Momentum and the positive side of constraints

Updated: Mar 24, 2019

Momentum and the positive side of Constraints! March 22, 2019






Educators are often people who like to move forward, do something, make something and change what is not working for their students or for themselves. Momentum with some sustainability behind it is something we seek whether it is in the progress we want our students to accomplish or in the improvement work in a particular area we are researching with others. The ‘systems’ we work within must deal with constraints on a daily basis – the constraint of limited resources, the constraint of time – and not enough of it, the constraint of competing priorities – what do we do first in a sea of important things to do?


I was reminded by a story I read about Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, that constraints can also have a positive side. Geisel’s first publisher challenged Dr. Seuss that he would not be able to write a children’s book using only 50 different words. He took the bet and won and the result was a book entitled Green Eggs and Ham. Another limit that proved to be beneficial was using only first grade vocabulary in writing The Cat in the Hat.


Is there actually something positive about a constraint? The blog posting I read about this story by James Clear (2013) proposed that setting constraints can be perceived as setting limits or working within them. Setting some limits on our work requires us to think creatively to see what can be done rather than what might be done. Limits can be a pressure or they can force us to getting some accomplished. Are we using time we do have in a way that is most beneficial or accomplishes a goal we have set?

You want to write more but don’t feel you have the time…..I know this feeling well!! Well, what can I do better with the 40 minutes I can find today is what I need to be asking.


I think how to work within constraints as something important to model for our students. I am not convinced that trying to do three things at once - multi-tasking! ….is the answer. I think rather planning out what needs to be prioritized and recognizing when procrastination is taking hold is more important. Pushing through procrastination to take small steps forward leads to much more potential for success. We used to think that “study skills” were important. Are we not talking about ‘dealing with constraints’ as a life skill now? Clear (2013) writes that a constraint can be viewed as the size of the canvas we need to work within. What we ‘paint’ on our canvas is up to us!


Clear, James, November 25th, 2013. The weird strategy Dr. Seuss used to create his greatest work. https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-weird-strategy-dr-seuss-used-to-create-his-greatest-work

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