Skip to Content

Stop Negotiating With Yourself: Changing Your Habits Once and For All

Self Negotiation

If you often find yourself talking yourself out of doing something that’s good for you or something you know you should do: You’re not alone. Self negotiation is a sabotaging tactic that keeps us from changing.

Even when we want to change our habits or need to out of necessity, we still resist the change.

Because change is hard. Change is scary. And change means being uncomfortable.

On the other hand, change is necessary for growth. Change is necessary for improvement. We can’t keep doing the same things and expect to see results, can we?

The thing about change is that it should add to your life. You don’t have to take anything away to build new habits.

The key here is to stop negotiating with yourself and build your habits into nonnegotiable systems.

We all have systems that we operate by, even if we don’t realize it. They may be sloppy, loosely defined systems, but they still exist.

To change your habits for good, we need to dig deep into those systems. We need to:

  • identify what is and what isn’t productive (aka what’s not moving us towards our goals)
  • remove self negotiation from the process
  • set boundaries and abide by them under all circumstances
  • have key rules (nay, systems) in place to guide you in sticky situations

We’re going to start here: What does it mean to “stop negotiating with yourself”?

Well, my friend, it means we’re going to take choice out of the equation.

We are inundated with choices, constantly overflowing with options that directly detract from the habits we wish to build and the goals we want to achieve.

Too many choices distract us from the laser focus reaching a goal requires. Eliminating those choices makes it simple and straightforward.

Here are a few examples of what negotiating with yourself looks like:

“That burger looks so good… if I have that for lunch, I will work out for an extra 30 minutes at the gym tonight.”

“I’m really too tired to read today. I worked really hard. I deserve to just relax with some wine and Netflix.”

“I wanted to call my mom every Saturday but I have nothing to say. I’ll just call her next week.”

“I know I said I wanted to limit my caffeine intake but I’m just so tired. I’ll go for the third cup today and just cut back tomorrow.”

“I didn’t want to spend anything this month but this deal is just too good to pass up!”

All of these examples have something in common: They allow room for an excuse to be used as a negotiation tactic. It sneaks in, weakens your resolve, and gets between you and your goal.

Before we go any further, I want to specially cover the difference between an excuse and a reason:

I want to address this because I think there is a strong, distinguishable difference between making excuses and having a reason for not accomplishing whatever goal you set out to achieve.

An excuse, by my definition is “a mental barrier that we place blame on for not completing what we set out to do.”

A reason on the other hand, is generally speaking, a physical prevention of some sort that comes from an external force.

Reasons for not doing something are not related to your mental willpower. With a reason, you will find a way regardless to reach your goal.

Reasons strengthen your tenacity. Excuses weaken it.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Reasons strengthen your tenacity. Excuses weaken it.” quote=”Reasons strengthen your tenacity. Excuses weaken it.”]

Sometimes, the line does get blurry, though, so you definitely need tools in your arsenal to make the difference as clear as possible.

Ask yourself (and be brutally honest) where you are getting off track.

Here is how to tell the difference:

  • An excuse comes from within, a reason comes from an outside factor.
  • An excuse prevents you from accomplishing your goal. With a reason, you’ll do what it takes to find another way in spite of the external factor.
  • Excuses tend to be emotionally-driven.

Another way to look at it is to describe it as a reason means that an external force is causing you to prioritize something else.

An excuse is when you choosing not to do something and using self negotiation as an avoidance technique (you also never, if ever, follow through with your promised negotiation — that’s a HUGE sign that you’re making excuses).

Identifying your own personal self negotiation tactics.

This *really* isn’t going to be as hard as you think. Because, as humans, we are creatures of habit, those same excuses will habitually pop up again and again, sabotaging us and putting us in our own way.

We generally stick to the same scripts when we are talking ourselves out of doing something. If you pay attention and listen closely to your thoughts and internal conversation, you will notice them quite easily because they repeat frequently.

Here are a few key phrases to continuously be on the lookout for:

  • Just 5 more minutes.
  • I’ll do it tomorrow.
  • Just one or just one more.
  • If I do this now, I’ll do that later.

Some key words that often pop up when we’re making excuses are:

  • Just
  • Because
  • Later/tomorrow
  • Maybe

If you hear yourself saying these words, phrases, or variations, you’re *probably* making an excuse. As always, ask yourself the questions we covered earlier to discover the root reason you are deviating from the system.

If you’re struggling with procrastination, I recommend taking Erin Sanchez’s free masterclass on overcoming it. You can sign up here.

Building Your Habits into Nonnegotiable Systems

Okay my friends, now we’re digging into the nitty gritty and gearing up to nail down your systems.

Systems are simply processes that allow us to achieve our goals with maximum efficiency and eliminate detracting choices. They don’t have to be complicated. Simple, straightforward, disciplined, and rigid are the best kind of systems, anyway. Let’s get started.

This first thing about setting up your system is that you need to identify what is and isn’t productive.

Productive, in this case, is what is and what isn’t moving you towards your goals.

STOP. Before you go any further, do this right now:

  • Take out a piece of paper.
  • Write down the goals you want to achieve or habits you want to form in the next 90 days.
    • This could be: Reading a specific number of books, running a number of miles, meeting a physical milestone, getting into a school, landing a new job, meeting a number of connections, getting in the habit of daily exercise, eating better, watching less TV, changing your sleep schedule, etc.
  • Stick to 2 or 3 major goals or new habits.
    • We all have priorities that take up our day like sleeping, self-care, relationships, our jobs, etc. Do not overwhelm yourself with change.
  • Put your goals into 2-3 columns.
  • Work backwards from the end goal to where you are now to determine the actionable steps you need to take over the next 3 months to reach your goals and change your habits.

Here is my example:

  • One habit I want to form is daily reading.
  • My goal is to read 21 books in the next 90 days.
  • That is approximately 7 books a month or just under 2 books per week.
  • Now, I will look at my calendar to see which days are my busiest. I am setting myself up to fail if I try to fit in reading on my busier days and weeks when other things will need to take priority.
  • Organizing my reading within my schedule, I know that most weeks I will be able to complete 2 books and there is about one week every month where I will only be able to realistically finish 1 book.
  • As most books I read are about 300 pages, I will need to read 50-75 pages per day to meet my goal.
  • I will check in weekly to make sure I am on task.

As you can see, my plan is specific and has a timeline. My goal is actionable and has been broken down into steps. I have a daily plan that will add up to meet my monthly and thus quarterly goal all while forming a daily habit.

See? It’s not that complicated. You’ve got this.

Now, this is where you can use routine to your advantage.

Remember when I said change should add to your life? That applies here, too. The new habits you are building are adding value to your life. Thus, we are not focusing on the things we want to remove or stop doing but rather the things we are introducing instead. Make sense?

There are a few ways to add new habits into your current daily routine:

  1. Coupling: Attach the new habit to the old habit. This might also be referred to as “piggybacking your habit,” as Gretchen Rubin refers to the tactic in her book Better Than Before.

What this means is that you are starting a new habit based off of a current habit.

For example, say you want to start doing push-ups everyday. Consider an established habit you already complete daily; you already brush your teeth every morning so now all you have to do it start doing five push-ups after you brush your teeth. Soon enough, the habits will be coupled and you won’t even consciously think about doing those push-ups — a habit has formed.

2. Take advantage of inherent change.

Things change in our lives — like at the start of a new semester, starting a new job, leaving an old job, changing shifts, etc. When these times come in your life it’s the PERFECT time to begin a new habit and move towards your goal.

It’s works out so well because you are already altering your routine, all you have to do is couple the new habit with the change. The actions will be paired together and you will hardly have to think about it at all.

Keep in mind: Mindset matters… but not as much as you might think.

Before we move into the rules section of nonnegotiable habits, I want to take a second to address your mindset when it comes to habits and goals.

Research indicates over and over again that behavior change leads to attitude change. In other words, one of the reasons you’ve been struggling to change your habits is simply because you aren’t behaving in line with the goal.

If you want to be a yogi, you have to do yoga. If you want to be a writer, you have to write.

The habits and goals happen in the action, not in the thinking.

As we move further into removing the self negotiation from the process, remember that we are removing the thoughts that prevent you from taking action. The actions are 100% doable. We’re putting your system in place. You’ve got this.

Take the negotiation out of the process.

Self negotiation is a major reason we fail at changing our habits and reaching our goals. If you truly want to change your habits, it’s necessary to take the choice out of the action.

The processes below are what you are going to build into your system for what is financially and logically viable for youWe all have different schedules and responsibilities that take up our time. That said, it is up to you to make your goals and habits happen.

See a theme here? It’s all about making the system as seamless as possible. Here, I’ll take you through parts of the system to eliminate your self negotiation.

1. Identify what trips you up.

These are the things you need to have a plan in place to move past. You can identify them by looking back at your past behavior and patterns.

What has happened in the past that knocked you off track from reaching your goals? Travel, a busy schedule, other responsibilities?

For example: You’re on a great workout schedule until you go on a trip. You don’t work out the entire time and struggle to find your routine again when you come home. The trip was the linchpin that caused you to get off track. A reasonable solution? Have a travel workout plan in place — even if it’s something you do in 15 minutes in your hotel room. It’s the action that needs to be completed.

2. Create a built-in fall back plan.

You need to have this in place for when reasons come about that prevent you from reaching your daily milestone or goal.

Things happen. It’s okay. What’s not okay is to sit passively and pass the responsibility off for not reaching your goal.

Your fall back plan is what you’re going to rely on to keep you going if Plan A gets derailed. You’ll want to have one of these for every goal you set. They are a key process within the system to keep you on track.

Here’s an example:

Another one of my goals is to be more active. My specific goal is a 30 minute workout for 70 of the next 90 days. That means I have 20 days where I can rest and give myself grace.

My preferred time to workout is around 11 am. My body does not react well to early morning workouts and working out too late in the day disrupts my sleep cycle. 11 am works for me.

However, occasionally I have meetings or calls and cannot make my workout time. Things happen. If too many things happen, I will never reach my goal.

My fall back plan is to workout at 3 pm. Very rarely is there a day when I am busy at both of these times. Thus it goes like this: I usually work out at 11. When I can’t I work out at 3. It’s that simple. And if for some reason I can’t make it happen that day? It’s okay. There are days built into the system for this specific purpose (aka the 20 days I am not planning to work out).

The system allows for reasons, not excuses. Your fall back plan eliminates any possible self negotiation because you’ve already decided when it’s going to happen.

3. Have rules in place.

We are going to go in depth on this in the section below. It’s system critical that you have rules and do not break them under any circumstances.

If a reason arises, you have your fall back plan in place to continue to reach your goal.

4. Practice ignoring external urgency.

You know that saying that goes, “we can’t control what happens to us, only how we react to it?” Think of external urgency as something forcing you to react — and usually not in line with your goals.

I want to tell you that this is going to take practice to recognize urgency from others. It generally comes in the form of “you need to do something about this NOW!” Like in our sale example from earlier.

Urgency is only other peoples’ way of distracting you from your goals. Urgency leads you into the self negotiation process when you begin to justify deviating from your plan because of an external factor. Make it a system rule

Your System Rules

Systems have rules. It’s how they function.

To remove self negotiation from the process, here are the base rules I strongly suggest you add to your system:

  1. If it’s on the calendar or in the goal plan, it’s happening.
    1. You cannot make last minute changes — you cannot decide on your way to the gym that you really don’t want to go. 
    2.  If the schedule changes, it requires 24 hours notice. 
      1. Note: This is where your fall back plan comes into play if a reason interrupts you.
  2. I only work towards 2-3 goals at a time.
    1. More than this will overwhelm me and be unrealistic.
    2. I always have a system in place for reaching my goals.
    3. I check in with my system at least on a monthly basis (if not more often) to assure that my goals are on track and are still what I want to achieve.
  3. I leave time for self-care.
    1. This is time outside of my goal actions and responsibilities where I take care of my physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.
    2. While my goals might be in line with those also, I respect that this is sacred time and needs to be prioritized so I can function at my best.
    3. Self-care is not an excuse for avoiding the goals you’ve set for yourself. There is a line between self-love and what we refer to as self-tough love. Be mindful of this.

You can also form specific rules around your specific goals within your system:

For example, here are some habit rules I’ve made for myself that have worked for me:

  • I eat dessert at restaurants, not at home.
    • This makes it easy not to buy treats at the store.
  • I do laundry and clean house on Sunday.
    • This is a habit I want to form. Doing it weekly on a specific day makes it nonnegotiable.
  • I only buy coffee on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
    • I save my budget and stop myself from buying coffee every day of the week and I still get my coffee.

Overall your rules are personal and derived from your goals. The purpose of the rule to fill in holes in your system that aren’t covered elsewhere.

When making your rules, make them so that they eliminate your choices later. We’re easily distracted from our goals (look at your HaloTop), and in a moment of weakness, we can ruin our progress making it that much harder to get back on track. Make it easy by staying on track in the first place with a solid set of rules.

If you need to, make your rules as firm as a peanut allergy. It’s not a choice in that case — it’s a life or death situation. (This seems extreme, but it works).

[clickToTweet tweet=”Excuses are a slippery slope. Here’s how to make your goals nonnegotiable:” quote=”Excuses are a slippery slope. Here’s how to make your goals nonnegotiable:”]

Rewriting Your Self Negotiation with Your New Rules

With your new rules in place, you’ll be able to eliminate the choice that detracts you from your goals. Let’s look back at some of the examples from earlier:

“That burger looks so good… if I have that for lunch, I will work out for an extra 30 minutes at the gym tonight.”

Say instead: “That burger looks good, but I already planned to have a salad today. My healthy meal will fuel my body for my work out. If I still want the burger, I can have it in two days.”

What changed? We’re not making split second decisions and giving into cravings. We’re sticking to our rule of no changes to the schedule. 

“I’m really too tired to read today. I worked really hard. I deserve to just relax with some wine and Netflix.”

Say instead: “I’m pretty tired but I made a commitment to read. I’ll read my 50 pages today and give myself time to watch Netflix this weekend.”

What changed? We aren’t reacting to how we feel — we’re sticking to our plan and allowing ourselves grace in a few days.

“I wanted to call my mom every Saturday but I have nothing to say. I’ll just call her next week.”

Say instead: “I won’t get stuck in the details. I’ll call my mom, even if we don’t have much to say, I made a commitment to check in.”

What changed? You’ve recognized that one act of avoidance is leading you down a slippery slope that will allow you to use this same excuse over and over again until you are no longer taking action toward your goal.

“I know I said I wanted to limit my caffeine intake but I’m just so tired. I’ll go for the third cup today and just cut back tomorrow.”

Say instead: “Of course I’m tired, I’m cutting my caffeine intake! I will push through and perk myself up with a walk.”

What changed?  Your goal was to cut caffeine so you identified the obvious reason why you were feeling that way. You used your fall back plan to stick to your goal. 

“I didn’t want to spend anything this month but this deal is just too good to pass up!”

Say instead: “It’s a good deal, but there will always be another deal. I’m sticking to my commitment.”

What changed? You recognized that external factors don’t need to impact your internal desires. A sale urgently screams, “buy me! this deal won’t last long!” But there is always another sale. There will always be another opportunity. You don’t allow external urgency to detract from your goal.

Final Thoughts on Leniency and Self Negotiation

Imagine yourself as a train, hurtling down the track to a specific destination. Excuses are what derail the train and get you off track. Reasons are a track switch — you might have to go around, but you eventually get to where you were planning to go.

This is where we’ve been headed the whole time. If you really want to change your habits and reach your goals, you need a system to keep you on track when things come up and you try to derail yourself.

I want to encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you identify your own personal self negotiation tactics. The goal is not to be judgmental but to be objectively critical when it comes to overcoming the hurdles that keep you from changing your habits and reaching your goals.

This is exactly why we build leniency and self-care into our systems. It will help you avoid burnout, keep focused, and build a sustainable routine that keeps you on track to reach your goals and change your habits.

Self negotiation is something we do to resist change but you can overcome it to get outside of your comfort zone and hit major goals and be the person you’ve always wanted to be.

Questions for you:

1. How do you self negotiate?

2. What’s one major goal you wan to achieve in the next year?

3. What causes you to get in your own way?


About the Author

Nicole Booz

Nicole Booz is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of GenTwenty, GenThirty, and The Capsule Collab. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and is the author of The Kidult Handbook (Simon & Schuster May 2018). She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, eating brunch, or planning her next great adventure.