Disneyland, Anaheim, California had just opened its doors in 1955. A ten-year old boy approached the store and asked for a job. The labor laws back then were loose and the boy was able to get a job selling guidebooks at $0.50 each.
He was able to transition within a year to Disney’s magic shop where he learned tricks and tips from older employees. He tried out simple routines and jokes on people. He soon discovered that he was more interested in performing magic than general comedy. He decided to become a comedian.
He began performing in small clubs in Los Angeles as a teenager. His act was brief and the crowds were small. He rarely stayed on the stage for more that five minutes. The majority of people in the crowd were too busy talking to friends or drinking to pay attention. He literally performed his stand-up routine in front of an empty club one night.
Although it wasn’t glamorous work at first, he was improving every day. His first routines lasted only one to two minutes. His material had grown to include a five-minute routine in high school and a ten minute show a few years later. He was performing for twenty minutes each week at nineteen. To make the routine longer, he had to read three poems. But his skills progressed.
How to stay motivated
Recently, I finished Steve Martin’s amazing autobiography, Born Standing Up. Martin’s story is a fascinating look at what it takes for a person to keep their habits going over the long-term. Comedy is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard to imagine a situation where more people would be afraid than being on stage alone and not getting a single laugh. Steve Martin was faced with this fear every week for 18 years. He described it as “10 years of learning, 4 years of refining and 4 years as a wild success.”
Martin is an example of someone who sticks with their routines, whether they are playing jokes, drawing cartoons, or playing guitar. Most people struggle to stay motivated. How can we create habits that draw us in, rather than those that disappear? This question has been studied by scientists for years. Although there are still many things to discover, the most common conclusion is that it is possible to keep motivated and attain peak levels of desire by focusing on tasks that are “just manageable”.
The Goldilocks Rule
Human brains love a challenge. However, it must be within a safe zone of difficulty. You will soon become bored if you play tennis against a four year old. It’s just too easy. It’s easy to win every point. You’ll win every point if you play professional tennis players like Roger Federer and Serena Williams.
Consider playing tennis with someone you are equal to. You will win some points, but you’ll lose some. There is a chance you will win, but only if your efforts are genuine. You become more focused, distractible things disappear, and are fully committed to the task at hand. This is a challenging task of manageable difficulty, and it is an excellent example of the Goldilocks Rule.
You can measure your progress
It is important to know how to keep motivated to achieve your goals. This is about achieving the perfect combination of hard work, happiness.
It has been shown that working on problems with the optimal difficulty level can not only motivate but also provide a great source of happiness. Gilbert Brim, a psychologist, stated that “one of the most important sources of human happiness” is to work on tasks of a reasonable level of difficulty.
Two steps to motivation
- We could just say this if we wanted to dispel the mystery surrounding how to stay motivated long-term.
- Keep to The Goldilocks Rule, and focus on tasks that are manageable.
- You can track your progress and get immediate feedback when you need it.
- It is simple to want to improve your life. It is not easy to stick with it. Start small and measure your progress to keep yourself motivated.
- This article is a portion of Chapter 19 in my New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits. Learn more.