The Carrot and the Stick

One of the most important principles we need to discover to have the success we seek in our lives is to determine what motivates us and what motivates the people around us. My colleague and friend, Tony Robbins, often says, “We do everything in our lives to either gain pleasure or avoid pain.” While this is certainly the beginning of the equation, we need to fully understand the specific elements of potential pleasure or pain that can yield us the best results.

During the Industrial Revolution, philosopher Jeremy Bentham used the analogy of the carrot and the stick. I remember when I was a small child seeing an illustration of this concept. It showed a man driving a cart being pulled uphill by a donkey. The man had a long pole with a carrot on a string dangling in front of the donkey’s nose. He also held a sharp stick poised to prod the donkey. Beneath the illustration was a series of questions, including how steep is the hill; how hungry is the donkey; how heavy is the load; and how sharp is the stick.

We need to have this type of introspection as we evaluate what really motivates us and moves us forward. Some people are motivated by money, while others by position, prestige, recognition, or simply the pursuit of excellence. The personal finance media guru, Clark Howard, has often publicly shared that he jogs daily to permit himself to eat a pint of ice cream each night. While this is enough to keep Clark pounding the pavement mile after mile, it may or may not motivate you and me.

I am often most motivated by consistency. I start on a project or goal based upon an initial inspiration, but shortly thereafter, a routine emerges that moves me toward my goal. Long after the original inspiration has faded, I remain motivated simply by wanting to keep the streak alive. If you are inspired to start an exercise regimen, the original inspiration may get you off the couch and get you moving. If you continue the routine for several days, you may be motivated merely by wanting to keep this new pattern going.

After 21 days, psychologists tell us that any activity will become a habit. A new routine may be strange and uncomfortable, but once it’s a habit, it will seem strange and awkward not to follow it. It doesn’t take conscious discipline for most of us to brush our teeth, comb our hair, or get dressed for the day. It’s simply a habit we have formed that serves us well. If we can understand our own internal motivations well enough to create these kinds of habits around achievement and reaching our goals, we can accomplish virtually anything.

As you go through your day today, embrace your dreams, set a goal, create a routine, and build a habit.

Today’s the day!


This article was written by Jim Stovall. who is the president of the Emmy-award winning Narrative Television Network as well as a published author of more than 50 books—eight of which have been turned into movies. He is also a highly sought-after platform speaker. He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK  74145-9082; by email at; or by phone at 918-627-1000.


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