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Stick, Carrot, Fail!

I like carrots …

Have you ever heard the line, “Finish up your (fill in name of excruciatingly painfully boring task here) and you can (insert name of wildly exciting activity here).”

Maybe it was tried on you when you were young? Maybe people are still doing that to you now?

Yeah, you see the problem already from the way I worded the example above, right?

I can’t even …

Does this approach actually work with neuro-typical people?

I can’t imagine that it would and yet I have to assume that they use it because it has worked for them, or on them, or both.

But wait!

Why doesn’t it work on us? I mean specifically.

Well, the obvious thing is that the carrot is actually not a reward but a distraction. And holding it out of reach (… when you’re finished …) is more like a punishment than a reward.

But the other, less obvious thing is that the task in front of us does not change just because there’s a carrot and stick.

It is …

… just as loathsome, just as annoying, and just as painfully dull and boring as it was before.

Maybe the carrot helps a little to send your focus back to where it is needed, but that’s a complicated process that has the potential to cause more distractions then to aid in focus.

But let’s say that it does help. As soon as you do refocus, you see before you the agony of hell that is the job you need to get done.

And then?

What happens if you touch something hot? You pull your finger away without conscious thought, right? That’s how painful boring can be for us.

And we do not learn to overcome. In fact will will try to touch it again. We will learn to avoid.


We will accept contemplating the carrot as a worthy activity and just avoid the task that needs doing altogether if you insist on offering a carrot.

I’m going to say that again … if the task before us is particularly heinous and the reward that is being offered is particularly distracting in its desirability, we will settle for contemplating the desirable reward as being a perfectly acceptable alternative to getting the actual reward because the activity is too painful and the contemplation is just fine.

Okay, it’s true …

I’m older now. And I know better. At least, I know that I need to do some things that I hate doing.

And I know that contemplating things I might do afterward are nicer than doing the things I hate doing.

But I’m telling you flat out, that if I dwell on those things that are pleasant to dwell on, I will not get the thing I don’t want to do done.

And I do want it done.

Stick, Carrot, Fail!

Kelly Babcock

I was born in the city of Toronto in 1959, but moved when I was in my fourth year of life. I was raised and educated in a rural setting, growing up in a manner I like to refer to as free range. I live in an area where my family history stretches back 6 or more generations. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 50 and have been both struggling with the new reality and using my discoveries to make my life better. I write two blogs here at Psych Central, one about having ADHD and one that is a daily positive affirmation that acts as an example of finding the good in as much of my life as I possibly can.

Find out more about me on my website: writeofway.

email me at ADHD Man

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APA Reference
Babcock, K. (2019). Stick, Carrot, Fail!. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 May 2019
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