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Mastering the Art of Self-Negotiation

It happens to many – if not all of us at some point. You see an ad for pizza (insert other favorite non-Primal food) and find yourself fixated on a sudden and persistent craving [1]. Most days you can look past it without much thought. Today is not one of those days. Sensory memory kicks into high gear, and the itch takes root. The inner dialogue of to eat or not to eat ensues. Your mind begins the trek down ye olde path of creative justification [2], and the trip is pretty well decided from there. “It’s been how many weeks/months since I ‘allowed’ myself to have pizza?” “I’ve eaten really well the last few days.” “It’s been a crappy day of putting up with x, y and z.” “I worked out a whole extra 20 minutes AND went for a morning bike ride.” “I seriously will only eat two pieces this time – seriously.” Within minutes, the argument has escalated into an urgent insistence to pick up the phone. A half an hour later, you’re digging in. Two hours later you hold a different view of those same negotiations and wish a mediator had been present, but the damage is obviously done. There’s the old tongue-in-cheek saying, “We’ve met the enemy, and he is us.” For all the shenanigans of the food industry, the slick tricks of marketing forces [3], the hard-nosed insistence of conventional wisdom [4] and the guilt trips [5] of those around us, we’re too often our own worst influences [6]. The hardest voice to argue with will always be an internal one.

For some of us, our self-negotiation revolves less around food than other temptations. Maybe we get sucked into deep deliberation about staying up to watch another Netflix show or whether to have one more beer or whether we can take the day off from the gym (again). For every positive choice that affects our health and well-being, there’s at least one counter-argument that – in the murky waters of our mental workings can dissuade us from our good intentions [7]. Is this your third night putting off a decent workout? But wait – have you noticed the number of intriguing Facebook posts [8], the compelling mobile-friendly news stories, the particular coziness of the couch [9] this evening, the assured disappointment of a partner or family member presented with your absence (who is actually wondering why you haven’t left yet). Given enough time, that inner voice with its stunning myriad of angles and tactics could talk you out of your firstborn child, let alone a “leg day [10].”

Think about it. Who better knows our nuanced preferences or deep, dark weaknesses. Imagine a marketer with full knowledge of these inclinations and vulnerabilities – and the immense power it would offer. No wonder we’re master manipulators of ourselves. Sure, no one has as much to gain as we do from our good choices. We should be motivated by self-interest in these situations, but damn if we don’t also have the predisposition toward conniving and often sabotaging self-justification [11]. With it, we find ourselves frequently drawn into these inner games of persuasion. How do we break out of these stalled talks and get the upper hand in our own self-negotiation?

Recognize that there are endless reasons to make a poor choice, and dump every single one of them.

Seriously here. Mark every one of them as excuses [12] and promptly discard. Don’t give them time or space in your brain (because they’ll take over from there). If you need to, come up with a commanding image. Visualize an enormous rubber stamp with the word EXCUSE! in all caps with Zeus himself reaching down from the heavens to label each in an angry retort. Get up and do the next healthy thing [13]. Don’t piss off the gods.

Stop arguing in the negative, and frame the choice within a positive outcome.

I shouldn’t stay up and watch another Game of Thrones episode because I’ll be tired and cranky in the meeting tomorrow. Correction: This is a truly awesome show, and I’ll look forward to another episode this weekend. In the meantime, my bed is calling my name, and I love spending a full night there [14], waking up with enough rest to enjoy my day. Another one… My rosacea/reflux//headaches/etc. will act up if I eat that brownie/burrito/waffle, and I’ll regret the decision for the next week. Correction: Yes, it looks good, but I love feeling good all the time and seeing what my body can do and how it can look [15] when I feed it healthy food.

The point is this. Be prepared to continually pivot toward a positive result – a sense of accomplishment, a post-workout glow, better sleep, smaller jeans, amazing health, etc. A negative will always be a negative – sometimes an effective but not particularly inspiring “stick” we use to beat ourselves with in the hopes of better behavior. Drop the stick and drive yourself [16] with positive vision.

Record those desired outcomes.

Whether it’s a list on your fridge, a couple pages in a journal [17], an elaborate vision board or a mindmap you did on a napkin three months ago, keep some written record of the outcome you want for your health [18]. Cover the bases: the kind of fitness level you want, the kind of sleep you want, the kind of stress-resistant mentality, the diet you want, the body you want [19], etc., etc. When all those “good reasons” to make a poor choice come beating at your door, go to your visual and get that feedback without having to conjure all the thinking in the moment. Don’t depend on immediate reasoning every time you encounter temptation in the here and now. Let your notes (or visual) think beyond the present moment for you, and use them as often as need be to redirect.

Limit the need for negotiations – period.

This tactic is more important for some of us than others. For beginners or those looking to make radical change, it can be key. Fend off the stress and complication of self-negotiation by sticking to routine whenever it makes sense [20], by simplifying your life, by editing a day’s influences (e.g. social media, advertisements, negative people, etc.) and by creating a healthy life you look forward to living out each day [21] rather than one you’re constantly disciplining yourself to stick to. If you have to ride herd on yourself every day, maybe your willpower [22] isn’t the problem.

Thanks for reading, everyone. How do you practice (and win at) the art of self-negotiation? Share your thoughts, and have a great end to the week.