Hacking Motivation with the Goldilocks Rule


So, you saw your reflection in a shop window and suddenly the motivation to get your butt into gear and your diet sorted is on a high! That’s great. You can’t wait to get started and to achieve your goal to lose weight and look good! The first few days pass easily, especially as you know there is a huge goal for you to reach. Then, if you’re like most mere mortals you eat a few too many treats at your business meeting and miss a few workouts. Soon, that big goal looks like a hot air balloon floating off into the distance, taking your motivation along with it. 

Deep down we all know that motivation eventually fades. But what if there was a way that we could hack motivation? What if we could schedule our motivation to kick in, right when we need it?

Let me introduce the Goldilocks rule! Say what?! This porridge stealing, break and enter little golden hair girl has a great moral to teach us about the key to motivation!?

The Goldilocks Rule

The Goldilocks rule is way of achieving the consistent and sustained motivation that you need to achieve a goal. Just as Goldilocks found comfort in the mattress that wasn’t too hard or too soft, so establishing your goal at the right level can help you be successful – big enough to move you and inspire you, but not so big that you struggle with deflated motivation.  As James Clear says in his book, Atomic Habits “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”.

So, what does the Goldilocks rule mean in practice?

1.Set a big goal – then chop it up into little pieces

Your big goal should be compelling and motivating. Something that excites you and gets you off the couch.  It kickstarts your positive emotions. The Goldilocks rule isn’t about limiting your big goal and compelling vision. It’s about how you can best sustain your motivation as you work towards it. This means that you take small, manageable actions on a regular basis. Smaller goals broken up into smaller tasks (micro actions) which move you slightly closer to your goal – remembering that these smaller goals need to be challenging but not too hard. The benefit of doing this is that it builds momentum and has a compound effect. The more you win at these small challenges, the more your confidence grows.

Just like a child learning to ride a bike. What originally seemed insurmountable was chipped away at one little challenge a time. Balance, pedalling, turning, accelerating, breaking, control. Each step being a challenge that is just a little beyond their current ability, meaning motivation is sustained until the big goal of unassisted motion is achieved! 

Active8me hacking motivation with the goldilocks rule child riding bike

Try today – Write your big goal down. Make it a SMARTR goal so that it is well defined. Then, break it into little bite-size goals. From there, write down three tasks that you can do that move you towards the bite-size goal. For example – Your goal is to lose 8kg, in 12 weeks. Break this down to what you want to achieve in the first month, and then break this down into the 3 things you can do to help this come to pass. Focus on three challenging (but not too hard or too massive) tasks you can do towards your goal for the first week. Maybe, up your step count; eat at home more often; prep some healthy snacks; schedule your workouts… you get the idea.

2. Habits – Crowd out the sabotaging habits with self-serving ones

Habits are what underpin and fill the gap when motivation begins to drift away. Because we know motivation fades and is not always there when you need it, habits are those automatic actions and that discipline that helps you take great actions regardless. By continually up-grading your habits to ones that serve you better you build a stronger foundation for motivation. Unless you have an iron will, don’t even bother with the all or nothing habit change – it rarely works! Micro changes or implementing new habits that you can sustain consistently (that is, that you can master more than fail at them) are the key to fueling that positive motivation – habit cycle.

Try today – If weight loss is your goal, then nutrition needs to be a big focus. What you drink can be a somewhat challenging habit to reign in. Focus on replacing one soda with water or having one less bubble tea this week. Small, simple, gradual changes that you master and build upon are key.

3. Track your progress – Measure your success

Our brains use constant feedback mechanisms to survive – from simple movement to complex thoughts. So, it should be no surprise that our motivation functions optimally when it gets continual mental progress reports. You can use this feedback loop to get into the habit of recognising your small wins and giving yourself a pat on the back.

Just like the example of learning to ride a bike. That initial joy and excitement you feel when you realise you can balance without falling off, sends positive signals to your brain, which in turn keeps you motivated to keep going and trying. It’s the same in fitness and health. When you choose the fresh banana over the pisang goreng recognise the feeling of achievement of your healthier choice and enjoy it!  It will send a positive signal to your brain that will fuel your motivation to make another great decision. As you measure and recognise this, you’ll keep moving forward. And before long, you’ll look back and not recognise how far you’ve come!

Active8me hacking motivation with the goldilocks rule app water tracking

Try today –  Download the Active8me app. Recognising your progress is a great mental task, however recalling all you have achieved across the day can be easily forgotten. This is why using the tracking features of an app like Active8me can help you really see the positive gains you have made, leading to improved and prolonged motivation. You can connect your wearables, track your food and water intake and easily monitor your progress all in the one place!

4. Make failure useful

We’re human and everyone’s fallible – despite what you see on Instagram!  Failure is a fact of life. But the problem is that for most of us these failures make us want to give up completely. It doesn’t need to be that way. It may appear that successful people rarely fail, but that’s just because they have used their failures to build their success. They’ve learned a lesson and used it as motivation to keep going. You see, looking at failure objectively is something that can be learned. Did you fail because you were trying to take huge leaps to your goal instead of small steps? Failure is not the end. You can use it to move forward.

Try today – Ask yourself some questions around your failures and the impact on your motivation. Have you failed at sticking to a diet, then given up on it completely? Think back to the things you can learn from that experience…was food restriction way beyond your will power? Did you lack support from family or friends? Did you need more help with recipes or meal alternatives? How can you reframe things in your mind? And how can you use the Goldilocks rule to set your actions as stretched, but doable – so they keep you motivated. Not too big, not too small, but just right.

5. Celebrate the wins

Just as failure can crush your motivation, celebrating your progress bolsters your motivation. Your brain acts with a negative bias. This means your unpleasant thoughts, negative emotions, or adverse social interactions have a greater effect on your psychological state than neutral or positive events of the same calibre. It sucks, but it’s true. Think about it for a second…it’s much easier to recall the one embarrassing moment that happened in your day than all the positive moments. Or, you may receive hundreds of positive reviews about your work, yet it is that one negative review that sticks with you most. It’s sad, but it’s reality. And this has a huge impact on our motivation. Which is why you need to make a big deal of the positive wins you have!

Try today – Remember to celebrate with something that is useful to your motivation and not counter-intuitive. Trying to lose weight and you’ve hit every workout goal for the month? Treat yourself to some new workout gear or a massage instead of ice cream or bottles of wine!

Hacking motivation with the Goldilocks Rule

Having a big goal is great. Achieving it though takes consistent effort … and that requires sustained motivation. That’s where you can use the Goldilocks rule to hack your motivation by:

Taking small, challenging steps towards your goal. Not too big, not too small, but just right!
Creating useful habits to back up your motivation
Give your brain positive feedback by measuring your success
Making failure useful
Overcoming your brains negative bias by celebrating your wins.

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