The Best Recent Titles for Inspiration, Motivation and Personal Revolution
More information is published on just about any subject than ever before. As Tesla founder Elon Musk says, “You don’t need college to learn stuff… you can learn anything you want for free.”1 I adore this piece of advice.
There are two challenges when attempting to learn on your own. First, determining what’s important. Second, clearing the static created by the barrage of available information. So we’ll limit what’s important to psychology, self-improvement and insight. And let’s just say the purpose of this article is to clear the static!
In the last five years, print book sales have reached 650 million. Printed books maintain popularity over digital and audio version of the same. Sixty-five percent of adults in the US have read a printed book in the last twelve months2. Educational material has never been more in reach for human kind than in this moment, right now.
The following are seven must read books! These books will shift your paradigm, motivate and inspire you.
Scott Barry Kaufman delves into the personal journey and research of famed Psychologist, Abraham Maslow. Perhaps the most interesting gem this book provides is that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was never intended to be a pyramid. The idea was not that you could not be actualized without food or shelter. Or, that when you were hungry and without food that you couldn’t experience love.
This idea was hijacked by management schools as a gross oversimplification of Maslow’s Ideas. This book attempts to give Maslow’s theory the nuance and depth it deserves.
In a tireless effort both into Maslow’s research (finished and unfinished) and personal journals, Kaufman explores each of the ideas associated with Maslow’s self-actualization, including safety, connection, self-esteem, exploration, love, purpose, peak experiences and what Maslow referred to as Theory Z. The concept of self-actualization defined as “…the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”3
During Maslow’s later years, he began to understand that self-awareness could lead to transcendence. Those self-actualized individuals that he used to exemplify his idea described experiences beyond the recognition of their ‘selves’. Experiences transcended their own sense of self and ego.
In what seemed a contradiction, these folks also had a strong sense of who they were at their core, exuding strong values and beliefs. This simultaneously perplexed and inspired Maslow. There appeared to be a phase beyond self-actualization. Maslow didn’t get the chance to fully flesh this out in his lifetime.
The book discusses the D-Realm and B-Realm. The D-Realm (D for Deficiency) refers to ‘needs’ that come from a deficiency in shelter, safety, love or esteem. These are called safety goals. In contrast, B-Realm referred to growth related needs. For example, gaining wisdom, insight or integrating life experiences. These are growth goals. Maslow used the B-Realm to describe what we refer to now as “being present” or “in the moment.” Ultimately, the choice between safety goals and growth goals may differentiate between the paths to self-actualization and transcendence.
In sum, the book illustrates the possibility of a culture that takes care of the most basic human needs. Thus, humanity can actualize, growing to our full potential.
Perhaps Manson is best known for his 2015 inaugural bestseller, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. In this follow up, Everything is Fucked, he has come into his own. The book simultaneously recognizes the insanity as well as the importance of hope in our lives. Anecdotes illustrating how hope drives us through tumultuous and uncertain times, provides meaning and will very likely be the cause of human extinction.
The concept of hope is examined from many angles, revealing its impact on humanity. From its function in cults and religion to how it moves us to join political parties to how we are inspired daily, individually. The full-force of hope is undeniable.
We find Nietzsche’s concepts of master morality and slave morality. Master morality describes how those who have success and own the spoils of society feel they have earned it. Slave morality, on the other hand, recognizes that the average person is much like a ‘slave’ to those who feel they have earned the success. (IE business owners, corporate presidents etc.) The tension between these two moralities exist in our society. Nietzsche warned that this tension would only grow. (Sound familiar?) These moralities are often used to inspire people to join one side or the other. Hope used to divide.
In Manson’s estimation, hope is both the cause and the effect of what is wrong with the societies of today and the future.
On its face, it seems a bleak statement: Everything is fucked and it has a lot to do with hope. Fucked is past tense, referring to that in the past. And hope calls to the future. And so implied, is the importance of the present. There is a strange comfort in the eastern-style idea of being present or content with your life in the now. A mind in the past is depressed and a mind in the future is filled with anxiety. Enjoy the now. Regardless of what we do, the future will inevitably bring our demise. There is a positive message to be taken away here.
The book goes on to report that anyone offering hope, is not doing so for free. There is a cost that is not always immediately obvious. We are sold hope to soothe our emotions. Pain is a constant throughout humanity. And so, there will always be a market for hope in all of its constructive and destructive glory.
Interesting ideas in this book. Old ideas, presented in a fresh way with a modern framework. A must read.
Want to change your life? Change your habits! After all, your life is the sum of every little habit that you have. This is a wonderful nuts and bolts book on improving your life, by James Clear.
We’ve all been in a rut before where we knew we had to make changes, but we couldn’t fathom where to start. Additionally, when faced with this challenge the journey to the goal seems insurmountable.
As Clear writes in several examples, throughout history real lasting change has come come from very small changes over a longer period of time. In the framework of self-improvement, this is very small changes in our personal habits designed to enhance our lives.
Clear teaches that there are four steps in creating habits: cue, craving, response and reward. These four steps were originally identified by Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit. Clear builds on the four steps with four laws.
Make it Obvious
Make it Attractive
Make it Easy
Make it Satisfying
The nature of the talent needed to put these types of books together is in the supporting analogies. This is where Clear shines. Interestingly enough, motivation can’t be counted on to fuel a habit. It is far more dependent on the environment. Several great examples of how this is the case are shared in the book. Habits that need changing begin by expanding awareness.
The idea that bad habits are solutions to fulfill primal cravings makes sense. The reason we crave high calorie food has to do with our desire or craving to sustain our life. However, we now live in an environment where this is not always healthy. Consequently, our access to high calorie food is much greater than it was. And so the trick becomes associating healthier, low-calorie foods (to stick with the current example) with a positive experience.
Ultimately, Clear’s support for the ideas he puts forth is intriguing, commonsensical yet not always obvious to most before the read.
(I know, I know, I know. This one’s not recent. But that is okay. It’s relevant and I’ve re-read it recently!)
Leave it Gladwell to point out why innumerable successful people are in position due to the system they came up in. At first glance this may not be a very shiny idea.
The book paints an image of the systems of humanity at large, shining a light deep into our cultural unconscious. We are challenged to think more critically about how to see power and influence in relation to humanity.
Gladwell masterfully and surgically approaches each success story willing to disregard what we may naturally attribute as likely causes and instead posits that credit is due to something far less obvious.
For example, Gladwell proposes The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes. In this theory, Gladwell hypothesizes that cultural circumstances made communication between air traffic control and a flight crew impossible causing a deadly crash. This power distance index (PDI) indicates the culture’s disinclination to challenge authority was the circumstance at play. Because of a cultural difference in the perception of power and communication, a deadly and completely avoidable plane crash occurred.
In the infamous 1990 Avianca flight from Columbia to New York, the failure of the pilot or co-pilot to challenge the air traffic controller’s direction caused the disaster. Though both knew the that fuel was running out, they would not bring it up. Even in this life or death situation, cultural norms and beliefs may have a large role in disasters life this.
This and other less than obvious ideas regarding success are also shared. Including 10,000 hour rule, the Matthew Effect and others. This book is known for turning common cause and effect assumptions on there heads.
I heard Heath on the a podcast and was stunned at the beautiful simplicity of this idea. For Heath, it began when he heard this parable: You and a friend are having lunch by a river. Suddenly, you hear a child calling out as s/he is carried by the river. You jump in and save the child. As you bring the child to shore, you hear another child coming down the river. Your friend takes off running up the river, leaving the new child for you to rescue. Where is your friend going, you ask? Your friend tells you “I’m going to go upstream and stop the bastard who’s throwing these kids in the water!”
As leaders we are problem solvers. Yet we often become caught up in a cycle of reactivity. With our current knowledge and technology, we should be in a position where we can solve problems before they happen.
Heath discusses the three barriers to upstream thinking, problem blindness, lack of ownership and tunneling. The book would be interesting enough identifying these ideas. However, the book leaps ahead to dig into how what we are doing now to solve problems (or at least creating the appearance we are solving problems in our organizations public and private) just isn’t working and in some cases is making things worse. Thinking upstream is necessary.
Upstream is a book requiring a bit of study and time. It is important the idea stay top of mind as we race into the future. There’ll be no excuse to not see some of the most trying problems humanity has ever had to deal with.
Shetty brings the secrets of the monastery to light in his book, Think Like a Monk. All of the simplicity of the monastic lifestyle applied to our hectic lives. The books shines in its simplicity and the everyday activities he provides to grow the concepts in our own lives.
The book is divided in the three parts; part one, let go; part two, grow; and part three give. The first part focuses on the sense of self, negative emotions and your intentions. One of the activities supplied are in this section involves identifying personal values. The activity asks you to make note of the three whom you spend the most time. Of the three, what values do you share with these folks? How important is that value to you?
The second part, grow, gets into our day to day, discussing routine. Very good, focused information here.
If you’re reading this, chances are you are on the periphery of some of these practices and this middle section of the book will help you solidify some things you’re circling.
And finally, give. The way of a monk is to give. There are some simple but profound ideas in this final part. For instance, you don’t have to have a lot to give. Many of us are waiting until we get to that point where we have excess to…give. This is unnecessary and often we never arrive. Give now.
There is a large benefit to be had by giving to your community. If you don’t have a community in mind, Shetty does some work to help you identify this as well.
This book is truly great if you are looking for a modern book focused on improving your life and increasing satisfaction. The author achieves this by keeping it light, yet focused on age old wisdom that much of western culture has left behind. Awesome book. I’ll be picking through this one for weeks to come.
My first feelings about this well-told, adventurous, introspective and inspiring book were that it was the everyman’s story. One of “us” makes it big. He carried ‘our’ story with him.
But something was off with that original view. There was something … else. I got the audiobook, I listened to it on one day off. I was digging.
What was it?
I realized that the real beauty and perhaps the secret to McConaughey’s success, was the story he was telling himself.
In one story from his childhood, McConaughey describes a scene where his mother and father get in a brutal argument. Dinner tables were flipped, knives were drawn and blood was shed. Here’s the decision point, the differentiator and the theme I was working for. McConaughey could have told this story as a victim. From the point of view of a scared child. But that’s not what’s on the page. Instead, the story is told lightly and is used to illustrate the beauty and passion on how his family interacts. In the end, his mother and father (drenched in blood and ketchup) make love on the floor in the heat of their argument.
The real idea that I was seeing working out in the authors life, was the way that he was telling himself the story was the key. McConaughey states in a stark phrasing at the beginning fo the book “I was never a victim.”
Many of us get the opportunity to decided how to tell our stories to ourselves. Many of us choose to tell the story with us as the victim or the martyr. No matter what happened in McConaughey’s life, he was never the victim and he only ascribed the most positive meaning. Really this is the metaphoric green-light. And perhaps, the idea that we choose our perspective on our lives.
We may not all get the opportunity to write a memoir. But why shouldn’t we? What story are you telling yourself? Hopefully one with a lot of green-lights.
In early July, I posted an article called “My 40’s Manifesto”. I have made it a point to keep the tenets of my manifesto top of mind. Also, I decided I’d provide updates intermittently. Perhaps some of you will get some enjoyment on my trials and tribulations during my search for enlightenment post forty.
There are five tenets to my manifesto:
I will work on connection
I will be authentic
I will accept love
I will think deeply
I will engage in relationships
Here’s where I’m at five months in.
I Will Work On Connection
I have done several things to follow through on this piece. I have regularly continued to write letters, made calls, visits and reached out even when I normally would not. I have made an effort in this realm. I have regained a relationship with a friend that I believed was done several decades ago.
In addition, I read Matthew McConaughey’s new memoir, Greenlights.
I did not see this one coming.
I remember McConaughey as the “romance movie guy”. Kind of a jock that I didn’t really connect with. The guy who I was trying to beat, who had it easy! My antennae did perk up when I saw True Detective and Interstellar. Nonetheless, I haven’t poured over his catalog as I’ve done with other favorites.
What I found in the book was incredibly relatable and a welcomed shot of positivity. The book’s trip through Mr. McConaughey’s life illustrates a fierce passion, a sense of adventure, a sense of self-discovery and knowledge, and a determination to go deep that borders on foolishness (the best kind, I think).
The book has reconnected me with parts of myself I hadn’t reckoned with in a long time. I’ve been acquainted with things that I love about myself that I haven’t watered in quite a while. It’s revealed some harsh judgements on myself the cause of some standard without a purpose. I now have some tools to balance a severe internal inquiry with a healthy sense of self-love. This self-love has made it much easier for me to connect with everyone from family, friends to coworkers.
It’s important to note that just when you think you’re in a state of complacency in the cycle of life, there are are works of art out there that will awaken things within you that you’ve forgotten were there or haven’t quite found yet. It’s a great book, check it out.
I believe my friends and family now have a much greater sense of the esteem that I hold them in. Much healing has happened this year in those relationships with much more to come. I am now becoming interested in just connecting with the people on the periphery, the small conversations that I always avoided. Small talk. I don’t do it for fear of getting stuck there, listening.
All in all, I’m connecting more to myself and more to those in my life without fear of being rejected or misunderstood.
Current Challenge: Remaining connected consistently. I love my solitude. Sometimes, I get stuck here. Staying connected to yourself broadly is a good thing. While good on staying connected to me, it is an area of balance that needs some management.
I Will Be Authentic
This has been a series of events. Oh how we can trick ourselves into believing such crazy things! I won’t take the opportunity to make fun of myself. Instead, I’ll just discuss my process. In being mindful and aware of my feelings, through a combination of meditation, journaling and other self-discovery tools, I have discovered that I often disregard my needs. There is a thought that says, “Hey, Watts, if you were tough enough, you’d just grin and bare it.” At this point, I don’t request or communicate how I feel to anyone. No, not at all. Instead I become mentally foggy and irritable. I become mean, petty – even arrogant as a result of this.
I have come to the very quick realization that there is no reason to feel weak in sharing my feelings. In fact, the act of sharing is what is defined as a relationship. When you share something and become vulnerable, you feel something happen. The feeling is changed at its core by its sharing. It really is magical.
At the advice of my significant other, I shared an impactful story with my father. When I was young, I recall a time when he referred to be as a “freckled-face strawberry”. Then, he said something along the lines of “…he wont be winning over any girls any time soon…”
In a very uncomfortable situation, I explained these memories to my dad. He didn’t have any memory of this instance. I didn’t want him to feel bad, I prefaced the story as the simple sharing of information. He assured me that he had no idea what he was saying and was most likely just joking with his friends. (Honestly, I did have quite an awkward phase where I was quite covered with freckles.) Nonetheless, this was a thought that played in the background for my entire life. I was obsessed with the fact that I might be ugly. However, once I shared this with him, it’s power in my mind, lessened.
Lesson learned: Don’t hide your feelings from those closest to you. Sharing could prevent a lifetime of pain.
Presenting your authentic feelings to those you’re closest with can be a magical thing. This is true even when they are difficult feelings that perhaps are not easy to share.
Current Challenge: Remembering that not fully sharing yourself is not good for anyone involved.
I Will Accept Love
There is something lurking beneath my awareness that keeps whispering (just out of earshot), saying “you’re not enough…” I’ve taken some time to look around me and truly understand that most of us have this issue to some degree. We may blame this on family, friends or other things externally, but the truth is – we do this to ourselves. It’s just a cognitive, mental habit.
I’m going to work hard to show them I’m worth it.
If I keep on giving in this relationship, sooner or later they’ll ask me what I need.
If I take enough pain, at some point I’ll feel worthy.
The sad thing is that this self-denial often gives us purpose. Purpose is generally a good thing, but not when it is based in this. Not too long ago, I felt that the quality of my relationships was simply the promise of future quality, potential. Ideas of personal boundaries and discussing needs with significant and other close relationships, just seemed an idea that was impossible to manifest.
It is not. It is necessary to think about these things otherwise you end up a slave to your own ideas about relationships that may not be fully dependent on reality.
There have several ways that this has appeared in my thoughts. I wouldn’t call people because “what if they didn’t want to talk?” I wouldn’t express my needs in any relationship because “what if they say ‘no’ and leave?” I wouldn’t ask for help because “what if they think I’m weak?” If I had a question for my boss, I wouldn’t ask because “what if he thinks I’m dumb?”
When you say these things out loud, they sound ridiculous. But we are all in a negative thought spiral most of the time. Eighty percent of the thoughts we think are both negative and exactly the ones thought yesterday. Our psychology pays attention to the negative. We evolved this way in order to survive. To that end, we aren’t designed to be happy. We are designed to survive, and thusly scan the environment for negativity.
It is a human need, connection. We are wired to be connected and love is the mechanism in which we connect. However, this also contradicts our other evolved characteristics meant for survival. For example, the need to be aware of threats. This is what happens in the case of our obsession with what we perceive as negativity.
In the end, you have to practice. Ask for what you need. Don’t be hurt if another’s boundaries make it impossible for you to receive your need. It is more about them than you. However, don’t deny yourself what you need!
Current Challenge: This all goes back to self-acceptance. Believe people love you just the way you are.
I Will Think Deeply
I am deeply enjoying this one. Taking the time and creating the space for deep thinking is paramount to a healthy mind. I have learned so much from just connecting the dots, just a little deeper, just a little deeper. Sometimes you just keep diving, but this is a way to connect with yourself.
Much of what I’ve learned about relationships has been due to following feelings to their corresponding thoughts. I have this need to be publicly adored. I always just reported that it was due to being the oldest of six and naturally a show off. These are external things that may have had an impact on me, but weren’t really the root cause. I’ve spent many nights awake to understand where this came from.
However, one of my earliest experiments sharing this with others, backfired in a severe way. I had created a rap song for one of my science classes using a karaoke machine that recorded overdubs. I created what I thought was a great song to share with my class. When I began playing the tape in front of the class, it sounded completely different. It sounded…bad.
At this point, I turned and hid behind the podium as the song played. In my mind, it sounded so much better! So I locked myself in my bedroom and practiced and practiced and practiced. I had to redeem myself. Each time I perform even so much as a speech or a presentation at work, I see this as a chance for redemption. So of course I want to take the chance! I want to compare how it sounds/looks/feels in my mind with how the audience perceives it.
This hope of redemption burrowed deep into my character. It has caused me to seek out this experience.
Thinking deeply has brought me to this thought.
But there’s more, thinking about psychology, the origins of human nature, purpose and consciousness has become a passion.
Current Challenge: Becoming overwhelmed with the information that I have left unexamined for so long.
I Will Engage in Relationships
This one (more than any of the others) requires an extreme presence. Often referred to as being “in the moment”. I often close myself off for fear of being judged and misunderstood. This is a terrible, terrible, terrible way to deal with these situations. It still is probably my biggest challenge.
I have an interesting baggage with relationships. By relationships, I mean friendships or intimate relationships. Friendships and relationships require (in my mind) me to be the hero. I have to be saving someone or fighting for some cause. I need to be offering something that is extraordinary. Perhaps, the person who is receiving these gifts doesn’t necessarily feel that way. But here’s the catch. In the process of trying to live up to my ideal, the hero, I have a moment of doubt. And so, I often (in the case of intimate relationships) need the point of view of the other person. Guess what? Often, this greatness is not recognized the same way in my partners or friends. So I grow cold, mean and resentful.
The pattern is still here.
Strangely enough, I believe that I’ve dealt with the emotional core of this behavior. Yet what remains is a vestigial cognitive process, a habit. It’s not even fueled by any emotional baggage. I’ve had this play out in countless ways with family, friends and ex’s. I work to change my behavior by being mindful of it and making sure that I keep my sense of self-love in check when with others. Often, I can be overly concerned with them and bend myself in an inauthentic way to prove that I’m worthy. Codependent anyone?
Current Challenge: Again, self-love. If you don’t fully accept yourself, you aren’t going to get it from anyone else.
Later in life, I am finding that I am attached to some ideas that don’t add up. These ideas have and are having a serious impact on my life. One of them I am trying to move beyond is materialism. Many studies show that those who are materialistic have a lower social and personal well being18.
I didn’t have a whole lot of money for most of my life. I couldn’t get all the “stuff” that I desired. This was extremely troubling. I felt a “less-than” feeling around all of my peers. Notably, when I was only ten or so, I refused to leave a shoe store until my father bought be a pair of Jordan’s for me, for the upcoming basketball season. (We eventually decided on Reebok Pumps).
This materialism compounded in my twenties when I dated a young woman whose ex-husband was an air force captain. Holy beta male did this set off an explosion of self acceptance issues. I had to puff out my chest! Up until this point, I was going to be a rockstar. As a result, I wasn’t familiar with this competitive, all encasing feeling. (That’s a story for another time.) I did everything I could do to try to make myself look wealthier and to get more stuff. I bought a house, worked my way up in my company (same company I work for now) and completely changed everything in my life. Mountains were moved, in retrospect. This turned out to be a lot of really misguided effort.
In the next phase my life, I got married. This was during a positive time when my income grew. I was at the height of my materialistic journey. We took two to three vacations a year. I drove a luxury car and was going out to eat four to five times a week.
After the marriage ended, I had a bunch of … stuff. A huge television set was mounted on my wall. I was amassing a large vinyl record collection and had bluetooth speakers and/or a high end Sonos speakers in every room. I was spending more than I was making. I rationalized that I was investing in my future.
Uh…yeah, I’m not exactly sure how that works out, but I typed it, so there it stays! The only thing I was really investing in, was American Express.
I’ve made a lot of changes and still have some way to go. But I still get caught up in impulse buying. My mind has found a new way to express this desire.This is done through buying items I’ll “need”, moving away from entertainment items. I love organization, so office supplies are one of my favorites. Also, I love vinyl records. I do truly love them for a variety of reasons. But if I’m being honest with myself, the most exciting part of the whole process is clicking the “buy” button and awaiting its arrival. (Oh look, there’s a notification for one right now!)
Okay, still I have a long way to go.
But, I’m going either way…
The power of desire is incredible. It causes us to mislead, straight up lie to ourselves. We resent one another, fight, go to war, steal and bully for what we want, what we desire. The desire for material goods is just one example. There are sixteen desires including power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility2. So, which desire is being expressed by impulse buying?
Power mostly15, with a hint of status.
I feel powerful when I buy something. It also provides a feeling of status by using that power. But I’m not fooling the marketers, they know I feel this way. They’ve set it up this way. They have the human psyche mapped out when it comes to making purchases. There are all kinds of psychological principles at work pushing us in this direction. The Gruen effect will have you lost in a store in hopes that you are more likely to buy8. Ikea has been named in this scheme9. The Diderot effect keeps us buying things subsequently, after an initial purchase3. For example, you buy a computer. Then, you buy a new mouse, a new case, a new desk etc. Before you know it, you’re broke. And here we are, experiencing the Diderot Effect.
It’s likely that we all suffer from impulse buying to some degree. If only there was another me that would appear when I was making these rash decision that screamed: “Buying that will not make you feel better!”
Since that is not an option, let’s look at some others. This is how I’m beating impulse buying and so should you!
Delete Shopping Apps
The average consumer spends over $5,000 per year on useless items21. It is projected that online sales are to reach $4.2 trillion in sales this year and $6.4 trillion by 2024. A lot of people shop online and 62% make a purchase at least monthly22. Shopping on mobile phone apps is expected to rise by 56% by 2022. While most shopping starts on mobile phones, most online transactions are completed on a computer. This is expected to change as the trend moves us towards mobile.
Delete the Amazon app.Delete the Etsy App.Delete the ebay app.
I did it. It helps more than you’d think. The logic follows, if you can’t look it up easy on your phone, you’re less likely to make an impulse buy. Of course you could go to your phone browser and shop. Nevertheless, there is a reason for shopping apps for your phone. It creates a greater level of engagement from the user (you). Also, it is more likely that you’ll develop a habit for using the app23.
The rate of online shopping addiction is going up. Much of this has to do with the stress caused by the pandemic. However, it’s good to know the tell tale signs.
Spending more than you can afford
Feeling guilty for the purchases made
Feelings of upset due to not being able to shop
Hiding your items from your loved ones
Any of these feelings or actions should certify a red flag. You should consider the possibility of a problem.
If you’re already going to buy five grand worth of useless stuff this year, this is a no brainer. Limit your access to buying useless items.
Choose the Fruit Salad, Not the Cake…
Often when we make an impulse buy, we do it during an emotional time. Impulse buyers are often more status oriented, experience more anxiety and inability to control emotions and experience less happiness than most24. It has a mood boosting effect. If this is the driving factor influencing the purchase, this is problematic. Understand that when most of us consider making a purchase our limbic system (the part of the brain responsible for pleasure) becomes active25. Those marketing to us know this. There are several tricks they use to lure us in to make the purchase.
In an experiment conducted in 1999, a group of participants were given a two digit or a seven digit number to memorize before an interview. They were also notified they could pick a snack off of a snack cart. The snack cart offered either chocolate cake or fruit salad. Those with the seven digit number overwhelmingly chose the chocolate cake.
The chocolate cake represented the “feel good”, impulsive choice while the fruit cake represented the more thoughtful, less impulsive choice. Those with “more on their mind” overwhelmingly chose the “feel good” choice. Often when we enter online or brick and mortar stores, there is some attempt overwhelm us. In providing more information and choices than we need, our perceptions are easily overwhelmed and confused. Consequently, we are more likely to make more “feel good” purchases.
This is also true if there are other things unrelated to shopping that are on the mind. If we’ve got a lot on the mind, we’re far more likely to make that emotional purchase26. When we’re stressed and our frontal lobe is overloaded or exhausted we’re on autopilot. We’re not even fully conscious of what we’re doing. This is right where companies want us.
A recommended best practice is that you make a list before you shop. Stick to the list. Don’t stray.
For larger purchases (set your own limit here ______). Then, wait it out. No need to jump on it.
The moral of the story is that if you can convert shopping to a thoughtful process instead of an emotional one, you’re far less likely to impulse buy.
Know Your Brain
We are happier wanting or desiring something, than we are when we actually have it4. This is profound.
Let’s state that one more time. We are happier wanting or desiring something, than we are when we actually have it. It’s counterintuitive at first, sure. But think about it. You’ve experienced this before. It makes sense if you understand it’s the reason why we survive. This desire had to be strong enough to move us to do crazy things like kill animals so that we could eat, at one point in time. Now, we still have the same instincts. However, they now don’t serve us quite so well in the case of driving impulse buying behavior. Understand that we are dealing with an instinct that is at the very core of who we are.
Here are some basic strategies that marketers employee to exploit these instincts.
The cheap stuff is at the register. Marketers know that we like to buy stuff. Putting these items where we check out is a way of squeezing a few more bucks out of us and us getting a little more of a “rush” from buying something else.
Put the prices on the left. We read left to right, so we automatically assume that number lines proceed from left to right as well. Subconsciously, we know that one starts on the left and as we move right the number increases. So this makes us feel like it’s a lower price27.
Foods that are often bought together are separated in stores. This causes you to have to walk past a lot of other items tempting your impulse20.
Misting produce is often to make it look more appealing20.
The expensive big ticket items may be put in displays up front. The consumer may then see a cheaper version of what they saw when they walked in and consider the cheaper a steal. For example, a $5,000 television is put up in front of the store. You’re in the market for one. When you are looking through them in the rear of the store, you find one for $2,500 and think “Wow, what a deal!”10
It is thought that 62% of in store purchases are impulse buys. This percentage is thought to be much higher online8. Know your brain is set up for failure in this way. Be aware of their tricks.
Mindfulness can lead to cure for multitudes of mental conditions including the desire to shop. Just being aware that you are making purchases to make yourself feel better is a fantastic start. But when you sit with it, you start realizing some scary things. For those not familiar with this idea, it is not synonymous with meditation. Meditation may be used as a tool to reach a greater degree of mindfulness. However, mindfulness is this case is simply being aware or conscious of a predilection for impulsivity.
Am I buying this because I have low self-worth?
Am I making purchases, spending thousands just to make myself feel better for a few minutes?
What is the true drive behind my action?
I recommend meditation, personally. Mindful meditation is simply the act of training your mind to pay attention to your thoughts. Eventually, to have a greater control over them. In this way, you can identify when am I making these purchases? How am I feeling when I make the purchase? What are the activities that occurred prior to me making these purchases?
I will caution that a surface ask of these questions will not do. You’ll have to go a little bit deeper. Studies show that mindful meditation can improve impulsive thoughts27. Essentially, if you want to curb your impulse spending, get ahold of your thoughts. Be mindful. Acquire a tool that will help you achieve a greater awareness of your thoughts and where they stem from. There are many available to you including the raisin exercise, body scanning, mindful seeing and listening, self compassion pause and more.
Change Your Philosophy
If you are having trouble with impulse buying, there may be a misalignment between your values and your actions. Or, perhaps worse, your values and actions are aligned. Your actions are simply reflecting your values. When this is the case, it may be time to make a change. If we believe that having more material items will bring greater happiness, this may be something that you want to reconsider.
A 2014 meta analysis of materialism’s impact on well-being has found that there is a negative correlation between life satisfaction and prioritization of materialism28. This means that most research finds that the attitude that things equal satisfaction is simply untrue.
For example, I love the Green Day record American, Idiot. I haven’t listened to it for quite a long time. I heard one of the songs from the record one day, randomly. I, then, purchased the record on vinyl. I made an impulse buy. I have yet to listen to said record and I recieved it months ago.
Is my philosophy that I like to collect record just in case I ever want to listen to them? Is it that I believe buying this record, the process of ordering and awaiting its arrival the main reason I ordered it? Do I believe that I will achieve greater life satisfaction by having this record?
Yes. Yes, I do.
And so I make the buy, the impulse buy. It’s time to rethink my philosophy. My life is good knowing that this music is out there, yes. But I will change my philosophy to only purchasing records that I’ll listen to on a regular basis. Otherwise, the purchase simply doesn’t align with my values.
Examples of values around purchasing could be “I value purchases that impact my life regularly.” Or, “I value purchases that are sustainable for the environment.” Or even, “I value purchases that provide memorable experiences.” The values that I was exercising sound more like “I value the feeling experienced by making a purchase that gives me a good feeling in the moment.”
And so my philosophy needs to change to one that more closely aligns with healthier, more character and thoughtful motivations of purchasing. Evolving from “I do what feels good in the moment” to “I will do what regularly enhances my life in a positive way.”
Document Your Reasons for Purchases
Another thing I like to do is write down my reason for the purchase. This puts in place a little accountability for where I’m spending my money. For example, If I decide I need some new work clothes, I write in my notes app on my phone all the thoughts that surround this idea for the purchase.
Can I afford it?
Why do I feel I need new clothes?
Is this an impulse buy?
What would happen if I didn’t buy it?
Is this a need or a want?
How does this play in to the overarching theme of my personal values?
Often times this can simply help you learn from your purchasing snafus.
I was notorious for buying workout equipment. At one point, I had a really nice workout bench, weights and a pull up bar mounted in my basement. These were all impulse buys. I think I used them one time. If I would have had this practice at the time, my notes would have looked something like this:
Can I afford it? – How can I afford not too? I’m going to look great and nothing should be prioritized ahead of health!
Why do I feel I need this? – I feel like it would improve my overall well-being, physical fitness and life in general.
Is this an impulse buy? – No, no, no. I’ve wanted to work out for forever.
What would happen if I didn’t buy it? – I would continue to be out of shape and weak.
Is this a need or a want? – This is definitely a need.
How does this play in to the overarching theme of my personal values? – I believe you have to exercise to be healthy and thriving person in life.
At this point in your similar situation, you’ll realize what a salesman you are too yourself. These all seem like reasonable answers, so what happened?
For the first question: yes, I could afford it. But what I could not afford, is if I bought it and did not use it? I cannot afford to buy things I wont use. My initial answer to this question bypasses this whole idea. Secondly, I am right on with this answer, it would improve my overall-wellbeing and physical fitness. However, I have to commit to using it. This is the idea that I failed to consider.
Note to self: “add impulse buying question ‘Can I commit to using this item/service/purchase so that it justifies my investment?’”
This is also a good question to ask for any purchase of a service (gym membership, subscription service, streaming service etc.) I used to say things like “I better watch a movie soon, so that I can get the value out of the HBO subscription.”
What the hell?!
The third question, if I didn’t buy it what would happen? My answer circumvents the real issue here. I was attempting to find a solution for becoming for fit. But this is not the only solution. Pushups, running and yoga are examples of other things that I could do without making the purchase. Maybe I could add to this questions ‘is there another potential for the solution for the problem I am trying to solve?’
Need or want? Don’t confuse this question with the problem that you are trying to solve with the purchase. It is a NEED for me to be physically fit. However, because this is only one solution to that problem, it is a WANT.
The last question presents a similar issue. It is an overarching value that creates my need for physical fitness, but we circle around to commitment. I did not want to commit to using the weight bench. I, again, considered the purchase as the sole solution. It was certainly A solution. However, it was not the only solution.
This list is a good place to start. You can make your own notes as you go.
Give it Away
You may be thinking, “Okay, great. I have a problem. That makes me feel like crap.”
If that’s the case, that is truly not the intention. However, there are things you can do that really make you feel good in healthy way. The research is mixed on altruistic behavior in general, however the act of giving is a positive experience. Psychologist Adam Grant , refers to it as “one of the best anti-anxiety medications available”16. Even the thought of giving can release the same feel-good chemicals as thinking about food or sex.
Donating to charities is a great way to put your money towards something that is more closely aligned with your values. A 2008 study found that spending money on others makes you happier than spending the money on yourself28. So if we’re just trying to improve our feelings, buy something for someone else! Give! This will make you feel better. Another study found that elderly folks who volunteered for two or more organizations are 44% less-likely to die than others in the next five-years. This is true even when taking into consideration other highly impactful habits like exercise and smoking28.
Giving your time and money is a great way to increase positive social interactions and personal connection. We’re built for connection and truly, this is always evident in one way or another in our drives behind our actions. This includes impulse buying.
If you experience some struggles with impulse shopping and it is having an overall negative impact on you long term, you may need to spend some time considering the contents of this article.
The good news is that you can change. It is possible for you to get a hold of your spending and not buy so much on impulse. The key is to realize that the wanting is so much more powerful than the having. Be grateful for what you have. There are so many others in the world now and throughout human history that have had so much less. Express gratitude.