Goldilocks Training

woman lacing up her gray and pink nike low top athletic shoe
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on

Alright, I’ll just say it – when you exercise, you’re exercising too hard.

(Yes, you – even if you barely ever exercise.)

You are making life miserable for yourself.

And every time you exercise – while pushing too hard – you’re reinforcing to yourself that “exercise sucks.”

You’re too goal-oriented when exercising. Way back in school, you were told “run a mile,” and you had to go out at complete the whole mile, and it was awful.

Now, that’s what you think of whenever you think of exercise.

Every time you do get yourself out the door to exercise, that’s the only way you know how to go about doing it.

E.g., “Okay, I’m going out the door, and I’m going to run a mile.” (Or jog for a full ten minutes. Or whatever.)

And you either succeed and run the whole mile (or finish whatever goal), but it feels really hard. Or you quit, and feel like you failed.

Or, maybe, you go too easy, and all you ever do is nothing.

(Or something that is so slow and easy it doesn’t challenge you at all.)

Which means you’ll never really trigger those endorphins, or hit that “runner’s high,” that you’ve heard about but have never experienced, because “exercising is miserable.”



Okay, obviously, I don’t really know for sure if all of the above applies to you. Maybe I’m wrong, I’m just guessing.

But I’m willing to bet it does, because I think it applies to most people.

I have good news though: if any of that rings a bell – there is a way out.

There is another way to think about – and go about – exercising, which I call “Goldilocks Training.”

(Yes, it’s in reference to the proverbial “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” where our interloper protagonist trespasses into a house of three bears, steals porridge that is “not too hot, not too cold, but just right,” and then does some other burglar stuff. Anyway. It’s the “just right” part that matters.)

The “Goldilocks training” theory is simple:

There IS a level of intensity of training that feels maximally enjoyable, while still creating significant, often surprisingly rapid, improvement.

There IS a Goldilocks level of “not too hard, not too easy,” that’s just right, that actually feels good.

(Yes, it feels good.)

And you probably don’t believe me, because you probably always exercise too damn hard.

The idea that “exercise can feel good” is a really tough pill to swallow for people who have never experienced the phenomenon before.

Even now you’re probably shaking your head, going, “yeah, Dolan, I don’t know about that. I’ve exercised before and it’s always sucked. Every time. I’ve never experienced a ‘runner’s high’ or anything like that. What you’re saying doesn’t apply to me, to my body.

Okay, okay.

I absolutely believe you –

Exercise has always been unpleasant, every time you’ve ever done it.

Maybe you’ve tried some form of exercise 1000 times and none of them has ever been enjoyable.

But I’m here to tell you, the 1001st time can be different.

(Actually, it may take a little practice, so it might be more like 1002nd or 1003rd, but bear with me.)

Up until now, you’ve been distracted from the possibility of enjoying exercise.

By thinking you had to achieve a goal when training (e.g., “run a mile”, “run for an entire twenty minutes” “finish a workout class,” “finish this hike”), you’ve been missing out on something much more important.

So going forward, when it comes to exercise, I suggest experimenting with completely dropping that outcome-orientated attitude.

Instead, I suggest entirely focusing on something different – striving for the “Goldilocks level” of intensity (and time).

Be willing to shamelessly modify any goals you had coming into the workout – and instead, completely prioritize mindfully noticing your body, to try to hit your own personal Goldilocks level.

(It’s worth mentioning that in my experience, it seems like it’s always the smartest and most elite athletes who seem to happily and shamelessly modify workouts to make them easier, when needed. They listen to their bodies. While elite athletes are, admittedly, relentless about consistently getting out the door to train, the actual training itself is frequently modified, adjusted, to be the “just right” level of intensity. This prevents injury and allows for sustainable training over the long run. On the other hand, novice athletes tend to have it backward – they’re lackadaisical about actually getting out the door and being consistent, but once they are out, they feel they need to force themselves through a workout to the bitter end, even if their body is begging them to adjust it. Be smarter than that.)

So here’s what I suggest:

Go a bit easier.

Yes, get out the door, for sure. But then listen to your body, and tone it back.

Because I think most people (even if they barely ever exercise ever) actually overshoot their Goldilocks levels.

Your personal Goldilocks level of difficulty (at this moment) may just be a short walk.

It may be a medium-length walk. Or maybe a walk on a slight incline. Or a brisk walk.

Or it may be a walk-jog, or gentle run.

(You know that when you go on a run, you don’t have to run the whole time. You know that, right??)

Whatever your personal Goldilocks level of training is, at this moment, remember: it’s not static.

What may be the perfect level to train at today may not be the perfect level for you tomorrow.

And if you’re continuously training at just the right intensity, you’ll notice your own Goldilocks level will improve.

So, for right now, just try to exercise with the goal of enjoying exercise.

Have the intention of hitting your Goldilocks level.

JUST focus on finding the right zone of intensity.

Forget about everything else.

(And do that from now on.)

(Tip: to make sure you are hitting your Goldilocks level, you do want to feel at least a little challenge. So if you’re out there walking, and you feel no difference in your breathing, no challenge whatsoever, you may want to walk a little faster.)

But other than that, you now have permission to cut your hikes short (yeah, without getting to the top!). You have permission to take walk brakes. You have permission to slow down. You have permission to modify your workouts while your doing them, and deviate from the workout plan of the day.

Soon, you’ll get really good at tuning into your body to notice that golden zone of intensity. You’ll get so mindful, so dialed in to what your body needs, you’ll be able to increase the level of challenge a bit while still keeping it really enjoyable. You’ll start to improve surprisingly quickly.

And you’ll find yourself wanting to come back and exercise in that Goldilocks zone again and again, causing a pretty addictive virtuous cycle.

But it takes a very different mindset than the one you probably currently have.

So go try this new attitude out.

And stick with it for at least a few workouts in a row.

And if you’re having trouble getting out the door and starting, I highly recommend a little coffee (or caffeine in your favorite form) to get you started.

But let go of rigid exercise goals, ease up, and aim for some flexible Goldilocks training.

And let me know how it goes.

Published by Dolan

Relentless self-optimizer, biohacker, traveler, reader.

One thought on “Goldilocks Training

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