The Carrot That Makes You Jump Through Hoops

One of my best friends is blessed with skinny genes.  At 5′ 3″ tall, she weighs all of 105 pounds.  When we go out to eat, she doesn’t just order a glass of iced tea and salad with dressing on the side.  She goes all out with mash potatoes, creamed spinach, BBQ oysters and then a nice juicy ribeye for a main course!  I gawk in amazement at her appetite while secretly groaning at trying to keep up towards the end.  After all, shouldn’t she eat 40% less than me if she weighs 40% less?  Guess not!

Despite my friend’s envious genetics, she isn’t exactly iron woman when it comes to sports and outdoor activities.  After three miles on a 10 mile bike ride, she’s pooped and waves at me to take a break.  Meanwhile, I’m going “lah, lah, lah” in my head, not even breaking a sweat as I soak in the glorious views of the Bay.  I let her catch up and we take a five minute pit-stop where she catches her breath as I go do some stretches and sit-ups.


One day my friend tells me about a great incentive program at our local gym.  I kid her often because despite her $100/month membership, she never goes.  She comes up to show me a gleaming new card which says, “BURN TO EARN!”  Hmmm, what’s that I ask her?  She tells me that if she goes to the gym 20X in the next two months, she will be entered for a chance to win a free t-shirt, socks, swimming goggles, a weekend in Napa, or two rounds of golf which she does not play at some country club somewhere.

Suddenly,  I notice a transformation.  From going maybe once a month, my friend starts going 3-4X a week!  All for what?  A chance to win a simple T-shirt?  Needless to say, after two months, she was absolutely ripped.  We’re talking Madonna-like abs, and thankfully not Modonna-like arms, because that’s just scary.  When the time for the drawing came, she gleefully whipped out her BURN TO EARN card and gave it one good luck kiss.

As fortune would have it she won absolutely diddily squat in the first round.  Luckily, there was a consolidation round and there she heard, “And the winner of  a brand new pair of tubular socks is….. Lisa!”  A shrill of joy belched out of her little frame as she jumped up and down “I won!  I won!  Wheeee!”  I think I rolled my eyes because I didn’t win anything and couldn’t believe her luck.  New tubular socks.  Sweet!


By just administering a small rewards program, our health club was able to get a notoriously great client (one who pays on time and never goes) the motivation to go 15X more than normal.  I go 10X+ a month anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal.  But for Lisa, it was like watching a new person altogether.  The lesson learned is that the next time you want to get someone to do anything, tempt them with cotton that warms the feet!


Sam @ Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

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Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. Aaron @ Clarifinancial says

    I guessing it was the weekend in Napa Valley and not the t-shirt. Either way, some people are teetering near the edge of a decision and they just need one small excuse to go through with it. People are not rational critters.

    She sounds a lot like me – being a “hard gainer”. Hopefully, the results she got in such a short time will help her keep it up. I’ve certainly fallen off the edge, but for my scary good results, not for tube socks.

    • says

      Yeah, she KNOWS she should go utilize the club more often since it costs her $100/month, but she still doesn’t go. Shes reverted back to not going now, which is a shame. It’s fun to go together and hang out. Lots of cool people to meet. Oh well. Perhaps I’ll offer her my own reward.

  2. says

    Wow. Bribes, I mean incentives, always motivate people. I use this strategy to get my students to work, stay on task, and clean up their desks. Candy (bite-size of course) usually does the trick in their case. Maybe I should give away tube socks instead. ;)

    • says

      I liked the bribes/incentives statement. One time I was getting rid of a number of algebra workbooks at a yard sale and a grandmotherly type was spending some time leafing through one of them. We chatted a bit and she wondered whether the workbook would be good for her grandchild who was having problems in Algebra because he hated to do the homework.
      I told her the book was excellent and maybe she should think of having him do a couple of problems out of the book the next time he wanted a ride to the mall to be with his friends.
      She got in a bit of huff and said she would never bribe her grandchild that way.
      I guess one person’s incentives is another person’s bribe.

  3. says

    That is a great story. So was the gym a lot busier during the promotion? (In other words, did many people get motivated by this little program?) I wonder if your friend will continue on and her new habit will truly stick.

    Its funny because I always equated thin with being ‘fit’, but that is not always the case. Endurance comes in all shapes and sizes I think.

    • says

      Yeah, the gym was tons more busy to the regular’s dismay. I thought she was the perfect client though, paying on time and never going.

      But, I guess there’s a lot of excess capacity, and with working out, perhaps there’s more consumption on her part (Gatorade, food, etc).

      She looks fit for sure! Endurance is a curious thing.

  4. says

    the next time you want to get someone to do anything, tempt them with cotton that warms the feet!

    Incentives change behavior. There’s no question about it.

    The mistake that people make is to be too crass about it. They think it has to be cash. What people want most is strokes. Strokes incentivize more than anything else.

    But even the strokes have to be sincere. If it is baloney you are offering, people will catch on. Then they will be incentivized to do the opposite of what you want just to show you. You’re playing with emotions when engaged in this sort of thing and emotions are powerful but also dangerous stuff.


      • says

        It matters more to an employee that his boss understands the work he does and
        praises him when he does well and helps when he is under challenge than
        it does how much he earns. He has to be paid a reasonable wage, of course. But
        most care more about the intangibles. It really steams people when their boss
        does not even understand the basics of the work being done and they will go to
        a lot of trouble to find a different job in those circumstances (many will accept
        being paid a little less than what they view as proper if they respect their boss).

        Many companies try to fake the incentive stuff. They either give cash, which has
        less influence on employee behavior than strokes, or they give insincere strokes,
        which often has the opposite of the intended effect. Companies have to be willing
        to put in bosses capable of providing the proper strokes. That of course takes
        more money than what it would take to hand out a few bonuses. So incentives
        programs often fail.

        The concept is strong. The real-world implementation often leaves a lot to be
        desired. People try to go with quick and easy approaches which can do more harm
        than good.


        • Larry says

          RB writes: “It matters more to an employee that his boss understands the work he does and praises him when he does well and helps when he is under challenge than
          it does how much he earns.”

          I’ve heard this idea expressed before, and I wonder what evidence there is for it. My totally personal reaction is that this is something I’d expect managers to want to believe, because it lets them feel good about paying workers less than what they’re worth, but I’d like to know if it is based on any survey of actual employee reactions.

  5. Jon says

    Without incentives why would we attempt new ventures? Why start a business if you don’t enjoy the activity and could care less about making money? Why lift weights without the incentive of feeling better and attracting the opposite sex. Recently, I have been “forced” to learn to dance salsa, kumbia, and merengue. At times I get disgusted and swear I’m done with it, but the rewards (having fun and beautiful women) make it worthwhile…

    • says

      Nice! Learning something to meet beautiful women is always a good carrot! I have to admit it’s part of the reason why I took up guitar!

  6. Neal@Pilgrim says

    Really thought provoking. People I know are crazy afraid of running out of money so the “reward” they seek is safety — and they give up lots of life and serenity for it.

    You know how many people I’ve met who run out of money?


    Things mostly work out and running around in fear is a complete waste. The “reward” they wanted and paid so dearly for…they already had it.

  7. says

    nice story. I too work with a woman who has the WORST eating habits… Breakfast: Cheezits and Oreos. Lunch: Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Chic-fil-A. And wouldn’t you know it? She is skinny as can be. I watch my weight, and go to the gym during my lunch hour 4 days a week, and I just barley maintaining!AHHH!!!

    Sounds like this gym truly wanted to help their members get into better shape, which I think is awesome. This kind of experience probably would not attract too many new members, perhaps they were trying to show their current members the perks of a healthy lifestyle? Either way, it was an awesome story!

    • says

      I’m just jealous, cuz I want to stuff my face with unhealthy food too, but then I’d blow up. Lucky friend!

      Maybe the club really does want to help others get in better shape!

    • says

      It’s great you are able to reward yourself Roshawn. I find it quite different… it’s like massage your own arm or head, it doesn’t feel as good as if someone else does it

  8. says

    I use accountability to provide self motivation. The fear of having to answer to The Wife, to Buddies, to my blog really keeps me on track (maybe that isn’t good enough in the long run). I have found it is the only way to get me to do anything!

  9. Charlie says

    ha, nice. Great post! I’m a total sucker for rewards programs myself. I utilize frequent diner cards for lunches a lot – even though it takes around 8-10 paid meals to get a reward, I love handing in a completed card and getting a free lunch!

  10. Mike Hunt says


    Is your friend from SE Asia by any chance?

    Reason being that in many cultures having FUN is a big motivator, this is certainly true in Thailand. I’ve found out that people would much prefer fun and a small reward over something stressful & too serious with a chance of a bigger reward.

    From the story about your friend it sounds like she had a lot of fun in the process along with the incentive. Conversely maybe the bike ride wasn’t fun for her, though it sounded good for you.

    Different strokes for different folks right?


    • says

      Nope, not SE Asian. Grew up in America. Different strokes indeed. She had a ton of fun in the process and is a sucker for free things. Yes, I have a feeling that riding a bike isn’t the most fun b/c she doesn’t like to sweat!

  11. says

    This is a cool story. We all need a target to shoot at otherwise what is the point?

    I hope she has set a new goal now and is aiming somewhere else so her motivation does not waiver.

    As for skinny people and appetites…. I just don’t get it! I eat healthy and workout hard 6 days a week but still have a few pounds to lose!

  12. Nunzio Bruno says

    Congrats to your friend Lisa – Socks are kind of a big deal :)

    I loved the story about the gym and it just goes to show what a little incentive can do or patrons. Or maybe it was just the lure of the “cotton that warms the feet”. I’ve been seeing a lot lately about “calls to action” and it’s great to see a non-internet example this time around. Great post Sam as usual!

    Just think for the PR they received and the word of mouth advertising that was done for them, the cost of the give away was totally worth it. I’d be curious to see how many new memberships came out of it.

  13. says

    Isn’t that funny how some people’s metabolisms are like that? How awesome for them! My skinny gene/jean days disappeared after high school!

    I guess the moral of the story is to entice yourself and others with prizes to get going on whatever they want. It’s kinda like how credit cards have cash back rewards…the more you spend, the more you get back. :) Isn’t that nice…but for whom? hehe… :)

  14. says

    I like Evan’s suggestion of accountability as a means of motivation. For me it’s mostly my kids. I want them to be happy and enjoy the best of life and that motivates me to keep going when all I want to do is take a nap.

  15. says

    This gave me a few giggles I must admit Sam. There is no denying the power in bribes and incentives. It gets people to do the craziest things. That must be why I see all these Facebook groups about a free $1000 gift card to Walmart if you jump through about 100 hoops and sell your soul.

    But this kind of reaction goes against everything I believe. I believe in progress as a species in all areas, including finances. I don’t see how one’s motivation being tied to bribes and gimmicks is going to long term create the psychology in someone that is necessary for lasting positive growth. I look at bribes like this as injecting steroids. You get a short burst sure. But in the long run, there ends up being more damage and little gain.

    Still, I’m amused at the pair of socks being one. I would be quite interested to have you friend share a few thoughts somehow through you to your audience here – not sure if that is a possibility, but figured I’d ask anyway :)

    • says

      “Progress” is my one word definition of happiness, what’s yours?

      Sure, she can share some thoughts. What are you wondering?

      • says

        I would say “Effort” and “Progress”. I’ve made progress before without effort and it wasn’t quite the same for me. Like having someone do something for me where I didn’t have to do much. I felt kind of guilty.

        I would love to hear her talk about what really drives her and makes her fulfilled? Where does she see herself in 5 years?

  16. says

    I’m a dietician by university qualification, 2 of my friends have done their phd thesis on these points and can I say frankly that the idea that some people have “skinny” genes is bull. Your friend might eat a big meal out, but if you add up her total calorie intake- total calories burned over 12 months and compare it with yours I assure you it will be less than yours. It’s just the reality. On a personal note I have 2 female friends who are like this people are always amazed at what they eat but the reality is while they may have a big dinner out they’re might have forgoten breakfast, morning tea, lunch, had a chocolate bar for afternoon tea but it total they at less calories.

    • says

      “Skinny” genes isn’t totally bull… I do think genetics is at least a 20% determinant of our physiques. But since it’s only 20%, I think we have the power to improve our health and bodies if we try. Biggest Loser winners all lose 200lbs after 3 months, that has to count for something.

      • says

        It’s even less than 20% I think it accounts for something like 2% of weight (if I remember university correctly:)

        They main issue, much like PF Samurai is the example eating our parents display. Our parents are the main source of food modling. If you parents are overweight chances are you’ll be to not because of genetics buy because your concept of “normal eating” is scewed.

  17. says

    LOL LOL Madonna arms!! You’re right, they ARE kind of scary- they are so ripped looking =)

    Wow- that’s pretty intense your friend did that for a chance to win a t-shirt!! Maybe it’s just the CONCEPT of winning something that she wanted. I would do it if i was guaranteed something (something good… i don’t think tube socks or T shirts do it for me), but not for the chance to win something (cus I never win anything ever!)

    I have high metabolism too.. but in my late 20’s it’s catching up to me! =(

    • says

      Madonna arms are WAY TOO SCARY! So, if there are any women out there who are work out maniacs and want to impress the guys… well, having arms like a body builder might turn guys off. Just saying!

  18. says

    I, like your friend am an incentive “sucker”. I am drawn to the thrill of the competition, or chance to win or receive something. Funny how a free T-shirt, mug, or one year supply of something motivates me. When it comes to the gym, my motivation comes from feeling better about myself-so free T-shirt or not I drag myself there even when I don’t feel like it. This is a great post sharing an important message!
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  19. says

    Hmmm, sounds like your friend (while wanting the golf package) thrives on winning… No matter what the reward. Some people are competitive like that. I personally don’t get excited about contests like that unless the payout is very good. I do know a receptionist that would constantly call radio stations while at work. She would actually win a lot of decent prizes (to her). I always though she’d get in trouble eventually, but surprisingly, she never did.

    You friend sounds pretty cool and fun! I bet she can keep up with you on those bike rides now!!! ;)

    • says

      Sounds like it right? But actually, she’s one of the least competitive people I know! She just LOVES “free” stuff!

      She prop could keep up right after her work out mania, but not now again :)

  20. says

    The last time I went to a gym regularly was when I got a break on my insurance for going. Now, I just do it at home. I do think incentives work, however. And, if it leads to more members at the gym then why the heck not part with some super sweet tube socks.

  21. James says

    oh the carrot. how it can work so well.

    just be careful not to give to much then people all of a sudden expect it all the time

  22. says

    Good story. Rewards can really motivate people, it’s a common business tool. If we could come up with our own rewards program for ourselves, it might add that extra motivation to do things we need to do but don’t always have the discipline to follow through on.

  23. says

    Rewards and/or free stuff are extremely motivating for a lot of people. it’s part of the reason why rewards credit cards are so popular – they stress the idea of getting something for almost nothing – and end up motivating people to spend more of the rewards that far too often are never even redeemed!

  24. Ary says

    Hey Sam,

    The end of the article really made me laugh, I wish I had her luck, when it comes to win stuff. Sorry that you didn’t win though, you could have one a new pair of socks and a T-Shirt! Little rewards can drive people to get a new big step in their life. To bad, usually after the rewards disappear, the effect fly away too with it.

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