Behaviors & The Goldilocks Rule

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James Clear sheds incredible light on behavior and what we can learn from successful people. Xperience continues to do deep dives into his content, such as the story and lesson below. In 1955, Disneyland had just opened in Anaheim, California, when a ten-year-old boy walked in and asked for a job. The boy managed to land a position selling guidebooks.

Within a year, he had transitioned to Disney’s magic shop, where he learned tricks. He experimented with jokes and tried out simple routines on visitors. Soon he discovered that what he loved was not performing magic but performing in general. He decided to become a comedian.

Beginning in his teenage years, he started performing in little clubs around Los Angeles. He was rarely on stage for more than five minutes. Most of the people in the crowd were too busy drinking or talking with friends to pay attention. His first routines would only last one or two minutes. By high school, his material had expanded to include a five-minute act and, a few years later, a ten-minute show. At nineteen, he was performing weekly for twenty minutes at a time. He spent another decade experimenting, adjusting, and practicing. He took a job as a television writer and, gradually, he was able to land his own appearances on talk shows. By the mid-1970s, he had worked his way into being a regular guest on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live.Finally, after nearly fifteen years of work, the young man rose to fame. He toured sixty cities in sixty-three days. Then seventy-two cities in eighty days. Then eighty-five cities in ninety days. He had 18,695 people attend one show in Ohio. Another 45,000 tickets were sold for his three-day show in New York. He catapulted to the top of his genre and became one of the most successful comedians of his time. His name is Steve Martin.

This is an interesting perspective on what it takes to stick with habits for the long run. Comedy is not for the timid. It is hard to imagine a situation that would strike fear into the hearts of more people than performing alone on stage and failing to get a single laugh. And yet Steve Martin faced this fear every week for eighteen years. In Martin’s own words, “Ten years spent learning, four years spent refining, and four years as a wild success.”Why do most of us struggle to stick with our habits and to stay motivated? How do we design habits that pull us in rather than ones that fade away? Scientists have been studying this question for many years. One of the most consistent findings is that the way to maintain motivation and achieve peak levels of desire is to work on tasks of “just manageable difficulty.” This is a challenge of just manageable difficulty and it is a prime example of the Goldilocks Rule.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. Martin’s comedy career is an excellent example of the Goldilocks Rule in practice. Each year, he expanded his comedy routine—but only by a minute or two. He was always adding new material, but he also kept a few jokes that were guaranteed to get laughs. There were just enough victories to keep him motivated and just enough mistakes to keep him working hard.