What Moves Us

Spark Your Team Into Action Today

The Goldilocks Rule

The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Ones that are not too hard. Not too easy. But just right.

A task or goal that is too easy doesn’t provide any challenge and quickly becomes a chore. And we all know how easy it is to put off chores. (Reorganizing your closet, anyone??) If something is so hard that you can’t see any immediate improvement or progress at all, you’ll simply quit. Your brain knows you can find something easier to accomplish, and brains love the dopamine rush that comes with accomplishment. So how do you find that just right task? Many experts refer to these as stretch goals…something that’s a little beyond our current skills, but something we can envision accomplishing.

For example, several years ago, I decided to run a half-marathon. A bit over thirteen miles. I was a casual jogger at the time, and certainly not ready for that distance. That’s when I realized interim goals are crucial. I didn’t start out running 10 miles a day. I started by running around the block in my neighborhood. Then I ran two houses further. Then five houses further. Then another block. Then another mile. I could see progress, and that kept me motivated. Always remember to include some interim goals in your skill-building plans.

Mastery requires practice. There’s no way around this. Studies have shown that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something like playing the piano or ice skating or graphic design. You can have raw talent, but practice is what turns talent into skill. Practice trains your brain and muscles until they work together like a well-oiled machine. As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” Practice lets you do something without having to think about every step in the process. There’s just one challenge…practice can be boring. And boredom is perhaps the greatest villain on the quest for self-improvement. Lack of practice is why many people with plenty of raw talent fail to achieve their goals or significant success. People who master anything have found a way to make practice rewarding, even if it might not be fun. They’ve found a way to beat practice boredom.

So how do we keep boredom at bay? We fall in love with it. We become endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over. We deliberately look for those small improvements or changes that mean progress. Are those piano scales getting easier to play? Do your fingers move faster over the keys? Do you miss fewer notes? Do you notice your workout getting a little easier each day? Can you lift a bit more weight this week than you could before? Progress equals success.

Of course, it never hurts to vary your routine a bit. I don’t jog the same route every day. Sometimes I listen to music while running…other times I listen to a podcast. Or simply enjoy a lovely day and soak in my surroundings. Whenever you’re working on a task or skill that’s just a little bit challenging, remember to switch things up now and again to keep boredom at bay. You do you. But whatever you do, find a way to identify and focus on those tasks that are just hard enough. Like Goldilocks, you’ll find what’s just right.

ISI Consulting

Holly Hayes, President & Founder
ISI Consulting

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