Bad Motivators

As I was putting my youngest daughter to bed tonight we were listening (as is our habit) to an episode of Adventures in Odyssey. In the story Nick, a worker at Whit’s End (a ice cream shop & hang out for kids), is confronted about where he was when a certain object was stolen. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be, so out of fear he lied. Trying help my daughter learn from the story, we talked for a bit about his motivation for acting.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Almost everyone acts out of fear at least some of the time. But fear is a terrible motivator – it so often leads us wrong. If we are in a position of leadership, i.e., in a position where we need to motivate people, we’re often tempted to use fear: “I’ll shoot!”, ” You’ll get an F”, etc. Many times this strategy works. But only in the short term, and often with negative consequences.

Hannah thought it would be much better to motivate with a lollipop. Instead of, “If you don’t do your work, I’ll give you an F,” try “When you do your work I’ll give you a lollipop.” This kind of motivation is also quite common. It’s better than fear, but I wouldn’t rank it too high either.

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