By James Clear (Pocket)
In 1960, two men made a bet.
There was only $50 on the line, but millions of people would feel the impact of this little wager.
The first man, Bennett Cerf, was the founder of the publishing firm, Random House. The second man was named Theo Geisel, but you probably know him as Dr. Seuss. Cerf proposed the bet and challenged that Dr. Seuss would not be able to write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words.
Dr. Seuss took the bet and won. The result was a little book called Green Eggs and Ham. Since publication, Green Eggs and Ham has sold more than 200 million copies, making it the most popular of Seuss’s works and one of the best-selling children’s books in history.
At first glance, you might think this was a lucky fluke. A talented author plays a fun game with 50 words and ends up producing a hit. But there is actually more to this story and the lessons in it can help us become more creative and stick to better habits over the long-run.
The Power of Constraints
What Dr. Seuss discovered through this little bet was the power of setting constraints.
Setting limits for yourself — whether that involves the time you have to work out, the money you have to start a business, or the number of words you can use in a book — often delivers better results than “keeping your options open.”
In fact, Dr. Seuss found that setting some limits to work within was so useful that he employed this strategy for other books as well. For example, The Cat in the Hat was written using only a first-grade vocabulary list.
In my experience, I’ve seen that constraints can also provide benefits in health, business, and life in general.