Motivation and the goldilocks principle

You are your own worst enemy. If you can learn to stop expecting impossible perfection, in yourself and others, you may find the happiness that has always eluded you. - Lisa Kleypas

There is a fairy tale that most of us know about a little girl, Goldilocks, who finds herself in the house of papa, mama, and baby bear. Each of these bears has their own porridge bowl, chair, and bed. One day when they are out, Goldilocks comes upon the house, having walked a good long time so that she is tired and hungry. As Goldilocks sits in the chair to eat some porridge, she discovers that one chair is too large, one is too small, and the third chair is just right so she sits in it. When she tries the porridge, one is too hot, one is too cold, and one is just right, and so she eats it.

Interestingly, such choices have become known as the Goldilocks principle, applied to diverse areas such as why the earth is just right for living creatures. It has also been applied to children’s books when they are learning to read. Some books are too hard, some too easy, or some just right in their difficulty level.

In terms of motivation, the Goldilocks principle can be applied to any goal you might want to reach. If you try to do something that is far beyond your skill level, you may quickly become demoralized and just give up. If you pick something well within your skill level, so there is not much incentive to learn, boredom may set in. So picking a goal that is just right is important to keeping your motivation high and finally succeeding – pick a goal beyond your present skill level, but close enough that you believe you will have some success. Seek out the level that slightly exceeds your current capabilities.


  1. Consider a goal that you want to achieve
  2. Think about how it fits into the Goldilocks principle
  3. If the goal is too far, too big, too overwhelming, are there more reasonable component goals that are part of the end goal? Or is it so easy that it just isn’t motivating?
  4. Choose a workable goal that is just right for you
  5. Set your sites on that goal and take action

Dianna Campbell-Smith

Dianna Campbell-Smith is a Registered Psychologist who specializes in counselling, coaching and clinical hypnosis. She runs a private psychology practice in South Calgary, and worked previously as Director of Counselling Initiatives at Calgary Counselling Center.

Dianna is a Psychology Today verified therapist.