The Goldilocks Principle — The art of "right-sizing" your way to success

Do you remember the childhood story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Yes, we are referring to THAT trespasser/freeloader in this post. In the story, we have Goldilocks complaining about how the items from Papa bear is too harsh, Mama bear's too mild while Baby bear's "just right". Hence, this theory focuses on the importance of "right-sizing" designs in order to achieve the best outcome.

This principle is often discussed in the education space (perhaps due to its origin from a children story) as educators discuss and deliberate on pitching various curriculum/lesson designs right. We regularly debate on issues such as the rigour of content, student autonomy, level of scaffolding, etc since either extreme will lead to unfavourable outcomes.

Right standards ➝ Sustained Engagement

Interestingly, this principle is seldom mentioned beyond the education industry. While it may lack the "cool" factor, there is much that we can all gain by considering this principle. Ultimately, this principle addresses the issue of engagement.

Referencing back to Goldilocks' actions upon each sampling, we can observe that she stopped interacting with the items upon each unfavourable experience. The takeaway here is that we should pay closer attention to why we are unable to sustain our desired actions (e.g. forming a healthy habit). Was the rigour too intense such that we pitch the standards too far out of our comfort zone that the inertia proves too great for our willpower to overcome? Or was it too mild that we are not sufficiently challenged to gain a worthwhile experience out of the investment of time and effort?

Interestingly, both of these outcomes are very common. At the initial phases of the endeavour, we are motivated, inspired and pumped with adrenaline which causes us to over-estimate our capacities and/or under-estimate the challenges. This causes us to pitch the standards to Papa Bear levels. Conversely, we might also be aware of these issues and over-compensate for them, resulting in uninspiring and lukewarm Mama Bear standards. Based on my personal observation, visionary people (usually those in the management) tend towards Tier Papa Bear while practical people (usually those executing plans) tend towards Tier Mama Bear. This is why it is crucial for open communication (with yourself for personal projects) in order to achieve the "best calibration".

Pfft... What does the "best calibration" even mean?!

We have to agree that when it comes to setting the standards, it is pretty much a black box and that's why the term "best" is used instead of "correct". It is more akin to the higher level of the basketball arcade machine where the hoop shifts continuously and in this case, randomly. Therefore, instead of spending elaborated time and effort in planning and discussions, it is more practical to agree on a standard and fine-tune through multiple iterations as we collect more information during the execution phase.

In my opinion, the right standard is NOT the average of either extreme (i.e. we do not simply aim for the middle grounds). If we will like to achieve a sustainable practice, the rigour should be pitched JUST beyond the comfort zone (or what educators term as Zone of Proximal Development). In other words, the right level is one that is NOT comfortable but instead, slightly uncomfortable enough to facilitate growth. Of course, when done right, it is obvious that we will acclimatise to what was previously uncomfortable (which is growth) and we will once again, have to readjust the target.

And... that's the Goldilocks Principle in action! I find that this general awareness provides a very helpful paradigm both in self-management as well as designing and planning projects. Let me know what you think!

If the story went with a more morbid end, the verdict for dinner would be "too soft" for Papa Bear, "too tough" for Mama Bear and "just right" for Baby Bear. Regardless, sending you my awesome reader Mr Success Bear. 💪

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