Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Floggings will continue until morale improves

Which works better, the carrot or the stick?

I have mixed feelings--oh, yeah? So what's new, Ms. Ambivalence? The carrot is much more pleasant and fun. Who doesn't like a nice juicy goal to strive for? But fearing that stick, the whack across the butt when you're lazy or screwing up, that can be very motivating.

Supposedly, according to behavior modification theory, positive reinforcement results in bigger gains that become permanent. Fear of negative reinforcement, or punishment, has more immediate results, but they don't last. Once the stick is gone, the mice will play, to mix metaphors.

Let's take a real life example. I take classes at my gym with two teachers. Both classes are fun and challenging and exhausting. One teacher teases and goads and jokes you into pushing harder, striving to get past that burn to greater strength and endurance--"Come on, you can do it, i know you can, just 8 more reps!"
The other takes a harsher approach--"Don't blow it, don't be weak, you're struggling? Too bad, don't stop, come on. Push yourself. Get with it." She shames you into pushing harder.
Over this holiday period, it's been damn tough to keep my motivation to exercise high and my cookie consumption low. So twice this week I was just too tired, too sluggish, too hungover from carbs and wine to make my class. One time I went. One time I didn't.
Each time I thought about what the class would be like. In the end, I went to the carrot lady's class because I knew that even if I didn't do my best, she'd make me glad I came. I skipped the stick lady's class because I didn't want to feel like a loser.

I might have pushed harder in the stick-lady's class--I would have, being ashamed to show weakness--but I WENT to the kinder class. Because I knew I'd feel good no matter how hard I worked. Even if I barely moved, I'd have done SOMEthing good.
There's my answer. I might work harder with a stick at my back, but I'll enjoy it more and stay with it longer if it's a carrot I'm after, not a stick I'm avoiding.

How about you? Are you a carrot or stick person? And what, specifically, are your carrots and sticks--rewards and punishments--when you're doing something difficult?

Here's to 2009! I wish for you all that you wish for yourself.

1 comment:

  1. I'm definitely a carrot girl. Why beat yourself up when you're striving to do the best you can? I'm into rewards and not punishment. There is enough of that in the world. Nobody is perfect and no one does anything perfectly except maybe Martha Stewart but she doesn't count. And why does she have to make perfect pies, perfect cakes or perfect shortbread anyway? Who care? The baker's police?

    I give myself a sticker on my daytimer each day for writing and if I've done really well that day and made a lot of progress I have a couple of "Cuties"-they're soy ice cream sandwiches because I'm lactose intolerant.

    So go for the carrot and break the stick into itsy bitsy pieces :-)