Beyond carrot & stick


I lost my creative drive not only for this blog but also for this art challenge I joined.

I meant to post on my blog at least once a week, preferably every Monday; and I missed the past two weeks. Same thing happened with the art challenge. We’re supposed to create something everyday, and I managed to create something almost everyday, until on the 21st day I didn’t feel like drawing anything, and then the dry spell continued till the end of the challenge.

The first time not doing something I committed to do, I felt a bit guilty, slight remorse. The next time, the guilt is gone. My mind was rationalizing “Look – nothing bad happened when you didn’t do what you intend to do. Relax!”

The lack of consequences to my non-action made my brain thought it was okay to not do something. Taken one step further, it can also be this way: the lack of consequences to my wrong action made my brain thought it was okay to do that particular wrong action.

Because there is no feedback, there is no corrective action. When there’s no corrective action, one can deviate from the path, unaware.

One life hack tips I read somewhere is this – setting up a feedback loop around the action we want to do – by setting an agreement or a bet, of paying someone when you do (or not do) something. Example – I will pay a friend 50$ if I don’t post on my blog at least once a week. This supposedly reduce the possibilities of me not posting, because I would rather spend time writing something and posting, as busy and tired as I am, than losing 50$. This is the stick strategy.

Alternatively, a carrot strategy would be setting up a reward for doing an action. Example – I will reward myself an ice cream if I post on schedule. Because now there’s a reward, I’m supposed to be more inclined to do it. Because I like ice cream and I want that ice cream.

But does it have to be that way? Do we have to bait on our likes & dislikes, clinging & aversion tendencies?

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali wrote about clinging (raga) and aversion (dvesha) as two of the five types of coloring (klesha). The other three are ignorance (avidya), ego (asmita), and love of life/fear of death (abhinivesha). And the practices of yoga are attempts to reduce these coloring, so then one can start to see more clearly, reach equanimity, shamata. Then external things will not affect one so much, so the mind becomes more stable.

The carrot and stick strategy is effective. But I think there’s a better alternative strategy that doesn’t feed raga & dvesha. Patanjali wrote about it too, actually it precedes the klesha thread in the Yoga Sutra.

2.1 Tapah svadhyaya ishvara-pranidhana kriya-yogah
2.2 Samadhi bhavana arthah klesha tanu karanarthah cha
2.3 Avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinivesha pancha klesha

Swami Jnaneshvara’s interpretation:

2.1 Yoga in the form of action (kriya yoga) has three parts: 1) training and purifying the senses (tapas), 2) self-study in the contect of teachings (svadhyaya), and 3) devotion and letting go into the creative source from which we emerged (ishvara pranidhana)
2.2 That yoga of action (kriya yoga) is practiced to bring about samadhi and to minimize the colored thought patterns (kleshas)
2.3 There are five kinds of coloring (kleshas): 1) forgetting, or ignorance about the true nature of things (avidya), 2) I-ness, individuality, or egoism (asmita), 3) attachment or addiction to mental impressions or objects (raga), 4) aversion to thought patterns or objects (dvesha), and 5) love of these as being life itself, as well as fear of their loss as being death.

Matthew Remski’s interpretation:

2.1 Yoga applies endurance, learning, and commitment.
2.2 It reduces alienation and cultivates empathy.
2.3 Ignorance, individualism, addiction, disassociation, and the afterlife, these alienate.

Thread 2.1 is the three-pronged strategy: training & endurance, self study & learning, devotion & commitment. Self discipline, knowing why I’m doing it on the first place, and doing it with goodwill for the benefit of all.

The two latter are like a guiding compass and the northern star, and if one have enough discipline to check the course against them from time to time one will know if one deviates and take necessary corrective action. Instead of passively waiting for feedback, one proactively seek feedback by regularly reviewing one’s actions. Ask ourself questions like “What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Who/what am I doing it for?” If we can’t answer these questions with conviction, take a break, pause, look deeper, reconsider.

Image source: The Bait by nist6dh


7 thoughts on “Beyond carrot & stick

  1. Yes, what you experienced is the difference between attending a class/school with discipline and trying to teach yourself. Especially after having spent many years in a disciplined environment, not having that voice to look at your work and correct you is both liberating and mind-bending. It’s like doing exercise and pushing too far or not hard enough.

    I like the self-penalty strategy slightly better than the carrot/reward one because, knowing my family at least, we are inclined to ease the challenge to get to the prize faster. At least with the penalty, there’s a threat of something worse and room to lessen the suffering without leaning toward indulgence/greed.

    Maybe you can be the student and the teacher. Do the task as a student and then walk away before coming back to review your work as a teacher. What would you as a teacher expect of you the student?

    • Thanks for the student/teacher mode idea, I like it!

      As a student I may focus on the end result only (expectations). As a teacher I may appreciate not only the end result but also the process, regardless of how awesome/awful the end result is, if I learned something along the way, I’m a happy ‘teacher’.

  2. Hello! I am seeing myself reading this. I went on a vacation last April and since coming back I haven’t touched the artwork that I was doing. The big canvas still faces the wall. Like you said, “The lack of consequence to my non-action…”. The path that I once took… and I’m deviating from it again. I plan to correct it… this weekend 🙂 I promise. Thank you.

    • Hi Zee, I know how it feels… When we just don’t want to pick up the brush. Glad to hear you’re going to continue your artwork. Have fun and enjoy the process! 🙂

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