Figuring out the best way to motivate ourselves is one of the keys to being a successful adult. If we don’t find a way to do what has to be done, then we’re not going to get very far in life. It’s hard to have a happy, fulfilling life if all we do is sit on the couch like a lump and play video games. There’s a time and place for being lazy, but it usually comes after we do something productive first. There are two basic theories of motivation: the carrot and the stick. They’re a lot like how they sound. The carrot is a way of using a reward to motivate yourself or someone else. For instance, a parent might tell a teenager, “If you finish cleaning your room, I’ll give you money to go to the movies with your friends.” A stick uses punishment to motivate. So in that case, a parent would say to his or her teenager: “If you don’t clean your room, you’re grounded for the next week.” The carrot method
The carrot method is generally seeing as the less harsh option. It’s a form of positive motivation rather than negative motivation, and a lot of people respond better to the former than to the latter. As adults, we probably use this method on ourselves more often than we realize. Let’s say your friends invite to go with them on a weekend getaway to a casino and hotel
. While you’re really tempted, you also know you have a big project to finish up at work, and your friends are planning to leave town around Friday at lunch, so you’ve got decision to make. You finally decide that you’ll go if you’ll go if you can get everything completed by noon Friday. Knowing that a weekend trip is waiting for you can really spur you on to new levels of productivity, which will probably impress your boss. Then, once you get all your work done, you’ll be able to grab the weekend bag you packed and leave work early without any sort of lingering guilt or sense that you didn’t do all you could have. The stick method
Negative motivation can still be powerful. It’s often used when the positive motivation of the carrot method just isn’t working for some reason. Parents who are at the end of their rope will often use the stick method. Most kids don’t want to be grounded or lose video game privileges, so the stick method can work from that standpoint. As adults, trying to motivate ourselves with punishment can be trickier. If we’ve just eaten a huge Thanksgiving dinner and are feeling guilty, we might go to the gym to try to burn off some of those calories. If we push ourselves too hard because we think we deserve to be punished, then we’re figuratively beating ourselves with the stick for making bad choices. That may work to a limited extent, but generally speaking, working out as a method of punishment is going to get old fast. Look at how miserable those poor contestants on extreme TV weight loss shows seem to be. Saying something like “If I work out three times this week, I’ll schedule a massage
” is probably going to be more effective in the long run than berating yourself for being “weak” every time you walk through the gym doors.