems or answer the questions that the community around us forms? So that’s really a key aspect.

We kind of have charted our own course, with our own desires at first, but I think now is a great time to start bringing in more members of the community to give their feedback, as hey, that’s important when you set goals. And one easy way to do that is to either reach out to us on Twitter; that’s one easy way. We’re @brainsciencefm. Or you can mention @changelog on Twitter. Or you can even go deeper and Slack with us in real time when we’re hanging out on Slack. So go to and join. It’s totally free. Find the Brain Science room there; you’re in there, Mireille, I’m in there, so it’s a lot easier to have those real-time conversations around thoughts and whatnot… And it’s pretty easy to riff, really easy to collaborate and say “Here’s what I’m thinking of. What kind of topics can you guys come up with around this?”

And I think it’d be really helpful if you guys could even share where you are getting stuck. Whenever we’re talking goal-setting, it’s helpful when we can identify the obstacle to these. What things make it less likely for me to do this? I can look back and say when I was trying to get fitness as more of a regular part of my routine, and I was tired by the end of the day, I knew that if I drove all the way home I was not likely to get dressed in gym clothes and go back to the gym.

So you took them with you.

I did! And there was one occasion on which I actually took a nap in the parking lot… Because I was like “If I go home, I’m not coming back.” And I really was trying hard to follow through on my commitment…

That is commitment…

[laughs] Yeah… But this is part of that sense of discipline, and telling other people about it helps us to navigate it differently. If you guys say “Hey, Mireille, here’s where I’m getting stuck in my job” or like “I go to work on Monday and I’m working on this task, and by two o’clock everybody starts talking and I just can’t get done what it is I’d like to get done.” Share with us more of your specific struggles, because I’m sure you’re also not along in that struggle.

That’s the important part, not being alone. Having a tribe around you – we just talked about the interpersonal natures of goal-setting, but also the social component, the accountability necessary to understand where you’re getting stuck, to understand what’s holding you back, to understand things that are uniquely human about you even.

So when you’re thinking like “What can I give Mireille and Adam feedback on to develop this show in ways that impact me?” Well, where are you stuck? What’s holding you back? What makes you unique as a human? What kind of unique circumstances are you in? Those are the kind of questions you can ask yourself when you do – what we always say anyways is take stock; be present and aware of where you’re at, take stock of your unique circumstances. That’s an easy way to give us feedback on [unintelligible 00:39:34.20] for this show.

But I think it’s really important why we did this show though, Mireille. I know we talked about the decade turning, but it’s uniquely positioned, because this is the time of the year when people think “I have got to do all the things…”, because there’s such a social pressure from everyone else. There’s lists that come out, there’s YouTube shows, there’s TV shows; everyone starts talking about this new year, and the new you, and this new goal-setting, and I think it’s really wise of you to pitch this idea of goal-setting because our audience is naturally going into the new decade, like we are; we can’t help it, so why not go in with a better perspective on how to better goal-set and to uniquely understand what you’re trying to do, so that we can set people up for success, and not failure.

[40:22] With that, I wanna wrap up this discussion as it relates to really the obstacles as we go to do that. I believe it was a Greek philosopher who might have been the first to hypothesize that there’s fundamental human motives related to having reward. Our brain is always looking for that hit of dopamine, like “What reward am I gonna get for moving in a direction, and what pain is gonna be associated with that?”

Oh, boy… Yeah.

And that neuroscience has sort of caught up with this, and there’s some really interesting research out of the University of Oregon, their Social & Affective Lab… And that really is this sense of social relationships and emotion. And they talk about the way in which will and way are relevant. So I might have this sense of willpower or of will that I want to achieve this goal, but there’s a way in which I’m going to actually encounter obstacles that actually need to count.

So if I’m more specific, the will refers to the motivational and emotional processes that drive goal-pursuit and motives, and then the way refers to more of the suite of cognitive capacities and abilities, like inhibitory control. In my example of taking a nap in the parking lot I had to inhibit this other way that I wanted to go home, so that I could follow through on the goal of improving my health and exercising routinely.

So all of those process – the itty-bitty things, and how do I fall in love with the process, so that I can perform in the way that I want to perform, so that I can reach the outcome I desire to create.


Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚

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