Carrot or Stick?

June 28, 2022

This week I have been thinking about what makes successful people successful. Champions all create their success in a unique and highly individual way and they all have one thing in common, they take action on a daily basis. So what causes us to take action, where does that crucial motivation come from?

We all get motivated by the things that are most important to us, our core values. Our values are those things that we are willing to expend energy and resources on or obtain resources to have. They govern all human behaviour and unconsciously drive us towards our true purpose as individuals. They push us towards taking action and they provide the evaluation criteria we use to pass judgement on our actions and the actions of others. They help us to differentiate our ideas between good and bad, right and wrong, what’s appropriate and what’s not. They are the most unconscious of our personal filters and strongly shape our personality and behaviour.

Some people will naturally move towards their values and some people naturally move away from their values, both can generate success. People who move towards their values have an approach, attraction and reward based personality. They are motivated by the carrot. Others have an avoidance, repulsion, punishment type of personality and are motivated by the stick. We all have a predominant preference for one or the other.

Let’s look at an example. If you manage or lead a team of individuals, they will all be motivated to take action differently. Some of the team will respond extremely positively to an action deadline that carries a reward if it’s met on time and with the required quality. Other members of the team will not care about a reward, they will be highly motivated by an imposed penalty if the work is not returned by the deadline and to the required quality. Challenges arise because most managers will motivate the whole team according to their own motivational preference which may only have resonance with a proportion of the team, leaving the rest feeling extremely demotivated.  

In the above example, it’s clear that in order to motivate the whole team, it is critical for a manager to know exactly how each individual team member filters the information, do they move in a towards direction or an away direction. In NLP we call this our Direction Filter and it is one of a number of preference filters that we call our Meta Programmes.

It’s important to remember that our direction filter is context dependent and may change in times of additional challenge. At some level, almost everyone will move away from something at some time. So ‘toward’ people move toward what they like and ‘away from’ people move away from what they don’t like. If you ask a towards person what they want in life, they will answer in terms of what they want whilst the away from person will tell you about everything they don’t want. The end result might actually be very similar they just reach it with different thinking.

It’s very simple to discover how this important filter is operating within the personality of an individual, we just ask a simple question which is context specific. Here are some examples:

What do you want in a job?

What do you want in a relationship?

What do you want in your life?

The language used in the response will give us a clear idea of a person’s thinking preferences. Towards (Carrot) answers will be all about what a person wants and away (Stick) answers will include everything they don’t want.

Toward people are motivated by reward, the benefits of taking an action combined with perceived fun and enjoyment, getting what they want. Some toward people may also move away from things they wish to avoid.  They will take risk into account and will consider any negative consequences that may ensure from things going wrong. They may be toward and a little away from or toward and away from in equal measure.

Away from people are motivated by their fears. They will take action to avoid ending up where they don’t want to be. They may be completely away from or may have a little toward in there too.

It has been demonstrated time and time again that both preferences can get results, there are a few concerns about away from thinking that I’d like to bring to your attention. Firstly, away from people are motivated by what they don’t want. This way of thinking has 3 major consequences:

1. Away from thinking is motivated by fear. Fear is a very powerful negative emotion and takes lots of energy to maintain. Maintaining fear within your neurology is deleterious to your physiology and can cause dis-ease.

2. Away from thinking primarily focusses on what you don’t want. Part of the responsibility of your unconscious mind is to listen to your conscious thoughts and produce relevant behaviour. The unconscious mind does not process negatives and so will obediently produce more of what you don’t want in your life.

3. When away from thinkers get what they want, they lose their motivation and need to go back to moving away from something, so they have a tendency to self-sabotage so that they can get motivated and begin working away from again. You will see this trait in many high-flying entrepreneurs who have made their fortunes and lost everything time and time again. Results are unpredictable with away from thinking.

If you are ever required to motivate people, then knowledge of their Direction Filter is critical to getting it right every time. If someone’s Direction Filter isn’t working effectively for them, then as NLP Coaches and Master Coaches we can assist them in making adjustments, primarily using Time Line Therapy® Techniques to remove their fear.

Why not take a little time to consider your own preference and that of those who you work, socialise and live with. Are you as motivated as you could be to take action and get what you want in life and do you have the necessary knowledge to motivate others? Take an interest in others and most importantly, listen to their language and observe their behaviour, you never know what pearls of wisdom you will discover!

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