Motivation by carrot and stick

So the image is a donkey, the rider holding a carrot on a string dangling in front of the donkey’s nose, so that the donkey is forever trying to catch the carrot.
Or sometimes in the earlier iterations it was a turnip, but whatever donkeys like to eat.
Just dangling there, and it never actually gets it but it keeps moving towards it.
And then the stick, of course, behind the donkey the rider has another stick, which is used to swat the donkey.
And so the donkey is trying to move forward to avoid getting swatted by the stick, while at the same time moving forward to try to catch the carrot.
So it’s really a terrible image, the idea to apply that to human life, as if we’re treating ourselves like this donkey.
And there’s really a certain cruelty to it, because the donkey never catches the carrot.
It’s just used to keep the donkey moving.
And yet, this is the expression that we have for this idea, and it is a valid idea.
If anyone has an alternative metaphor that could be used, that could take over.
But it is a valid idea.
Because why do we do anything? Why do we do anything difficult? Why do we do anything that we don’t want to do? The donkey doesn’t need a carrot and a stick if it just wants to hang around and eat and sleep.
But if you want this donkey to walk somewhere, maybe carrying you, carrying your load, it doesn’t want to do that, so it needs the motivation of the carrot and the stick.
Carrot and the stick are tools that we can use to motivate ourselves.
And as crude as it is, it can help.
The crudeness, of course, being that there’s something a little bit artificial and contrived about it.
It’s a false lure being provided with the carrot, and simply an artificial punishment being provided with the stick.
Yet, when we have those days, those times, when we just don’t feel like doing anything useful, that’s when the carrot and the stick can be useful.
So the ideal is that we are motivated to walk, that we are not like donkeys, that we want to move in the direction that we know is good, and that is the ideal.
But along the way to that ideal, as we’re helping to realign ourselves and realign our lives and our motivations, that’s when we apply this tool.
So what can we, as non-donkeys, as humans, use as our carrot and stick? Well, for changing lives, this carrot is a life that we want.
Something that we want.
A better life.
For example, I imagine that in my better life, ideal life, I am able to do work that I care about as my full-time job, and to really be involved in a meaningful project.
That is a carrot for me, because the thought of having a life like that, where I can wake up and devote my time to meaningful work, is as tasty as biting into a carrot.
And then, of course, the stick is anything that we don’t want in our lives.
That’s where we can easily think of all the kinds of life we don’t want, all the ways that life can be bad.
It’s sometimes easier to imagine all the ways things can go wrong than to imagine the ideal situation.
But certainly, I can imagine a life of meaninglessness, of despondency, just feeling terrible, feelings of regret, hopelessness, feelings of wasting my time and filling my time with activity that I hate, and really having a life that is not just suffering, because there’s always suffering in life, but a suffering that feels pointless.
That is a stick.
That is the stick.
I can use that thought as a stick behind me to say, well, no, I don’t want to go down that path.
I want to go closer to the path where the carrot is, so I’m gonna follow that carrot, and keep moving in a good direction towards that carrot.
Now, in the metaphor of the carrot of the stick, the donkey never actually gets any closer to the carrot, so the carrot is just still dangling out there.
No matter how hard that donkey works, the carrot is still only dangling just in front of its nose.
But that’s okay, because this is merely a tool.
This is not reality, this is not the full picture, but merely a tool that we can use when we need that extra reminder of why we should be doing good things.
Remember the carrot, remember the stick, move towards the carrot, move away from the stick.
And eventually, this tool may become less and less necessary, as we become less like donkeys and more like people who are living good lives.

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