Motivation for the Goldilocks Zone

I have never met anyone that didn’t have at least one quote that spoke to them deeply. I was lucky enough to be raised in a community of football coaches, so you could say that I have been marinating in motivational mantras my entire life. One that has been with me for as long as I can remember is one I attribute to my dad, a football coach. He may have not been the first person to say it, but I can close my eyes and see it hanging, clear as day, on the wall near his office.

Try your best, you will be glad you did.

I’m going to wait just a second and let that sink in. Just roll your brain around in that quote for a little bit. On the surface, it speaks to something so simple and sincere. Why wouldn’t you be happy that you gave it your all? Yet, the true power is in what the quote doesn’t say.

It does not have any mention of success or failure. There is no outcome tied to the emotion and why should there be? This has to be one of the paramount philosophies you have to learn when prototyping. You will have failures. You will have successes. Yet how you feel about what you do can not be linked to end result of a tested hypothesis. Both results end in learning, and some would even say that failure teaches you more than success does.

What I am saying is that happiness should hinge on your effort, and effort is something you can control.

Yes, there will be some days that are plain nasty and out to get you. No matter how much mud and muck those days sling onto your path, you got to hike your pants up and give it your all. You can’t let a murky path detour you from giving your best effort. It’s all about grit and you’ve got a ton of it inside you. You may slip and you may fall face first into the muck, but wipe your eyes clear and keep going. At the end of the day, your conscience will tally how much effort you gave. Any left over effort that you didn’t use fades away. There is no roll-over extended effort; you use it or you lose it.

Try your best, you’ll be glad you did.

Notice that it doesn’t say it will be easy either. We have to assume challenge is going to be a part of our daily lives if we want to be really innovative. To innovate is to go against the grain, explore out past the edges… where we’re innovating, there are no roads. We’re ok with that because we’re going to try our best and we’ll be glad that we did.

Here you are, orbiting in your own magical region of awesomeness, with your own idea creatures! And all thanks to trying your best and being glad that you did.
Here you are, orbiting in your own magical region of awesomeness, with your own idea creatures! 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the concept of Flow State. The abridged version says that if the amount of challenge is too low compared to our skill, we’ll get bored. If the amount of challenge is too high compared to our skill, we’ll get frustrated. Yet there is a sweet spot that fluctuates, where our skill encounters just enough challenge. In this Flow State we become deeply engaged. When we try our best, we’re doing all we can to get ourselves in this Goldilocks zone where the challenge isn’t too low or too high. It is just right.

In fact, let’s talk quickly about the Goldilocks Zone. The Science Masters call it the Circumstellar Habitable Zone and it is this Magical Region of Awesome (MRA) amidst all the universal variables. If a planet exists inside that MRA, it is capable of sustaining life. As innovators we are our own little planets, spinning wildly on our axis. Our thoughts and prototypes are our lifeforms; little idea creatures migrating, learning, growing. Don’t be one of those planets where ideas go to die. Try your best to keep that orbital velocity up so that you stay in the MRA, where your idea creatures can prosper and thrive.

Try your best, you’ll be glad you did.

The last thing I want to point out is that the quote doesn’t say anything about any one else. Nope, this is all about you. If you are extrinsically motivated, you may prefer “Try your best, your boss will be glad you did”, but I don’t know your boss. I’m certainly willing to try to get them to add that clause to your contract? But boss approval only lasts so long anyways. Soon the boss will be replaced or another task hits your inbox and your boss will have a fresh set of expectations. Seems to me like you should really be trying to impress the one person who can’t be replaced, who has been with you every day until now, and will be with you every day forward.

You. I’m talking about you.

You know you better than anyone else. Take some time during the day and ask yourself “Am I trying my best? Will I be glad with how I did today?” and then adjust if needed. Even at this, we can’t be perfect. All I am asking you to do is to try your best at trying your best so that you can be glad. Win or lose, validated hypothesis or not, successful innovation or a heap of junk, we must link our happiness to effort. When we’re able to do that, we’re able to extract learning and growth from even the most catastrophic of failures.

Push yourself into that Goldilocks Zone of Innovation, face the challenges and muck with your own brand of grit so that your idea creatures can flourish, and be happy with yourself regardless of the outcome when you give it your all. Try your best, you’ll be glad you did.

Challenge

  • Think of a particularly difficult task ahead (maybe a prototype that needs testing).
  • What are the epic ways it can fail?
    • Put a square next to each of these.
  • What are the spectacular ways it can succeed?
    • Put a triangle next to each of these.
  • Most importantly, what are all the things you can do before the task? Where can you apply effort? 
    • Put a circle next to these.
  • Turn all circles into smiley faces because when you accomplish these, you will have done all you can and that’s going to make you glad.
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