Just Right: Try the Goldilocks Approach


Just Right: Try the Goldilocks Approach

Goldilocks ApproachI’m not one to offer quick-fix solutions to motivation, but this one singular tip is useful for personal and as well as group or team motivation.

Try the Goldilocks Approach.

I picked this up from author, photographer and entrepreneur James Clear. Clear looked at research to point to how people succeed. According to Clear, you need to pick challenges that are just out of your reach. They can’t be too easy or too hard. They have to be just right.

For example, a teenager playing soccer against 6-year-olds would be bored. Playing against a World Cup team, the teenager would quickly feel outmatched and defeated. Playing against others his or her own age, this teen would feel challenged and try to improve.

In education terms, it’s called working the “zone of proximal development,” which refers to working on getting a student to incrementally move up in skills.

According to Clear, “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.”

Of course, finding that “just right” spot is where one has to look.

I assume you understand yourself enough to know what you can and cannot handle. You should know yourself well enough and be honest with your own capabilities.

Not only will finding this difficulty sweet spot keep you motivated, it will also make you happier. The research indicates that human happiness and success comes from working on challenges of suitable difficulty, not too easy and not too hard. The research also points to people doing trial and error to figure that out. It is those times when people try something that is too easy that they become bored and give up. On the other extreme, people take on a challenge to big and soon give up. We generally refer to those as failures, but they are really tests to find out at what level we should be working. It is in the repeated trying to find the “just right” spot that persistence is important. You already know what you’ve tried that has been either too easy or too hard. You just need to focus it a little more narrowly until you find the right level.

Once you succeed at that level, you can expand your reach.

The same thing applies to motivating teams. Teams need to be pushed in a different way. The challenge has to take into consideration the differences in strengths team members bring.

In both cases, you need to measure goals and keep track of them. More importantly, you need to acknowledge and celebrate each success along the way.

Clear says this is particularly important. “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,” he says. “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.”

This is particularly important for teams. While you may take quiet satisfaction with knowing that you achieved your goal, others need a more public acknowledgement.

Keep adjusting your reach. It will eventually become a habit.

Arnoldo Mata heads Leadership Resource Group and has more than 30 years of experience in leadership training and development. Leadership Resource Group works with nonprofits, governments and private businesses on strategic planning projects that provide focus and direction for organizational growth. He also provides training and services in creativity and ideation.