Carrot or Stick: Uncovering Your Secret Motivation

When it comes to accomplishing a goal, most people are motivated by one of 2 things: a carrot or a stick.


The phrase “carrot or stick” refers to rewards (ie, carrots) or punishments (ie, sticks). If we were horses pulling buggies, the idea of carrots and sticks would make perfect sense. But since we’re not horses, we need to find other things to motivate us.

Consider the last big goal or deadline you reached. What one thing made you want to do what you had to do to get to the endpoint?

Was it a reward you really wanted? Or was it a punishment you were trying to avoid?

There’s no right or wrong answer, and sometimes your motivation might shift between rewards and punishments.

Here’s an example from my life: I eat a (mostly) healthy diet, and the motivation behind this good habit is to avoid a stick. I was an obese kid, and I also gained a lot of weight after college. It took a tremendous amount of effort to lose the weight, and the negative outcome of becoming sick and fat again is motivation for me to put down the Twizzlers and pick up the broccoli.

But I’m also motivated by carrots: I meditate every morning because I love how centered and open it makes me feel (click here for my fave meditation technique). The reward of meditating (ie, having a positive hopeful day) is motivation for me to make it a part of my routine.

Motivation isn’t one size fits all. Yes, I’m motivated to eat well because I’m trying to avoid a negative result, but that doesn’t make me less honorable than a person who’s motivated to eat well because she wants the energy to run a marathon.

What motivates you to get things done?

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  1. Sarah @ Long Island Nerd on September 10, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Ooooh you are so right. I try and eat a clean diet to avoid being sick (which sadly has not been working lately). However, my desire to go back to school (and when I get there) is motivated by my desire to have a job that I absolutely love which would be the best reward!

    • Sage Grayson on September 10, 2013 at 8:06 pm

      I think everyone is motivated by carrots for some things and sticks for others. And it probably depends on your personality type as to which one creates the longest lasting motivation. Having a job you love is a HUGE motivator! 🙂