The Goldilocks Approach to Challenge in the Workplace

Studies have shown that the degree to which you care about performing well in any activity is directly related to your enjoyment of that activity. This is true for both work and leisure endeavors. Additionally, the amount of enjoyment you derive from that activity skyrockets with the right amount of challenge. Think of this as the “Three Bears” rule- you won’t be happy with an easy activity because boredom will set in. You won’t be happy with a very difficult activity because you won’t succeed.

But an activity that is demanding yet achievable is extremely pleasing. We find success when we face uncertainty and then win, when we can work hard and triumph, and when we can overcome an obstacle and flourish. Psychologically, it’s important to see ourselves grow. We have an intrinsic motivation for learning if we recognize that we’re smarter than when we started. We better appreciate the rewards of a goal-oriented activity if we know that there was some risk involved. Winning satisfies our needs of competence and worth.

And there’s no distinction between our personal lives and our professional lives in this- at any level. Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers alike all share this need. We want to be challenged and to thrive. We want to show our worth by the difficulty or volume of our challenges. And we want others to recognize us for those wins. It gives us motivation to proceed and take on bigger contests, more work, and grow.

Bethany Miller is an explorer in life and in business. She’s an airline pilot, businesswoman, veteran, and world traveler. Fascinated by global issues and the business of business, Bethany is a doctoral candidate at Université Paris-Dauphine in Paris, France where she researches extraordinary employees in chaotic work environments. GoodGlobalCitizen

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