7 Brain Hacks to Become a Goal-Getting Superhero

What is your lofty goalthat thing you really want to do but can never seem to get to? Maybe you want to write a book, learn a foreign language, or start your own business. You have the best of intentions, but when you look back on your day, you didn’t take a single step toward that goal. You were able to find time for a lot of other things. But that thing you really want to do… maybe tomorrow.

Sound familiar?

We are all prone to procrastinate at times. In fact, there is brain science behind procrastination. But, sometimes, we get stuck in thinking traps that prevent us from shifting out of neutral and into drive. And the stories we tell ourselves have a profound effect on motivation and productivity.

  • It’s so daunting; I don’t even know where to start.
  • I’ll get to that as soon as I (fill in the blank).
  • Someday…

Soon is not a day and “someday” is not a plan.

The most common excuse for not getting “that thing” done is time. There’s just not enough time in the day! Here’s the thing: we all get 24 hours in every day. It’s the only thing that makes us equal.  So, why do some people spend those hours doing things that take them closer the finish line while others bounce between distractions or thinking traps that keep those goals just out of reach?

Turn Your Goal-Setter into a Goal-Getter

We remember “that good thing” and, in anticipation, dopamine encourages us to act to achieve something good or to avoid something bad.

The secret to goal-getting superpowers is motivation. And the secret to motivation is dopamine. Dopamine is commonly associated with addiction as the “pleasure and reward” drug; we release it when we get something satisfying. Often called the “seeking” chemical, it’s what makes us seek out sex, drugs, chocolate, shopping – whatever the vice. But, the latest scientific evidence shows that dopamine is actually released in anticipation of the pleasure rather than as a result of it. We remember “that good thing” and, in anticipation, dopamine encourages us to act to achieve something good or to avoid something bad. In fact, dopamine has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself. As complex as the brain is, it’s amazingly simple to get the dopamine flowing.

6 Brain Hacks to Goal-Getting Superpowers

1. Plan Strategically

Many people start their day with the less important, less taxing tasks like email or social media. Before you know it, you’re 2 hours into your day with not a lot to show for it. Instead, address that big important goal first.  Even if you can’t finish it, small steps will give you a sense of accomplishment. Make your last task of the day a reflection of what you accomplished and a simple plan for the following day.

2. Eat the frog

Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Identify your frog – that big scary thing that looms large casting a dark shadow on your confidence or the most important task on your list. Even if you know you won’t finish it, starting your day with it makes it a little smaller and a little less scary.  Chunk those less important tasks in smaller 15-30 minute intervals throughout the day.

  1. See the progress

Seeing an accomplishment is a reward in itself.  It’s the brain’s way of tricking us into thinking we’ve won while the prefrontal cortex continues to focus on the task. Put a glass jar on the desk and add a paperclip or a marble every time progress toward the goal is made. Or, print the calendar and highlight tasks completed as each is done. It sounds simple, but visually seeing tasks done right before your eyes will release enough dopamine to keep you motivated in pursuit of your goal.

  1. Share your goal.

Talk about your goal to another human being every day. Whether in a face to face conversation, a phone call or a text exchange, telling other people about your goal is a great way to build in accountability and keep your vision of success top of mind.  The more you share, the more people will ask you how it’s going. It gives you a chance to celebrate the small victories along the way and a bit of encouragement when you’re feeling unmotivated. Not only will you stay focused on your goal, but you’ll also get the added bonus of feeling connected with someone in a meaningful way.

  1. Turn off Email Notifications

While many of us think we are multitasking ninjas, neuroscience tells us that we’re not. As incredible as the human brain is, it has a tough time focusing on two demanding tasks simultaneously.  Rather, your brain just bounces back and forth between tasks becoming more inefficient with each bounce. The more you toggle back and forth between tasks and email throughout the day, the more inefficient you get at each task. According to a University of California-Irvine study, we lose 20 minutes every time we shift our focus from the current task to email.

  1. Visualize victory

Visualization is a powerful tool used by elite athletes, actors, and public speakers.  The brain doesn’t differentiate between an imagined experience and a real one. Conceptualizing what that success looks like and feels like will generate a boost of dopamine just as if you experienced it. Visualization also works because of the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is like the brain’s bouncer. It decides what information is brought into your conscious awareness. By visualizing yourself achieving your goal, your brain will more readily allow any opportunities to meet that goal into your conscious awareness.

  1. Just say NO.

One of the most valuable skills you can develop to stay focused and motivated toward reaching your goals is the ability to recognize the requests, distractions, and interruptions that will inevitably become time stealers. Just say no.


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. Melissa, Great suggestions and perspective; I especially like #1 and 5. I’m very familiar with Eat The Frog (and SEth Godin’s book is great too). For me, though, I often like to get one or two quick accomplishments completed at the the beginning of the day to build momentum towards Eating the Frog. Also, sometimes the Frog can simply be too big to eat and I get indigestion. So I step away and work on another project. For me, I always look at these articles as ideas and suggestions. Each person has his/her own unique emotional intelligence, bio-rhythms, psychosis, and general baggage they carry around. So we need to experiment with different ideas, tricks and suggestions to find out which one allows us to meet our goals. Finally, as an add-on to #5, I never take unscheduled phone calls before lunchtime. When a call comes in, my assistant simply schedule times with caller for me to call back in the afternoon. This accomplishes 3 goals: it avoids phone tag; it prevents me from being disrupted from my current work; and and allows me to use the morning, when I have the most intellectual energy, to produce my best and most important work.

  2. Melissa, these 7 points are outstanding! My favourite point was “sharing your goal with someone one else!” I recently was motivated to do a writing project (my frog) and I had my accountability partner Tara who kept me going. Thanks for your insights and alluding to the addition of (RAS).

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read and share your thoughts, Maureen. I’m so glad you found an accountability partner. It makes a huge difference and keeps up pedaling toward the finish line.