Are you a carrot or a stick person?

How do you motivate yourself?

Are you motivated by carrots or by sticks? By the pressure of consequences or by anticipating the benefits?

Are you one of those who looks forward and sees how you would like things to be and are then inspired to action by this image? In other words are you pro-active in life?

Or are you a procrastinator – who ‘puts off’ everything you can. And only acts on things when they become so urgent that you have absolutely no choice but to act?

Back, at school, when you were given an essay how did you handle it? Did you go home and do it – so that you could enjoy the relief and the freedom of having got it over with? Or did you /wait for days or weeks until the night before the deadline and work furiously well into the night to get it finished – and succeed in a nick of time?

The differences between the two styles

Carrot People will pay their bills ahead of time. Stick People will wait till a week after the ‘final notice’. They’ll also put off unpleasant tasks until the very last minute and will tend to ignore or hide bills or letters-to-be answered.

Carrot People focus on achieving goals. Stick People focus on avoiding unpleasant consequences. The Carrot Person will talk about what they want – and will use words like attain, achieve, get, have, include, obtain. The Stick Person’s conversation will emphasise what they do NOT want and will include words like avoid, not have, steer clear of, keep away from, exclude, get rid of, etc.

Carrot People will arrive early for an appointment with you. Stick People arrive late – “Awfully sorry – I cut it a bit fine, this time!” But you know them – they do this every time!

And the critical difference

Because Stick People spend life trying to avoid un-pleasant experiences they spend a lot of time thinking about these and about how they can be avoided. They therefore tend to be a bit pessimistic, gloomy and negative. And because they spend so much time focusing on the negative side of life they encounter it more than do the Carrot People.

On the other hand Carrot People go through life looking for ways to make life better, more enjoyable or more interesting. They thrive on challenge and opportunity. Their thoughts are of what nice things they can make happen – so they tend to be bubbly, cheerful, and great company…

Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Stick Person – in which case you’ll find the Carrot Person a bit over-powering, a bit uncomfortable to be around because they remind you of what you’d like to be and are not, a bit to optimistic, and a bit of a pain in the neck.

You’ll likely prefer to spend your time with other negative people who, like you, see the gloomy and negative side of life – only you don’t call yourselves ‘negative’ you say you’re “realistic” and that these optimistic people live in ‘cloud cuckoo land’. (It’s been validated by psychological studies that the pessimistic Stick People are more realistic about life – and are more able to recognise the reality that things do go wrong. And that the optimistic Carrot People are less realistic – but they have a nicer time!)

Isn’t this a generalisation!

Yes, of course it is. Nobody is a pure Carrot or Stick Person. And any statement about human behaviour, is likely to be a generalisation to which there will be many exceptions. The important thing here is that, although each of us will have slightly different approaches in different areas of our lives there will be an overall tendency towards being a Stick or a Carrot Person – especially when we are under stress or pressure.

Beware of the “stick motivational style”

How you motivate yourself has a major influence on your peace of mind and on your happiness! If you use the Stick style you are using stress and pressure to motivate yourself. It’s a negative motivational style. And it is also very common – in fact, it is likely that most of us will have this style predominating on our lives. But it’s not a nice way to live – even though you may have grown used to it – and it undermines peace of mind and even your health.

How is the stick style unhealthy?

Let’s say you are Stick Person. There is likely to be a long list of things that you are putting off or ‘going to get round to doing’. (The Carrot Person would have attended to each of these as they arose, of course.

But you’ve procrastinated so now there’s a whole queue of them.) Because of this list you now cannot relax and your peace of mind is undermined.

Every time you begin to relax you think “I should be doing this or I really ought to get that done”. There’s always the gloomy cloud there because of the things you know you should do. You’ve put things off – but it hasn’t solved anything because they list is still affecting you. You are not at ease. You cannot just let go and enjoy. You are constantly under emotional or mental pressure.

Living with accumulating stress

Worse still, each of the procrastinated items will wait until it has become so urgent that you have no choice but to act on it.

This means that for days or weeks or months EACH item on your list will be getting more and more stressful. Only when the stress becomes uncomfortable will you act! So this way of handling, or not handling, your life means that you are always under this unnecessary and gradually-getting-worse stress! Crazy!

How does this style of self motivation affect physical health?

Some people may say “this doesn’t apply to me – I’m easy-going. When I put things off I am able to simply forget about them. Easy!”

Wrong. You have only consciously forgotten about them. You unconscious, or emotional mind, has not forgotten them. And those put-off items will be emotionally affecting you, out of awareness, because the unconscious never forgets. So, even when life is going well, you are under constant emotional stress.

You may grow so used to this form of chronic low level stress that you no longer even notice it but it is affecting you.

Rather like wearing a shoe that pinches but which you decide to put up with. After a while you no longer notice the pinching – until you take the shoe off at the end of the day and notice the relief – and the bruising on your foot.

Some effects of the procrastinating habit

Chronic low-level stress saps vitality and makes us less able to handle life’s ups and downs with the result that we become even more stressed – which produces a cycle of diminishing effectiveness. This on-going stress affects sleep which again reduces our vitality. It makes life more effortful. And it gradually saps two of our most critically important health assets – our optimism and our sense of humour. Life stops becoming a fun, light, enjoyable experience. And we stop becoming fun, light-hearted, and enjoyable people to be around…

The answer? Start doing it now!

Firstly, the not-so-good news. If you have been using the stick motivational style for a number of years then a week or two of changing your habits won’t make a lot of difference. You will need to determine to stick(!!)  with the new regime for a couple of months at least, to make it ensure.

Secondly, the good news. You can change. It’s not ‘how you are’ it’s how you have been acting. And you can, with perseverance, change this.

So, if you are ready to start – and determined to persevere – here’s your very-uncomplicated, simple-but-powerful recipe for a better future.

  1. Make a written (it must be written) list of everything that needs your attention and action
  2. Prioritise your list. Give the items 2, 3 4 or 5 stars according to how important they are.
  3. For each 4 or 5-star item write a mini plan (again it must be written) for how and when you will act on it.
  4. Act on your mini plans – and also begin gradually whittling away at the less important 2 and 3-star items
  5. Rewrite your list daily. Do this by hand rather than on your PC – most people find that the act of physically writing it helps to keep the list fresh in their minds. Add new items to your list, along with their importance rating, to your list as they come along.

Yes, writing and re-writing the list every evening is a chore. This is deliberate. It is designed to ensure that making lists does not become yet another form of procrastinating! Hand-writing the list puts you under a sort of pressure to shorten the list so you will not have so much to write out each evening!


From the Pegasus NLP Newsletter – 29 October 2000

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