Avoid penalties

Motivation, as you may know, has two sides: pain and pleasure. Unfortunately, pain is a stronger motivator. At the same time, being inundated by threats creates an atmosphere of fear and stress. Who wants to live like this?

One day, I was standing at the post office, waiting to be served, and in front of me in life were a few people, who cam to pay their bills there. While I was waiting, I looked around, and noticed a rather large sign behind the counter, which said in red, bold letter, “Avoid Penalties!”

The people who come to the post office to pay their bills are usually (and I’m not saying always) the kind of people who get a short paycheck and calculate every cent of their expenses, while being unaware of, or unable to use, automatic payment means, credit cards, etc. Many of them have bills hanging over their heads anyway, they’re afraid of losing their job, not making mortgage payments, disconnections and other threats, and now they are being warned of penalties?

Often, when I drive on the highway, I see a sign saying “Wear a seatbelt or wear a fine”, another one saying “Speed cameras are operated in this area” or even one asking “Which one would you rather ride tonight?” and showing a taxi and a police car (that one’s for people thinking of driving drunk).

Obviously, we want drivers to behave on the road and to drive safely, but what happens when the incentive given is to avoid being caught? I know I keep my eyes on the speedometer, which is really not where I should be looking when I drive. I should be looking at the road. I know that drivers, especially young ones, see these signs as a challenge and do their best to drive too fast or while intoxicated and not get caught.

Now, I can’t do much about the sign at the post office, but I did write to the government department in charge of the highway and said, “How about writing on the sign something like ‘Thank you for driving safely’?”

Well, after quite a long time, I got a call from a man, who said he was really sorry, but he couldn’t approve such a change. When I asked him why, he said “Because I don’t have the authority to approve sign changes”. I asked him, “In that case, why did you ring me? Go ahead and escalate my suggestion to the person with the proper authority”.

“Oh, no, I can’t do that”, he said. Go figure.

A few months later, I saw a sign that said “Good morning”, which was a nice start, but not quite there yet.

Anyway, my point is that threats send the wrong message to people, a disempowering message, telling them to conform to other people’s rules. Instead, it would be better to use positive reasons, even provide a “what’s in it for me” description to motivate people to do things.

My other point is that you can help change this motivation style in your immediate environment (with your employees, suppliers, kids, etc) and you can also contact the appropriate authorities and ask them if they wouldn’t mind creating a positive world through their messages to the public.

Good luck! Let me know how you go through the comment box below.


Online marketing consultant and trained life coach, living in Brisbane in Australia. One day, I got tired of being a number and found personal growth :)

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