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The Invisible Force Shaping Our Choices

“The best incentives are often the ones that are invisible to us.” ~ Shane Parrish

Incentives Dictate Action

What motivates us to take action?

According to Shane Parrish, founder of Farnum Street and author of the NYT Bestseller Clear Thinking, “We often underestimate the power of incentives, and we often overestimate our ability to control our own behavior.”

Too often, we don’t consider incentives.

Incentives dictate action.

Poor results are most often the by-product of taking the wrong actions.

  • We want to lose weight but keep snacking late at night.
  • We want to sell more but never make time for outreach.
  • We want to grow our company but continue to work in the business instead of on it.

Then we make excuses,

  • “I have a sweet tooth,”
  • “My schedule is crazy right now,” and,
  • “No one can <insert task> as well as me.”

We’re able to convince ourselves these are legitimate excuses (even though we know they’re not) because our incentives are misaligned.

  • Over 41 percent of Americans are obese. “Woke” idealogy has conditioned us to believe that being obese is an acceptable way to live. When everyone around you is carrying unnecessary extra weight, there is no incentive to eat healthy.
  • Everyone is busy. A world of distractions surrounds us. Sure, you may want to prioritize the kids’ activities, but what about all the time lost death-scrolling social media, saying “yes” to every meeting and binge-watching Netflix? It’s socially acceptable to complain about being busy.
  • Amateurs linger in the business; professionals work on the business. Here’s a newsflash: you can’t do everything, nor are you the best at everything. Growth comes from letting go of the day-to-day. Perfectionism is a crutch we wear like a badge of honor.

Incentives dictate action.

In order to make real changes in our habits and, ultimately, our lives, we must first examine and realign our incentive structure.

  • Obesity can take as much as 14 years off your life. How many obese 80-year-olds do you know? Not many. Do you want to live to see your kids flourish? Play with your grandkids? If you move your health incentive from socially acceptable behavior to the desire for a vibrant and mentally acute elder lifestyle, taking a proper approach to health becomes who you are…
  • What you focus on is who you become. If you’re a salesperson and don’t focus on selling, are you really a salesperson? Stop hanging out with people who are going to applaud your complaining. Instead, surround yourself with killers who are going to push you to get the things done that drive results.
  • Inbox zero and taking out the garbage are not a flex. Do we celebrate the leaders and business owners who do everything in their business? Did Steve Jobs write every line of code in an Apple Computer? Does Jeff Bezos go around emptying the garbage and stacking the shelves at Amazon? No… Figure out how much your time is worth and only work on activities worthy of that hourly rate (then, if you want to cry, figure out how much money you were wasting taking out the garbage).

If you’re a leader, figuring out our true incentives is a good exercise to go through with your team.

A lack of production in any area of your life or business is often a result of misaligned incentives.

Before you blame or punish, determine what you, the leader, are incentivizing your employees to do. You may find they’re actually killing it but are just being directed by the wrong incentives.

Incentives dictate action.

This is the way.


p.s. I’m starting to book 2024 speaking engagements. If you’re looking for a keynote speaker or workshop for your next event, check out this recent clip on YouTube or my speaking page.

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