The Goldilocks Rule of Fitness

What can a children’s story teach you about fitness motivation?

We all know that physical activity promotes good health. It’s staying motivated to keep up the physical activity that we struggle with.

You may think your inability to stick with a fitness plan is because of lack of motivation, lack of willpower, or even laziness. But the discipline to maintain a consistent workout plan isn’t all about willpower.

The Goldilocks Rule

In James Clear’s popular book “Atomic Habits,” he questions how some people are very good at building and sticking to their habits, while others struggle to stay motivated. How do we design habits that pull us in rather than ones that fade away? Studies have shown that the best way to maintain motivation is to work on tasks of “just manageable difficulty.”

The human brain loves a challenge, but only within optimal levels of difficulty. For example, let’s say you love tennis. If you try to play a tennis match against a five-year-old, you obviously wouldn’t be challenged enough and would quickly become bored. You’d easily win. However, if you were to try playing against a professional like Serena Willians, you would very quickly lose motivation to continue playing since you would be severely outmatched.

You would need to find a tennis partner that is around your level, maybe just slightly better. Against this person, you might win a few points, and you might lose a few. You have a good chance at winning, but you still have to put in a good amount of effort. This is what we mean by “just manageable difficulty,” and this is an excellent example of The Goldilocks Rule.

The term “Goldilocks Rule” was derived from the children’s tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” where Goldilocks goes through items that are too hot, too cold, too big, too small, until she finds one that is “just right.”

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.

In other words: if you take on new tasks that are too easy or too hard, that’s when motivation, focus, and consistency fall apart.

Finding What’s “Just Right” For You

If you haven’t exercised in a while, and you decide you want to start getting back into shape. You’re feeling super motivated and excited. So you decide to do a 5-day high-intensity fitness program designed for 12 weeks.

Here’s the problem: Going from zero workouts to 5 days per week is too big of a jump for entry level. The likelihood of success is low. You may initially be able to maintain the schedule for a week or two, but you’ll eventually burn out and become unmotivated. The amount of unfamiliar work and stress you’ll put on your body is not practical or realistic.

When motivation is high, you believe you can do anything, and you’re excited by the prospects of the final outcome. So you dive head-first into a plan that may be overwhelming for you. However, in order to truly achieve your goals requires creating a path that makes it realistic and likely for you to succeed.

If you don’t take the time to consider your fitness path, the desired results won’t follow. Map out your starting point by figuring out your baseline. This means taking into consideration your current fitness level in order to determine the volume of work–like how many workouts per week and minutes per day–you can comfortably maintain while still being challenged.

The best results come from implementing small changes over and over again without stress or overexertion. If you’re trying to get back into fitness and actually see results, consistency is key. Even if you think you’re not doing much or going too slow, you’re making a difference and working toward your goal.

A personal trainer can provide guidance on helping you find your “Goldilocks” fitness plan, and also help keep you motivated and accountable. When you first meet with a trainer, they’ll assess your current fitness level, ascertain your desired fitness goals, and customize a fitness plan that reasonably carves a realistic path toward your goals.

Find a location near you to get in touch with one of our certified personal trainers, and discover a workout plan that’s “just right” for you!