As a psychotherapist, I work with a lot of people who have a specific goal to reach. It may be to create a new and healthier diet, quit smoking, or to maintain a substance abuse free lifestyle to name a few. Entering into the mental dialogue of bargaining always leads to the goal not being reached; the Ego is ripped apart again, as a tirade of self-loathing remarks regarding one’s failed attempt at change echo from ear to ear. In this article, we will take a look at ways to tame Bargaining and to increase your chances of manifesting the life changes that you seek.
We learn the concept of bargaining early on in life from our parents. A common parenting technique to get children to do something is to bargain with them. Most of us have heard phrases like “You can have a piece of pie if you eat all your dinner.” Or, “If you clean your room and can go outside and play. (I just realized I dated myself. For you younger folk, “If you clean your room, you can play video games.) After all, “How can you eat your pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”
As we grow older we learn about the benefits of bargaining as well. In the marketplace, bargaining is a good thing; it is part of the fabric of our society. We all want to get the best deal that we can. It doesn’t matter if we are haggling over a head of red leaf lettuce at our local Farmer’s Market, or buying a car; as Kramer from Seinfeld says, “Retail is for suckers.” No one wants to feel that they are being taken advantage of; bargaining is good.
In well functioning relationships, couples have created balance and a sense of equality through the bargaining process. For example, one may agree to go see a movie that he or she has no interest in because his or her partner made a similar sacrifice the week before. Or, chores may be agreed upon through the bargaining process. “I’ll cook if you wash the dishes.” Thus, Bargaining is an essential feature of creating harmony in relationships. Now shift focus to the daunting struggle of creating and maintaining positive personal change. In this tipsy topsy world, bargaining is bad. How can this be?
Change is something that we humans resist. We like routine, as it gives us a sense of being in control of our lives. As we start to travel down the path of change, we voyage into the world of the unfamiliar. This is uncomfortable for us, as our normal ways of coping with stress and anxiety have been left behind in the land of the familiar. This uncomfortable state of mind opens the door to “Mr. Bargain” and there is no delay in his entry into our minds. It’s like opening an email that has a virus, once its done, there’s no stopping it.
Mr. Bargain’s only goal is to make sure that you fail; that your feet slip out from beneath you and you find yourself reverting back to the exact behavior that are trying to avoid.
Mr. Bargain has a bag of tricks at hand. A trick like, “You’ve been good and haven’t had any donuts for 4 days. You’ve changed. Go ahead and reward yourself,” is a common tactic to get you to fail. The next thing you know, you find yourself sitting at your local donut shop gorging on maple bars starting to feel like crap. Or, Mr. Bargain will work to convince you that the goal that you set for yourself is unreachable; that you just don’t have what it takes, so you might as well just give up.
To stay on course in order to reach your goal, it is paramount that you learn to quickly identify Mr. Bargain when he shows up and let him know that you will have nothing to do with him! When you hear bargaining dialogue start, you must stop it immediately. Drown out his feeble messages/tricks with your own powerful mantra. For example, “I don’t bargain!” In doing so, you let Bargaining know that you are serious about change, that you are aware of its tricks and that you are going to stay the course and will reach your goal.
No one is perfect. Even when we become aware of Bargaining’s tricks, one may find him or herself picking one’s self up from the ground, having slipped on the proverbial banana peel that Bargaining tossed on your pathway of change. Don’t despair. Restart your journey, dedicating once again to avoid Bargaining. With practice you’ll get better and better at avoiding Bargaining’s sabotaging tricks and create positive life changes.