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5 reasons why nagging doesn't work

by Pastor Tom Anderson

Nagging is the traditional strategy used by adults to motivate others. It’s almost instinctual that we turn to it—and often don’t realize that we are doing it. People who nag believe they are doing good. They think the cause is good, the information is good therefore their strategy is also good. Parents especially think this way. They desire to improve and protect their children by promoting homework, hygiene or personal responsibility. They turn to nagging as their main strategy.

But it’s not just parents, its anxious adults trying to motivate spouses, church members, friends, co-workers, students or employees. The truth is almost no one is motivated by nagging. Strangely we continue to double-down on nagging because we think we’re doing the right thing. In fact here’s five reasons why nagging is so unproductive:

1. It creates resentment. It often produces an angry and oppositional response. The thing you nag about soon becomes the last thing your child/spouse/friend/church member wants to do.

2. Nagging is unpleasant and so people will tune you out. No one wants to hear the same thing endlessly. The more you nag, the less they hear.

3. Its negative reinforcement. You are in effect saying to the people around you, “I will stop doing this annoying thing when you do what I want you to do.” The person being nagged figures this out quickly realizing that if they surrender on one thing it will empower even more nagging from you in the future.

4. Nagging makes the recipient feel controlled and no one likes to feel that way, so the recipient of nagging digs in their heels. They may even start returning the favor by identifying your faults and nagging you.

5. Nagging focuses on what a person is not doing—it has a negative focus. Nagging points out the wrongs in someone else and leads them to wonder about their self-worth because they don’t measure up to the tasks you want them to do. Nagging is faultfinding and it tends to wear people down instead of building them up.

What is the alternative? It’s really simple: state the rules/expectations, give the consequences and say, “It’s up to you.” Focus on the positive. Compliment others on what they do accomplish and the progress they make. They will feel empowered and more motivated. Ultimately it helps to accept a basic fact: you can’t “fix” people, you can only do the right thing—and nagging isn’t it!


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