The Goldilocks Rule – Managing & Maintaining Motivation

Having a big goal can be a challenge to achieve. We recommend taking small steps by creating habits and sustaining motivation. You can use the Goldilocks rule to manage your motivation and form habits by: 

  • Design habits that are neither too big nor too small
  • A habit of just the right size will motivate you to continue
  • Stay optimistic when measuring your success
  • Celebrate all your wins, no matter how small they are
  • Be patient and give yourself time to adjust

After a long day at school, I often don’t have the motivation to workout. My natural instinct is to immediately head straight to the couch where I’ll spend the next few hours on social media or watching Netflix. This is a habit that I constantly try to improve on, but like many people, it’s difficult to build the motivation needed to do the things that are more meaningful to me.

Motivation is the drive that allows us to work toward our goals, but it is unfortunately not naturally consistent. It’s important that we are able to form habits that provide us with just the right amount of motivation to keep us going. 

So, how can we form habits that maintain our motivation? Let me introduce you to the Goldilocks rule! You might be wondering how the classic fairy tale of a little girl’s encounter with three bears teaches us about motivation? Let’s just say that there is more depth to the story than we had thought. 

The Goldilocks Rule

Following the Goldilocks rule is about forming a goal that is neither too easy nor too difficult.  

Say that you have a goal to climb Mount Everest but you have no experience climbing mountains. Obviously, it will not be a great idea to embark on the journey of climbing the tallest mountain of the world the next day. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be as fulfilling to “climb” your neighbourhood’s hill for practice either – this wouldn’t be challenging enough for you and wouldn’t motivate you enough to keep going.  

The key is to practice climbing a mountain that is not too hard but not too easy – something that is equal to your skill and ability. This results in improvement over time with consistent motivation that will push you to reach your goal. 

James Clear says it best: 

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.” 

How Can I Use the Goldilocks Rule to Form Habits?

Habits are repeated behaviours that have the potential to shape our mindset negatively or positively. Especially during lockdown, maintaining our mental health can be a challenge but by forming effective habits, we can acquire the emotional strength to cope with our stressors or loneliness. 

Physical activity has been known to provide great mental health benefits. Let’s say you haven’t exercised in months due to the lockdown and you would like to start making it a habit to exercise regularly again. Try establishing a workout length or intensity that matches your current skill and ability. Gradually, you will be able to increase the time and difficulty of your workout while still maintaining a healthy level of challenge. Through the consistent motivation that pushes you to continuously engage in a behaviour, it will be in no time that your habit is formed.  

That is all to say, set a goal or task that is neither too easy nor difficult to achieve. 

For more information on the Goldilocks Rule, visit: 

James Clear – Motivation

Author: Anosha Subramaniam
Editor: Zac Lo
Researcher: Anosha Subramaniam