In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, he defines the Goldilocks Rule this way:
“Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current ability. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.”
That really is the key to success: Not too hard. Not too easy.
It’s interesting to contemplate. And if you think about it for just a bit, you realize it’s true. Here’s why:
If you know something very well – for example the basic skill of a job – it cannot be challenging. It is, by definition, an entry-level task. If you have been doing it for any period of time, it has probably worked its way into your muscle memory.
All tasks that we learn go from “hard” to “easy” over time. Everything we can’t do is hard the first time. Then it becomes possible. And over time it becomes easy. And that makes the next level of competence possible.
What do we do as we advance in our profession (or hobby)? We pass off the simple tasks to people who entering the field. These chores are not challenging and therefore not very interesting. We want to work on the edge of our competence. That’s where the work is harder and more fulfilling.
And the more time we spend in that “top 5%” of our ability, the more often we bump up against the limits of our ability. We stretch and learn, eventually increasing our ability a little more and a little more.
If you’re unhappy in your job, I’ll bet you’re spending a lot of time at the middle of your ability or below. It can’t be motivating. You become bored and feel unfulfilled.
You don’t have to be a workaholic to constantly improve yourself. In fact, it’s human nature to keep your mind engaged. And that means constantly improving yourself.
Where are you on the ability scale for the things that occupy most of your time? Are you on the edge of your ability? If not, consider changes you can make to start working on the edge. Chances are very good you’ll like it!