You start something new (like learning to dance) and it’s exciting and easy to do the first few times. You’re motivated with the flush of newness! Soon thereafter, comes the realization that this new thing takes effort. You realize that if you are going to do it remotely well, you’ll need to put in some work.

This is when motivation becomes a challenge. So what to do?  How/where do you find your motivation?

According to best selling author and habits researcher, James Clear, science has proven that we stay most motivated when we work on tasks of “just manageable difficulty.”

not too easy, not too hard, but just right

He calls it the ‘Goldilocks Rule’, not too easy, not too hard, but just right – something right at the edge of one’s current abilities. Sure, we love a challenge, but only if it is within that optimal zone of difficulty.

If, after a few dance lessons, you decided to compete and your first dance competition was agains people that had never taken a lesson you would quickly lose interest. It’s would be too easy.  You’d win each round.  On the other hand, if you stepped into the professional division competing agains people like Derek Hough or Maks Chmerkovskiy, you would likely lose your motivation quickly since you would not stand a chance at winning.

However, if you were competing against others with approximately the same amount of training, you’d stay motivated.  Competitions would be close and you’d see your progress.

measure what matters

The second piece of the puzzle, according to Clear, is to measure your progress.  This pertains not only to seeing immediate, external results, like winning a competitions.  It’s also essential to measure your on-going, practice results.

As with anything, as you get better so do those around you, so it can be disheartening if you lose to someone when you feel you’ve made a lot of progress.  Keeping a practice journal helps mitigate those feelings and keep motivation high.

If you were a hockey player working on shooting the puck, you might get discouraged from continuing your diligent practice if you were not able to score any point on a particular goalie.  However, if you were tracking your progress in practice, you would see that your shots were getting more accurate and you’d know that if you continued your practice, it would only be a matter of time before you’d be able to score on that goalie.

motivational secret sauce

So, what’s the secret sauce to staying motivated? After all, wanting to improve your life is easy. Sticking with it is a different story.

James Clear put it this way, “If you want to stay motivated for good, then start with a challenge that is just manageable, measure your progress, and repeat the process.