What motivates you: the carrot or the stick

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What motivates you: the carrot or the stick

Motivation is essential to life. It is the impulse, that little flame that animates us and pushes us to action. At the same time, it can seem like the weather on occasion: sometimes high, sometimes though, uncertain, instable, that is affecting our daily life either positively or negatively. On the other hand, unlike the weather, we can have more control over our motivation when we know how it works.

Of course, we can act, work on a project, without necessarily being very motivated. However, without true motivation, the days seem much longer and more boring, a bit like a cloudy sky. In a case like this, our success can be much more limited.

One month ago, you had a goal: you were determined to get in shape. Today, you realise that your goal has slipped onto the back burner, that it is no longer a priority. What happened to it? And how can we exercise concrete influence over our motivation?

First of all, we are all motivated by two factors: the carrot or the stick.

  • The carrot, or moving forward: we are motivated when a project we care about is implemented, when action is undertaken, because we want or wish for something positive. We want to move forward, toward better health, more money, recognition, prestige, personal satisfaction, a feeling of accomplishment, etc.
  • The stick, or avoidance: we are motivated by fear of losing our credibility, fear of failure, illness, conflict, losing money, bankruptcy; we are afraid we will have bad luck, etc. We want to avoid tension, squabbles, problems, making enemies of our work colleagues etc.

Is there anyone motivation better than another? It seems not. You will be motivated to stop smoking because you want to breathe more easily (the carrot) or because you want to avoid cancer (the stick). What is important to you is quitting smoking. You are motivated to exercise and improve your health in order not to gain weight or to prevent a heart attack. It does not matter. What is important to you is exercising.

What is your style? Carrot or stick?

  • 40% of people are clearly more motivated to move forward,
  • 40% of people are motivated by avoidance
  • 20% fall between these two, and are motivated by one or the other of the two factors mentioned above.

To which group do you belong? Listen to your language. If you are the type who is motivated to move forward, you will generally use language like: obtain, achieved, realise, receive, possess, acquire, benefit from, increase, conquer, win, harvest. If you are the kind of person who prefers avoidance, you are likely to use terms such as: remove yourself from, not how to, avoid failure, loss, prevent, avoid, steer clear of, escape.

To significantly increase your motivation, you must list your reasons for achieving your goal:


  1. Why is it important to me to reach this goal? Ask yourself “Why?” until you can no longer get an answer.


  1. What will it bring me (moving toward)?


  1. What will this prevent (avoidance)?


Do your reasons fall more under number 2 or number 3? It will not do any good to emphasize the benefits if you are more in the avoidant type. Follow your own motivational type.

Then, post your list where you can see it. When your motivation is dropping, like the barometer, reread the list. Reread it again. What can you do? The mind forgets. Sometimes we have to remind it.

Can we really influence others’ motivation? Of course. The same is true for those around you. Discover what motivates them and demonstrate the advantages (moving toward), or, conversely, the disadvantages of not doing it (avoidance), depending on their profile. Obviously, it is possible to influence another’s motivation, as long as the benefits are real to him… not to us.

Pierrette Desrosiers,

Work Psychologist, professionnal speaker, author and business coach

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2020-03-23T17:50:51+00:00 January 15 2019|Goals, Motivation|0 Comments

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