The Goldilocks Rule:
The human brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty. If you love tennis and try to play a serious match against a four-year-old, you will quickly become bored. It’s too easy. You’ll win every point. In contrast, if you play a professional tennis player like Roger Federer or Serena Williams. You will quickly lose motivation because the match is too difficult.
Now consider playing tennis against someone who is your equal. As the game progresses, you win a few points and you lose a few. You have a good chance of winning, but only if you really try. Your focus narrows, distractions fade away, and you find yourself fully invested in the task at hand. This is a challenge of just manageable difficulty and it is a prime example of 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. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.
Martin’s comedy career is an excellent example of the Goldilocks Rule in practice. Each year, he expanded his comedy routine—but only by a minute or two. He was always adding new material, but he also kept a few jokes that were guaranteed to get laughs. There were just enough victories to keep him motivated and just enough mistakes to keep him working hard.
The Goldilocks Rule (How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work)
Measure Your Progress
If you want to learn how to stay motivated to reach your goals, then there is a second piece of the motivation puzzle that is crucial to understand. It has to do with achieving that perfect blend of hard work and happiness.
Working on challenges of an optimal level of difficulty has been found to not only be motivation. But also to be a major source of happiness. As psychologist Gilbert Brim put it. “One of the important sources of human happiness is working on tasks at a suitable level of difficulty, neither too hard nor too easy.”
This blend of happiness and peak performance is sometimes referred to as flow. which is what athletes and performers experience when they are “in the zone.” Flow is the mental state you experience when you are so focused, on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away.
In order to reach this state of peak performance, however, you not only need to work on challenges at the right degree of difficulty, but also measure your immediate progress. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains, one of the keys to reaching a flow state is that “you get immediate feedback about how you are doing at each step.”
Seeing yourself make progress in the moment is incredibly motivating. Steve Martin would tell a joke and immediately know if it worked based on the laughter of the crowd. Imagine how addicting it would be to create a roar of laughter. The rush of positive feedback Martin experienced from one great joke. Would probably be enough to overpower his fears and inspire him to work for weeks.
In other areas of life, measurement looks different. But is just as critical for achieving a blend of motivation and happiness. In tennis, you get immediate feedback based on whether or not you win the point. Regardless of how it is measured, the human brain needs some way to visualize our progress. If we are to maintain motivation. We need to be able to see our wins.
Two Steps to Motivation
If we want to break down the mystery of how to stay motivated for the long-term, we could simply say:
Stick to The Goldilocks Rule and work on tasks of just manageable difficulty.
Measure your progress and receive immediate feedback whenever possible.
Wanting to improve your life is easy. Sticking with it is a different story. If you want to stay motivated for good, then start with a challenge that is just manageable. Measure your progress, and repeat the process.
The Goldilocks Rule: