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I like to think of negotiating with yourself as a messy art form. It is very difficult to do, takes an indefinite amount of time to perfect (if ever) but has an absolutely beautiful outcome. Ever get mad at yourself for not doing more when you have already done enough? Maybe you lure yourself to do something with the carrot but then take away the carrot anyway. The truth is we can be extremely tough on ourselves. Usually too tough. And the answer to solving this issue is through negotiating with yourself.

It fits to begin with the definition of a negotiation so we know exactly what we’re talking about.

Discussion aimed at reaching an agreement.

There are two key components to this definition that can often be overlooked when engaging in a negotiation. Whether that be with yourself or with someone else. The first, discussion, involves a conversation where points are both raised and listened to. The second is reaching an agreement. A negotiation is considered unsuccessful if no agreement can be made between the two parties. The key aspect to any negotiation being reached is a compromise of some variety. That ensures that both parties are satisfied with the deal that is in place. This is important to keep in mind as you continue to read the post.

Why is negotiating with yourself so difficult?

The problem is that when people negotiate with themselves, myself certainly included, they come down harder on themselves heavier than anyone in their own family, their own friends or the most unjust boss ever would. In fact, there isn’t even negotiation involved most of the time. It’s just ‘do this thing or you suck’ or you only completed 12 out of the 15 things you set out to do today so you don’t deserve to rest easy at the end of the day. That’s right. Shower yourself in guilt when you finally kick back to watch your favourite TV show. In the past you may have asked yourself for one thing and, having delivered, immediately demanded more. And then you become hurt that you didn’t achieve that ‘more’ and neglect the fact that you achieved what you set out to achieve in the first place.

Who would want to work for a tyrant like that? Who would want to live with someone like that? Who would keep tolerating a friend like that?

Well me, and perhaps you, apparently.

So how can we escape the shackles of our own slavemaster side? Wriggle free and start rebuilding the foundations that are knocked down every time we fall short?

The answer is through negotiating with yourself.

No more being the worst boss or the worst friend in the world to yourself. You would never treat a friend or coworker like that so it’s ludicrous that we do it so often to ourselves. It’s no wonder that we don’t actually do what we want ourselves to do because we’re often full of broken promises and constant resentment. How could any relationship like that build any sort of trust?

Here is an abstract from 12 Rules For Life. It is part of Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.  It highlights a possible way you can begin negotiating with yourself and regain both trust and love.

Maybe you need to say to yourself, “OK. I know we haven’t gotten along very well in the past. I’m sorry about that. I’m trying to improve. I’ll probably make some more mistakes along the way, but I’ll try to listen if you object. I’ll try to learn. I noticed, just now, that you weren’t really jumping at the opportunity to help when I asked. Is there something I could offer in return for your cooperation? Maybe if you did the dishes, we could go for a coffee. You like espresso. How about an espresso – maybe a double shot? Or is there something else that you want?”

Then you could listen. Maybe you’ll hear a voice inside (maybe it’s even the voice of a long-lost child). Maybe it will reply, “Really? You really want to do something nice for me? You’ll really do it? It’s not a trick?

This is where you must be careful.

That little voice – that’s the voice of someone once burnt and twice shy. So, you could say, very carefully, “Really, I might not do it very well, and I might not be great company, but I will do something nice for you. I promise.’

… Then you could take that small bit of yourself by the hand and do the damn dishes. And then you better not go clean the bathroom and forget about the coffee or the movie or the beer or it will be even harder to call those forgotten parts of yourself forth from the nooks and crannies of the world.


Initially, that sort of dialogue seems absurd when you are just negotiating with yourself. But put it in a different context, perhaps a movie of a young child who has been neglected by an unloving father, then it becomes far more believable and realistic. The young child is reluctant to emerge from the cracks where he was banished. This is where we can find ourselves when we don’t negotiate with ourselves. When we are unjust tyrants that punish ourselves every time that we fall short.

I believe that the key to all of this is realising that we can play all of the parts in the story, and that’s okay. We are sometimes the merciless tyrant. Sometimes we are the quiet scared voice. We are both at the very same time. If we work at it, we can be the reasonable negotiator moving along at a steady but consistent pace. When we are the latter, doing positive things takes far less energy and is much lower risk. Trust is rebuilt and where there is trust, there is truth, acceptance and real progress. Accepting that sometimes we are going to be chugging and spluttering along in the wagon rather than accelerating. But that’s alright, as long as the wagon is moving forward.

By starting to negotiate with yourself in a fair and respectable manner, as if you were with a friend not an enemy, you may start to see some incredible changes happen.