The Goldilocks Principle

How do you find the sweet spot of motivation, enjoyment and improvement? Within the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears lies the key...

“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Within the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears lies the key to maximizing your motivation and improving in business, sport and life.

As a refresher, Goldilocks comes upon a house while walking in the forest. No one is home, so she boldly explores the house. She comes across three bowls of porridge, three chairs and three beds. In each case, she tries all three until settling on the one that is “just right.”

This process can be applied to learning a new skill or taking the next step toward an aspiration.

The size of the step you take matters:

  • Too Small → Boredom

  • Too Big → Failure

  • Just Right → Flow

Your brain enjoys a challenge as long as there is a reasonable chance of success. You learn, grow and adapt best by pushing just beyond the edge of your current abilities.

Let’s quickly unpack each step size.

Too Small. This step is too easy. It doesn’t stretch the limits of your abilities. It doesn’t challenge you. You become disinterested and boredom quickly sets in. The step you take yields no progress.

Too Big. This step is impossible with your current abilities. To attempt a step this big would amount to failure. The Sleeping Dragon of Fear rises quickly to shut you down.

Just Right. This step is just beyond your current abilities but within reach. It’s something you think is possible but not scary. It establishes a flow state where you are completely engaged. Your mind and body adapt. Your abilities expand.

Carefully consider each step you take toward a new skill or aspiration: Not too easy. Not too hard. Just right. Do this and you will hit the sweet spot of motivation. You will maximize your potential for growth.

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Think about a recent example of boredom or anxiety when taking a step forward. How could you have adjusted the size or difficulty of the step to make it “just right?”

This process of finding the sweet spot of each next step requires some practice. Stick with it, though, and you will maximize both motivation and adaptation. That skill or aspiration will be within reach sooner than you think!