Carrot and stick

Carrot and stick

I’m guessing you’ve heard people refer to methods of motivation in reference to a carrot and stick.  It is one of those sayings that we don’t give much thought to but recently in coaching with clients this idea of motivation has come up.  Now let’s put aside the fact that we’re in a pandemic and unusually high levels of uncertainty and lack of variety which could be leading to burnout rather than a lack of motivation.

The principles of motivation, persuasion and coercion was characterised by a philosopher called Jeremy Bentham, during the industrial revolution. This theory is derived from the old story of a donkey, the best way to move him is to put a carrot in front of him and jab him with a stick from behind.  This philosophy of essentially offering a reward or threatening punishment as a way to motivate or persuade someone to do something can be seen throughout society, sales training, organisational leadership, change programmes and parenting. 

Before coaching I spent 20 years in HR and often was involved in cultural or change programmes and usually change theories require some sort of ‘burning platform’ to enact change.  You might even see this in behavioural studies associated with the fact that there needs to be sufficient pain to get us to move or make changes.  Certainly sales training can speak to finding pain points and maximising those. Maybe you can relate to this yourself.  You’ve only really gone on that diet, started that exercise plan, stopped smoking, changed jobs or changed relationships once things have gotten to the point of ‘not any more’.  But there is a fundamental problem with this.  

In reality we are all motivated away from pain and towards pleasure.  We are all different so the extent to which one has a bigger influence on us than another will play a part.  What I’d encourage you to think about is, to what extent is it helpful?  Let me explain.  Let’s say you’re motivated to lose weight so you decide to go on a diet.  Once you start moving away from the problem (the number on the scales) you start to feel better, and thereby your motivation to change starts to wane.  Maybe your weight plateaus, you slip back into old eating habits and you’re no longer moving forwards to your goal. So whilst moving away from pain might be helpful to get us started, it won’t be sustainable.  Also, if pain is our only fuel for change, it focuses us on fixing the cause of the pain so the absence of pain is our motivation.

So instead of concentrating on the ‘burning platform’ for change or what pain you’re moving away from, it might also be helpful to think about what you’re moving towards, the pleasure that you anticipate, and what you would love.  Instead of focusing on what you don’t want, focus on what you do want, and use that to drive you towards your goals.  Visualising a goal is an extremely powerful technique used by many successful people, business leaders and athletes.   Not only has scientific evidence shown that visualisation is a powerful tool for self-improvement, but some of the greatest performers in the world claim it was the key to their success. Visualisation is a technique for creating a mental image of a future event. Through visualisation, we catch a glimpse of our desired future.  According to research using brain imagery, visualisation works because our brains interpret imagery as equivalent to a real-life action. When this happens, we are motivated and prepared to pursue our goal.  When love is our fuel for change we can move directly towards that.  

In essence, this is the difference between fear and love.  Fear motivates us away from pain and suffering and love motivates us towards what we would love.  After all, love really is the most powerful force in the universe!

Does this resonate with you?  What thoughts and feelings is it bringing up?  Let me know what you think!

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