Fitness and Life: Stop Chasing the Carrot

In a hectic society we always seem to have a goal for every action.  We seek education in order to land a job.  We work in order to earn money to survive and to provide finances for enjoyment.  We workout and eat properly in order to lose weight or to train for a goal.  We’ve become a society in which we rely on external motivators in order to accomplish tasks.  This motivational mentality gets us into trouble more often than not.  We become dissatisfied when we don’t reach the goals that we expect, or when the reward doesn’t match the process that we suffered through.  Think about it this way: if we removed the goal would you still continue the journey?

There’s a principle called the Sawyer Effect and it’s best explained with an example:

A group of artistic children were brought into a room and told to draw but they were split into three groups:

1) Kids were told that they were going to receive a reward after completing their drawing.

2) Kids were given a reward after completing their drawings without being told in advance.

3) Kids were just told to draw for fun.

A few weeks later, the same group of kids were brought back into the same room and told to draw again but no reward was given.  The first group (the one’s who were told that they would receive a reward) lost interest in drawing whereas the other two drew without a question.  They enjoyed doing it with little external motivation because they found value in the act itself.

Here’s another analogy: think of a donkey being led to move forward by a carrot.  The only motivation for the donkey to walk is to try and eat the carrot but when the carrot is removed the donkey stops moving.  You’re not a donkey, you’re a human.  Stop chasing carrots.

Let’s talk fitness!  If our primary motivator is losing the last 10 pounds or completing a challenge then what happens after we’ve accomplished the goal?  More often than not we become bored of fitness and lose motivation.  We seek more weight loss challenges or more goals to make things interesting.  People who exercise and eat properly because they enjoy it see better results because they focus on how it integrates and improves their quality of life.  It doesn’t matter what type of workouts they do or whether or not they want to lose weight it’s simply about doing it.  Imagine working out and then finding that you are pushing your body to new limits, or finding that you really enjoy a type of exercise.  Would you go for a walk simply because it’s enjoyable and not because it burns calories?

Enjoy what fitness intrinsically brings to your life: whether it is being in a positive community or taking time away from the day to simply focus on yourself.  There are far greater benefits to exercise than simply looking good and weight loss!  The amazing thing is that when we stop focusing on the extrinsic motivators like weight and other numbers those things actually happen by themselves and more quickly than if we focused only on those goals.

Think about life: let’s start creating some positive lists in our lives.  Whenever you do an activity or work take some time in the middle of the action and think about how that particular act makes you feel.  Maybe it’s simply that the activity takes you away from the stresses in life.  Just think about it and find the intrinsic reward.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t have goals in life and in fitness.  Enjoy the journey and then pick a path.  Enjoy living!

About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.


  1. Good post, and so true! While I still like to set goals, focusing on enjoying the other benefits of eating right and exercise have sure helped me! And I’m not stuck on those “end” points anymore.

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