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Procrastination & The Goldilocks Rule

Posted in Discipline & Habits

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Procrastination, to me, is not putting off a task because it’s too easy or too hard. I found myself enjoying very easy or very hard tasks quite often. I have deduced that it is not the difficulty that stops me from doing things. Often times the challenge of doing something difficult is what motivates me. I, on the other hand, have also enjoyed the sheer boredom that comes from doing the easiest of chores. Then what is making me put off certain work or activity in favor of something more or less challenging?

James Clear, the author of the book Atomic Habits, introduced an interesting concept to me. It is called The Goldilocks Rule. He mentioned that the human mind can stay engaged in a challenge as long as it is in the optimal zone of difficulty. He mentioned how you might feel challenged enough to stay motivated if you’re playing Tennis with someone on your level (maybe a little better or worse than you), but you’ll soon lose any motivation once you start playing Roger Federrar or someone who is on a significantly lower level than you. He also visually represented it like this:

This idea resonated with me very well. An idea or activity needs to be challenging enough so that it keeps you engaged, but not too challenging as it will make you demotivated. Similarly, an activity needs to not be so easy that it is very boring for me. Mr. Clear recommends that working on the optimum Goldilocks Zone is the perfect way to keep yourself motivated and keep your work flowing.

So issue identified, assessed; solution found and it should be easy to identify the perfect Goldilocks Zone and keep working on it, right? No – it’s a little trickier than it seems. For me, the Goldilocks Zone moves. Yes, sometimes extremely challenging things might fall inside my Goldilocks Zone and vice versa. A variable Goldilocks Zone means I don’t always know, for sure, what is challenging and what is easy. It means that my brain is constantly shifting its level of competence.

I have been recently diagnosed with ADHD. A symptom of ADHD is the constant shift in your brain activity. Meaning that one day, or even for a certain period of time, I might be having a more active brain function whereas others, I might be having a lazy brain function. I have tried putting in more effort into my activities, but the illusive Goldilocks Zone keeps shifting. 

I will be starting on medication soon. It will be interesting to observe what certain changes I might be having in terms of my Goldilocks Zone and how it affects procrastination and my work ethic. I’m looking forward to changes because at this point, I’m really frustrated chasing my Goldilocks Zone.

Featured Image Credit: Marten Bjork

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