Motivation: The Whip and the Carrot


What motivates you? Or more importantly, how do you motivate yourself to accomplish something you set out to do? Often we think if we are hard on ourselves or just keep pushing through, we will able to finish some objective we set out to do. This idea is the metaphorical whip that we think we must use to reach our goals. For example, it may look like this, “I failed this test and it is my fault for not preparing enough” or if you are a parent, punishing your child for failing an assignment. The whip is used to punish, criticize and demoralize our sense of self in a way that leaves us feeling ashamed and void. Often we do not need to look to others to do this, people are pretty good at doing this to themselves. Self-criticism undermines the beliefs we have about ourselves and our ability to strive for self-actualization. If we were to look at another key component of the whip, it would be the fear it represents. Fear is the “what ifs” of not reaching our goals or dreams. Self-criticism and fear are nonetheless motivators, but at what personal cost? Often this leads people down a road of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, but for a society that puts a lot of emphasis on individual characteristics, it makes sense why people feel that they deserve the majority of the blame when they are unable to reach their goals.

If we were to eliminate the whip, what would we replace it with? I would first ask someone to use the same negatively loaded language and picture saying these same words to the three-year-old version of themselves. And instead of using fear, we use a more loving stance. Now before I go any further, there is research showing that if we take a more loving stance instead one that is based in fear, our body releases oxytocin which is also known as the bonding hormone. This neurotransmitter gets released when we hug a loved one or during those moments when we feel safe and secure. The metaphorical carrot that is attached to the string in front of us is not used to threaten us, but to motivate. It is the goal to strive towards, not used as a consequence of failing. It is hard to take a self-compassionate stance, but before you slip into your internal dialogue rooted in negativity, ask yourself one simple question, “Is the dialogue I am using constructive and does it ultimately help me reach my goal?” After all, eating carrots is not just good for your physical health, but it can help your mental health too.

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