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Motivation And The Goldilocks Principle 


Article by Angela Schaack, LCSW, AFAA

Photography by GoDaddy

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You may have heard the stats on how long it takes people to abandon their resolutions or goals that they set at the start of the year.  It’s pretty discouraging.  About 80% of people who set resolutions at the beginning of the new year give up within six weeks.

There are a few factors that contribute to this high rate of abandonment. First, setting a goal at the beginning of the new year may seem like an obligation rather than being truly committed to the goal.  Often, there is not a clear plan to reach the goal.  And, there may be little support without a person or group to help provide accountability and motivation.  I wanted to take a closer look at motivation and find out how it factors into the success of those who are able to stay on track.

Setting a reasonable goal and outlining a specific plan will get you started toward your goal.  However, one of the biggest challenges may be staying on the path once the initial enthusiasm begins to wane.  Recently, I subscribed to ”30 Days to Better Habits” offered by James Clear, author of the book Atomic Habits.  Clear describes that making sustainable positive changes is really about creating new habits.  He talks about motivation using the Goldilocks Rule.  Here is what Clear wrote:

“I’d like to share a theory of motivation that you can keep in mind as you continue to advance and expand your habits. I refer to this theory as the “Goldilocks rule.” It can be a useful philosophy to keep in mind when considering how big of a jump you should take when you scale your habits up.

The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak levels of motivation when working on tasks of just manageable difficulty. Not too hard, not too easy, just right. This is precisely the region where habits remain motivating and exciting. Working on challenges of just manageable difficulty is a good way to keep things interesting.

Staying on the edge of your potential is more art than science. Nudge yourself a little, so you’re no longer bored, but not so much that you’re failing each time.”

This made a lot of sense. By using the Goldilocks theory when reviewing and adjusting your goals each week, you may be able to add that extra bit of challenge and excitement needed to motivate you to stick with your plan.  Here are a few other tools to add to your bag of tricks to help you stay motivated.

  • At times when you just don’t feel like working on the goal, rather than focusing on the negative thoughts and feelings, visualize how good you’ll feel when you've made progress toward your goal.  
  • Notice the feeling of accomplishment once you work on the goal.  It may be useful to keep a notebook or journal to write down these times and feelings to see if there is a pattern. 
  • Give yourself small rewards for sticking with your goal that day or week.  For example, set aside a 10 or 15 minute break to listen to your favorite podcast, or audiobook.  
  • Make your favorite smoothie or latte to drink while working.  Just be sure the reward is not going to get you off track and cause regrets, such as stopping by the donut shop on the way home from the gym.
  • Accountability is a huge motivator. Connect with a buddy or group of people with similar goals who can offer support and help hold you accountable (in a positive way).

Studies show that when people schedule activities with a friend or group they are more likely to follow through. One study published in the National Institute of Health found that those who started a weight-loss program with friends completed the program 95% of the time compared to 76% of those without a program companion.                                                                                                                                                                                         

Straying off the path to your goals can happen on occasion. Recognize when it happens without making judgments that will only drain your energy and self-esteem.  Instead, take a moment to review your plan and make any adjustments needed to get back on your path.  Work with a coach who can help you know how and when to adjust your routine and provide motivation to stick with it!  A clear plan, a positive mindset, and a supportive environment will be the compass that will steer you to success on the path to your goals and what you desire for yourself.  

By Angela Schaack, LCSW, AFAA


Sticking with your exercise program - Harvard Health

Physical activity - staying motivated - Better Health Channel

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