Bargaining: everyone does it, and it has nothing to do with frugality.
Change is challenging! Even positive change can bring about initial discomfort and stress. This is why so many of us struggle to make positive change stick.
When you enter the chilly waters of initial behavior change, you may find yourself “bargaining” with old behaviors out of resistance, fear, or discomfort.
Bargaining refers to any attempt made in an effort to postpone the inevitability of long-term behavior change.
Bargaining may manifest as full-scale regression (doing well on a diet or intended course of behavior change, only to revert back to old habits), small deviations (sneaking small bites), or any other emotionally-fueled deviation from your intended course of action.
While bargaining may make itself known in many areas, exercise and procrastination (“I’ll make up for it tomorrow”) are two fatal scripts that keep many dieters stuck in a struggled of yo-yo dieting and weight gain-loss.
Becoming aware of the patterns and working to understand them is the first step to rewriting the historic scripts that keeps you overweight, stuck, and unhappy.
Bargaining Script #1. Procrastination: I’ll do it tomorrow!
For many of us, procrastination comes between us and ours goals: we want to succeed, but it’s hard work! Why engage in challenging work when we’ll feel more like it tomorrow, right?
Unfortunately, we tend to overestimate the motivation of our future selves.
And thus, we find ourselves another day older and not another day closer to our goals.
We tend to postpone tasks that we don’t want to do because of their challenge, and in continually procrastinating, we intimidate ourselves with just how challenging we assume the task will be.
In reality, the challenge level of the task itself may be something of a mirage: something we assume to be very real but created entirely in our own heads.
Just as we tell ourselves we’ll exercise tomorrow, or start our diet tomorrow, we also fool ourselves into believing that we can make up for deviations from our intended course of action by “doing better” the next day.
In theory, this is great.
In reality? Again, we overestimate the motivation of our future selves.
So why does long term behavior change feel so hard, and why can’t we stick to it for our intended timeline?
For many of us, stress plays a partial role: stress and other negative emotional states often come with a sense of entitlement.
We are good people, we tell ourselves: we don’t deserve this level of stress!
While we may not readily recognize this feeling as entitlement in the traditional sense, we wholeheartedly believe that we deserve to feel secure (a fundamental human need) and happy, despite the fact that no one can be happy at all times.
Many of us lack the healthy coping mechanisms (exercise, social connection, etc) to deal with stress in a balanced, productive manner.
Although we could undoubtedly deal with our stress and restore a sense of peace, balance, and/or happiness in a productive and healthy manner, many of us lack the tools (and/or accountability) to do so.
Instead, our histories are riddled with unhealthy coping mechanisms developed from a place of convenience (food is readily available for most of us), pleasure (food tastes good), physiology (high fat and high carbohydrate foods increase serotonin in the brain), and psychology (self-soothing, self-numbing, or pushing away uncomfortable thoughts, using food as a pacifier).
Unfortunately, using food as a distraction, escape, or way in which to self soothe creates a multitude of problems.
Instead of one problem, you now have the problem you started with, the additional problem of being overweight, and a third problem: the frustration that comes with knowing you’ve once again pushed your goals off until tomorrow.
Bargaining Script #2. I deserve it, I exercised!
Exercise often comes with a “reward” mindset. We tell ourselves that we can/deserve to eat ______ because we worked out, or that we can eat __________ and work out “tomorrow”.
As many of you have come to find, it’s nearly impossible to negate the impact of inappropriate dietary choices with exercise.
This is because we tend to consistently overestimate the number of Calories burned through exercise and underestimate the number of Calories consumed through diet.
To be clear, exercise is incredibly beneficial in the context of physical and mental health: exercising improves mood and energy by increasing endorphins in the brain, which may make you even more likely to comply with planned dietary protocol.
However, exercise does not work as an “eraser” for poor dietary choices or bargaining behaviors.
Using it as such can create an incredibly unhealthy relationship with diet and exercise, one where you ultimately end up resenting one or both as you exist in a yo-yoing weight pattern.
Rather, exercise should be treated as a healthy adjunct tool and a worthwhile undertaking in itself.