Why you lose when you negotiate

Most summer mornings I wake around 5am. 

And I start negotiating with myself. I have booked into the gym at 6am.

But I never feel like it. Ever.

The conversation goes the same way.

A voice inside – let’s call him Clyde – hammers me with reasons not to go.

One morning my tummy felt a bit off. Another, ‘lunchtime would suit better’. Yet another, ‘imagine how much work I could do now instead’. The list is long.

Ironically, it was in the gym when I talked to one of my coaches, Carl about this.

One of his (many) mantras is ‘don’t negotiate’. I now understand.

What happens when you start talking with yourself? It is pretty simple. The voice you hear is connected to your limbic system. It is the part of you that likes comfort and routine. So it will resist change or any sort of struggle.

The other party in the negotiation is your executive decision-maker, your higher self. It really knows what you want. It just let go of the steering wheel for a second.

As soon as you engage in negotiation and leave decisions open, it becomes more likely that Clyde will win. Which is OK, sometimes. But over the long term, you will pay.

Your baseline physical, emotional, career or mental well-being will decrease.

Rather than negotiation followed by a decision during each day, you need policy. But not a separate policy for each potential decision. Just one for all moments of truth.

Never negotiate.

Your higher self already knows what to do. So do not ask, do not second guess. Recognise when negotiation is starting and back out! Then do what you already know is good.

Back to this morning and Clyde attempts to open negotiations. I respond. But then I realise what is going on. I have been here before. I reverse and exit the conversation. 

There is always a reason not to exercise – if you want one. The hardest part is showing up. 

It is similar to writing this article. Negotiation threatens this habit every day. ‘I don’t feel like writing. I have no idea what to write.’

But the goal is not to write an article. The true goal is to practice self-command.

I need not prove that I can write well. I need only prove that I can sit down and write even when I don’t want to.

This morning, despite not feeling fantastic, I ended up setting a personal best at the gym. The exercise was called Fight Gone Bad. Clyde thought I couldn’t do it. He told me so (he is not shy). ‘I am too tired. It’s too early.’ 

I ignored him and just started. In the end, my body knew better. Somehow, after inconsistent training due to travel, I did better than ever before. 

Why? How did that happen? 

Because Performance is based on a baseline plus focussed effort at the time. I had not realised that my baseline had probably improved – even after an underwhelming training cycle. While I felt my performance level was off, the baseline carried the day.

Unfortunately, long-term incremental gains do not offer the instant feedback we crave. For that, we have Carl. His policy works. 

No negotiation. Just show up and be your best. 

After all, isn’t that what life is all about?

Want to Master your Motivation? Check out the Foundations of Mental Fitness micro-learning course.

James Parnell is the founder of The Wellbeing Gym, which provides online wellbeing, performance and productivity programmes to individuals and corporates.

The Wellbeing Academy is a community of curious people sharing micro-courses and mastermind programmes. Take a micro-course available on the public Academy or become a Community Member and receive all member courses free.

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