The Stick, the Carrot and the Gift
(about a 2 to 3 minute read)
Most of us, most of the time, do the things we do for stick, carrot, or avoidance reasons. The problem is that these forms of motivation do not satisfy us. To really thrive, we need to do things for gift reasons.
I believe we do things for one of 3 basic reasons:
- To avoid a future punishment or earn a future reward; I call these stick or carrot reasons.
- To avoid discomfort in the current moment; I call these escape/rebellion reasons.
- Because it’s an authentic choice that feels good to our whole self right now, or it builds well-being in the long run; I call these gift reasons.
Here are some examples of each type of reason.
Stick reasons for some of the things you do:
- Because if you don’t, something bad will happen, or something that you need to have happen, won't. The rent/mortgage won’t get paid or the kids won’t get a good education or the in-laws will be offended or [you fill in the blank].
- Because if you don’t, an external authority—the teacher, boss, spouse, whoever—won’t be happy. You’ll be punished or penalized either directly or indirectly.
- Because if you don’t, an internal authority—the one that was installed during childhood and that takes over where parents and teachers left off—won’t be happy. It will punish you with feelings of regret, guilt or shame. Possibly for a very long time.
- Because you’re afraid not to. See all of the above.
The carrot reason:
- Because if you don’t, you won’t get the carrot. The feeling (from your inner authority) that you are a good person, an okay parent, worthy of self-approval. Or (from the outer authority) the bonus, the long service leave, the praise and recognition, the good grades, the approval and acceptance.
- It’s a way to escape or avoid something worse, or a way to numb yourself or give yourself some sweetness or comfort or entertainment in an otherwise unbearable set of circumstances. (Not to be confused with “authentic enjoyment,” below.)
- You’re rebelling against either the outer or the inner authority. Screw them. You deserve a reward. (This is really just another form of escape or avoidance.)
And finally, the gift reasons:
- Because it’s good for someone or something you care about. It’s a gift you give, of support or compassion or generosity, which feels so good that through your giving, you are also receiving. (It’s important to note that this only works if it’s a gift you give freely. If someone else is manipulating, coercing, or guilting you into doing it, that stops it from being a gift reason and makes it into a stick reason.)
- Because it’s good for you in the longer term. You’ve made an informed, conscious, deliberate choice to do it. You know that this action (which may be hard to get started with and may not feel great initially) builds increased well-being. This is a gift you give to your future self.
- Because it’s good for you right now. It’s fully, authentically enjoyable right now. It deeply nourishes some part of you in some way. (Not to be confused with escape or avoidance, above.) This is a gift to your present self.
Doing things for the right reasons
Most of us do things mostly for stick, carrot, or avoidance reasons. Who has the time, energy or resources to do things for gift reasons?!
The problem with this is that your deepest self is not satisfied when you do things only to dodge the stick, earn a carrot, or indulge in short term avoidance.
Your deepest self thrives on giving and receiving gifts.
Please leave a comment below
There's more on this in the pipeline. Will you help shape it by leaving a comment or question on what you've read so far?