3 min read

Carrots and Sticks

Here are 8 reasons, carrots and sticks won’t help you lose weight.The old adage of carrots and sticks as a way to motivate people is a broken model, and drastically needs to be fixed.

Many managers — like fitness coaches — within business organizations are still guilty of this micro-managing style of management — a popular form of management in the 90’s — and feel this constant need to ‘motivate’ their employees with a lot of cheap talk, short-term thinking and carrots on sticks.

You, yourself, may feel this presently within your occupational organization.

You may also be struggling with the notion of Motivation 2.0 and searching for deeper meaning in whatever your fitness pursuits are.

I’m sure you’re been pressured by a loved one at some point, or you may feel as if it is a cultural expectation that you be “skinny.”

This is precisely the old model I want you to avoid, and instead find a deeper purpose.

People often come to me looking for motivation.

Quite simply put, I tell them that it is not my job to motivate them, but to teach them how to motivate themselves, obviously this won’t happen overnight so a little nudge from me from time to time is probably necessary to start.

Motivation is a bit of myth in fact, or at bare minimum misunderstood.

I believe inspiration is what most people are referring to when they talk about motivation but I’ll leave that discussion for another article.

One of the easiest things people do, to ‘find’ this motivation, is use carrots on sticks.

I also like to call them, ‘If-Then’ patterns of behaviors.

If I exercise today, I can eat all the candy I want tonight.

If I lose 5 lbs this month, I will buy myself that new T.V.

The terms in the title, is a saying derived from the practice of putting a carrot on a stick and keeping it just out of the reach of a donkey, in order to get the donkey to move forward. In essence a reward or punishment to induce a desired behavior.

You’re not an ass are you?

8 Reasons Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work


1) They extinguish naturally occurring intrinsic (internal) motivation.

That stems from knowing whatever you are doing is purpose driven and/or values oriented.

2) They can diminish actual productivity and performance through too narrowed a focus. 

Narrowed focus often makes us oblivious to other factors at play in our work and incapable of dealing with other issues as they come up.

This often results in ‘choking’ during your performance.

3) They can crush creativity through too narrowed a focus.

As stated above, narrowed focus makes us unaware of obvious solutions to problems.

We become incapable of ‘thinking outside the box’ so to speak because we are so focused on the problem itself.

4) They encourage bad behavior to succeed at any costs.

This often results in cheating, short-cuts (that cause further damage down the line) and other unethical behavior.

5) Due to #4, they can then crowd out or prevent good behavior.

This is often the desirable behavior especially in ethically-challenged positions like law, politics, business, medicine, etc…

6) Goals and carrots in general become addictive.

This is often, what I refer to as the “then, what?” phenomenon.

You end up constantly needing to fill any behaviors with a reward/punishment even when not needed and detrimental. It requires intense emotional fortitude to break this cycle of behavior.

7) Short-term thinking is often the result. 

People tend to think, what can I do to boost my bottom-end today?

This often leads to poor performance in the long-term.

We see this often in the corporate world; CEO’s brought in from outside to turn a company around in a year or two.

They leave and the company is back where it started 5-10 years later.

8) Depression, severe anxiety, emotional distress and other psychological and emotional issues can often be the result.

This often results in ‘burn-out,’ which is very common with young athletes being pushed too hard to excel at ‘goals.’

It occurs at every age though, and a general distaste is developed for anything you may have previously enjoyed — ties in with the Sawyer Effect.

You’d never know it but even elite athletes often feel severe depression after winning a major event. The best athletes are motivated by far more than carrots and sticks, and in my experience so is every person that’s been through a successful weight loss program.