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Carrots and Sticks

Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done

By Ian Ayres
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
Carrots and Sticks: Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done by Ian Ayres

Carrots and Sticks (2010) is the bible of behavior, incentives and self-control. These blinks will explain how you can swap out bad habits with rewards, punishments and formal commitments to yourself. You’ll gain the skills necessary to tackle challenges such as losing weight, quitting smoking and saving for retirement.

Key idea 1 of 9

We tend to favor small, immediate rewards over bigger, long-term ones. The future is too uncertain!

How many people do you know who binge on candy even though they’re trying to lose weight? Or perhaps you’ve a friend who smokes yet wants to quit, but can’t seem to give it up.

What is it about bad habits that are so hard to break?

It’s part of human nature to forgo long-term benefits for immediate rewards. For instance, if you asked a group of friends about their personal goals, many would probably talk about things like staying healthy or saving for retirement.

But when it comes right down to it, most of us forget our goals the moment we grab a candy bar or splurge on a fancy new gadget.

This is particularly evident in the behavior of drug addicts. After all, drug addicts do themselves serious physical harm in exchange for the immediate pleasure of a drug high.

Most addicts know this, but still can’t kick the habit. But we’re all not so different, really – many of us have vices to which we give in, in one part of life or another.

The bottom line is that we’re all addicted to now, and can easily postpone long-term goals to indulge in the present.

In general, people tend to reach for smaller but certain rewards over bigger, uncertain ones.

Economist Richard Thaler asked participants in a study to choose between either receiving one apple in one year, or two apples in one year and one day. Participants gladly waited the extra day to get both apples.

Yet our logic appears to change when faced with decisions affecting the nearer future. People offered one apple today or two tomorrow invariably chose the single apple – or immediate satisfaction.

Thaler’s findings point to a greater phenomenon, in that when an immediate reward is available, any bigger rewards for which we have to wait lose their attraction. Why? Because having to wait for something throws into question the certainty that it’ll occur at all.

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