Carrot or Stick

Which one of these gets you out of bed in morning?

Do you constantly snooze your alarm and only get out of bed because you might be late for class? Because mum or dad is pulling the blanket off you so you will finally get up?

Or do you wake up on time because you are keen to get to school? To see your friends and learn new things?

What about assignments?

Do you only finish them because they are due tomorrow, today, or even yesterday?

Or do you start it immediately as soon as you get it, excited by the opportunity to learn new skills?

Believe me, I was definitely part of the former and sometimes, I still am. But what is actually happening in those situations is that we are reacting to the bus schedule, parents or assignments, instead of proacting our way to a comfortable morning routine or assignment submission.

In other words, we are constantly motivated by the stick, not the carrot, and what I would like to discuss today is what this means for us as students.

The Stick

Simply put, the stick is fear. For getting out of bed, it is the fear of being late to school and being put on detention. In the context of homework and assignments, we can be fearful of not knowing how to complete a question or task. As a result, we are afraid of saying “I don’t know” because it makes us feel lesser. There is embarrassment, even a sense of isolation. If asked a question, instead of admitting that we do not know the answer, we would much prefer to sit there in silence. We are all guilty of this.

There is a lot of negativity around saying those words. Even my mother says that she hates it when I say “I don’t know”. She would ask me “why not?” Why do I not know the answer? And to ponder that question is a very negative state to be in. You might ask yourself whether you are smart enough to know, or if you had forgotten the answer already but the real answer is just that you had not learnt it.

Fear is a very powerful motivator but it is associated with a lot of negativity. If we continually behave out of fear, then it becomes difficult to learn.

The Carrot

On the other side, we have the carrot. Motivation through reward. When we are excited to go out and do something, there is nothing but the great experience we are going to have that is motivating us. We feel this all the time in sport, going to the movies or out a new restaurant where it is not the fear of the unknown that stops us; instead it encourages us.

The ultimate ability is to realise that we have the same opportunity to apply this to our assignments, homework, and even getting out of bed. Imagine receiving assignments that you are nothing but excited to do? Homework that you are motivated to complete? A morning experience that is worth waking up for?

We can then achieve amazing things if only we were excited to do them. But how do we get excited?


Changing the stick into a carrot

So how can I change my stick-motivated behaviour into a carrot-motivated behaviour? Well I use two strategies in my vocabulary to motivate myself with the reward as opposed to the fear.

The first involves the verbs we use. Instead of saying to ourselves we “have” to do this, we “have” to do that, I encourage you to change that into a “get”. By changing just one word, the way we view the task changes from a chore to an opportunity. And after saying out loud that you now get to do it, give yourself a great reason as to why. “Because I will learn how to make videos” or “so I can practice my presenting and public speaking skills”. So the next time you find yourself saying that there is an assignment you “have” to complete, say to yourself you “get” to complete it.

The second tip is for when you find yourself stuck again in that demoralising position of not knowing something. All you have to do is add a single word to what you say. Instead of saying “I don’t know”, start telling yourself “I don’t know yet”. By doing this, you are able to encourage yourself by saying that you will know the answer, you will understand it. We are able to avoid the path of self-deprecation and instead, motivate ourselves to work harder because we have promised ourselves that we will get there.


So what I would like you to think about today is whether you are letting the stick control your life or if you instead chase after the carrot. However if you do find yourself being chased by the stick, try changing your vocabulary with those two words and I promise, the results will be liberating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.