The Joseph Group

The Goldilocks Rule

April 9, 2019

To Inspire:

We received very positive feedback from our inspirational WealthNote on building good habits – habits that help us live a great life – a life of joy, of purpose, of passion.  The strategies we shared were taken from a book that both Travis (Upton) and I (Matt) are reading by James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.  In this WealthNote, we share another strategy from Jim’s book: living out the “Goldilocks Rule.”

To illustrate this rule, James shares the story of a 10-year-old boy who walked into Disneyland in Anaheim, California back in 1955 (the year it opened) and asked for a job.  Labor laws were laxer then and he managed to land a job selling guidebooks for $.50 each.  Within a year he had transitioned to Disney’s magic shop, where he learned tricks from older employers and began experimenting with jokes and other simple gag routines that he tried out on customers coming into the shop.  He fell in love with entertaining and set his sights on becoming a comedian.  By the time he was a teenager, small clubs in LA were hiring him to do short comedy routines – no more than 5 minutes.  Often people were busy drinking and talking – not even listening to him but he didn’t let that bother him – he continued to work at it.  It wasn’t glamorous work but by the time he was 19 he had expanded his routines to 20 minutes and was getting hired by better clubs.  Every year he increased his act a bit, adjusting and refining it little by little and by the mid-1970’s he had worked his way into being a regular guest on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live.  And from there he catapulted his career into one of the top comedians and actors of his generation.  His name?  Steve Martin.

Clear shares that Martin’s story offers a fascinating illustration on sticking with habits over the long run – seeking just incremental improvement year by year.  It reflects an understanding of the human psyche called the Goldilocks Rule – that the human brain experiences peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities – not too hard and not too easy, but just a bit outside our comfort zone.  Using this concept, Clear recommends that when we start a new habit, we need to keep the behavior fairly easy so we can stick with it even when conditions aren’t perfect.  But once the habit has been established, it’s important to continue to advance in small ways.  These little improvements challenge us and keep us engaged – enabling us to live out the Goldilocks Rule and achieve a flow state  – a state of being fully absorbed and committed to an activity.  Scientists have quantified that to achieve that flow state, a task must be roughly 4% beyond our current ability.  In real life it may not be feasible to quantify a task or habit that way  – but we get the point – we need to keep upping our game just a bit at a time.

This week, identify a good habit you have and begin to increase just slightly your effort and achievement related to that habit.  Not too quickly mind you…just slight increases over time.  And see if that doesn’t help you move closer to living your great life!