Using mindfulness to combat compulsive buying

So, I shop and make purchases compulsively sometimes, and it can be a problem. It’s wasteful of resources, it wastes my time and energy, the purchases are unnecessary, I don’t enjoy the process (except for a little ‘rush’ of adrenaline or dopamine or something, which is over quickly and is followed by feeling crappy) and it’s hard on the pocketbook. (I know, first world problems, right?)

Lately, I’ve been doing some ‘training’ in mindfulness meditation. I’ve been trying to use a 3-minute breathing space tool (available from a lot of pages online, youtube, etc.) to put a bit of distance between my impulse to shop and the actual behaviour of shopping. It doesn’t mean I never shop, but I have been:

1) shopping less often;

2) spending less time per shopping session (most of mine are online); and

3) making fewer purchases.

Plus when I do shop, it seems more like a conscious decision than something I can’t stop myself from doing. I remember I used to spend hours shopping online without even realizing how long it had been, and I couldn’t remember ever having started the shopping session, or having made the decision to shop in the first place.

The 3 minute breathing space goes like this (you can do it whenever you like – any time you have three minutes):

When I feel the urge to shop, I mentally press PAUSE and take a 3-minute breather. (BTW, first I had to train myself to recognize the impulse, rather than diving straight in before I even knew what I was doing.)

I don’t tell myself “NO” or insist that I mustn’t shop, and I don’t beat myself up for having the impulse. (I acknowledge fully that the habit is destructive and counterproductive, and I take responsibility for it. Nevertheless, it doesn’t help me to beat myself up or run through a laundry list of why it’s bad. I just don’t find it effective; when I’d beat myself up, I’d end up feeling bad and shopping anyways.)

An audio recording of the 3-minute breathing space is saved on my desktop so that it’s on hand right away, and I also have a little paper poster tacked to my wall, which outlines the activity.

It’s basically as follows:

Sit comfortably and close the eyes.

Step one: Awareness.

Attend broadly to one’s experience. Just silently take note of it without judgement, and without the need to change what is being observed. Especially pay attention to how the body feels. How does the skin feel? Note temperature, tingling, etc. How do the muscles in the different parts of the body feel? And so on. What are the thoughts going through the mind right now? What feelings do you find in yourself at this moment? Acknowledge whatever you happen to feel, even if the feelings are unwanted. 

Step two: Gathering.

Focus on the breath. Narrow the field of attention to focus on the breath in the body, and the various sensations associated with it. Attend to each in-breath and out-breath. If you forget to notice a breath, just congratulate yourself for noticing, and gently bring attention back to the breathing.

Step three: Expanding.

Attend to the body. Widen your attention again to include the body as a whole and any sensations that are present. 

 

It sounds hokey, but if you try it and don’t like it, you will have only lost 3 minutes, so who cares?

Some sensations and thoughts I’ve noticed in myself right before I was about to shop have included sensations of tightness in the shoulders, a knot in the belly, and thoughts like “I need a pick-me-up,” or “I can’t focus on this deadline, it’s too stressful.” Just realizing that I’m having these kinds of thoughts and feelings helps re-orient me to the reality that my urge to shop usually has nothing to do with actually needing or wanting to buy something. (Usually I’m avoiding something.) Taking a moment to attend to the breath and the body serves to ‘anchor’ me in the real world and helps me deal with stressful or overly-dramatic feelings and thoughts, like “I can’t finish this task in time! I’m DOOMED!”

🙂

Also, when I do end up shopping, I do a 3 minute breathing space right after I’m done. It helps me, I think, to be more honest with myself and more realistic about how I really feel after having shopped. I usually assume shopping will make me feel better, but to be honest, it basically never does.

Again, it’s not about beating yourself up for having done something foolish. It’s just a way of being aware and mindful of what you’re really feeling, and about the types of thoughts you’re having. With practice, you can start to notice yourself having certain thought biases that basically everyone engages in at some time or other. It’s normal to have these kinds of thought patterns, but it’s also helpful to recognize them for what they are when they occur, so that you can react to them intentionally (rather than automatically and without even realizing how you arrived at a particular outcome).

 

Basic Income

When it comes to the concept of guaranteed basic income (a great site to find out more about this is http://basicincome.org/), there’s a fairly common argument about ‘moral hazard’ – how it’s going to make everyone lazy and nobody will participate in the workforce.

I can’t avoid the following thought: Of course many people wouldn’t want to participate in the mainstream workforce exactly as it is now, if instead they could opt out and still maintain a comparable quality of life. I think it’s likely that many of the people who work in the service/retail industry, or who do hard labour, would never keep doing that if they could get paid a livable amount and not do the back-breaking / soul-sucking work they’re used to doing. They’d spend their time with family or doing hobbies or taking courses or volunteering or working on their favourite artistic/creative projects, probably. And I think it’s likely that eventually they’d branch out into new hobbies/areas of study/volunteer work/apprenticeships to the extent that they’d gain the new skills or know-how to start a new kind of career that they like better and that uses their talents a lot better than retail or hard labour.

(Faced with this reality, we have to ask the question: who the hell will do the hard and/or ‘grunt’ labour? Cashiers’ jobs – just as an example – already seem to be in danger of being replaced with self-checkouts, but somebody has to clean the toilets, and as far as I know, nobody likes doing that work. Right now, whoever is most exploited or dis-empowered ends up having to do that kind of work. Maybe the reality is that in a society where the current ‘lowest classes’ merge with what we currently might call ‘lower-middle’, we’d all have to take turns doing some very undesirable but necessary work on an alternating weekly or seasonal basis or something. Maybe there’d be more EDs and CEOs taking a turn to clean a bathroom in the office once in a while. And maybe all the nail salons – which currently create highly undesirable, dangerous, yet completely UN-necessary work – would close down, and who needs them anyway!

I’m not sure what we’d do about the many kinds of necessary work that require expertise and training and commitment to that particular occupation – and therefore can’t be distributed or shared among professionals who specialize in another kind of work – but which for whatever reason are undesirable. Many jobs in the service sector and certain trades probably fall in that category…perhaps these jobs can be re-imagined or re-structured in some fashion that makes them more desirable and makes the workers better off so that the positions aren’t left vacant. We need to ask and investigate [probably by talking to the workers themselves]: is it really the nature of this work that makes it undesirable, or is it something to do with current trends in particular industries, or part of the culture of that kind of work, etc. Construction and other trades might be very appealing work IF workers were adequately protected, given reasonable working hours and time off, if adequate safety measures were put in place, and if the workplace and broader culture didn’t demean the workers.

What I do know is that as long as there are jobs that are undesirable to [all] workers, but deemed necessary by society, society will find ways to dis-empower and exploit people in order to coerce them into these positions. The only alternatives to this are to re-examine the necessity of those jobs – are these jobs REALLY necessary for a healthy society, or can we re-structure society a bit so that they become unnecessary – or to ‘fix’ the jobs so that they are no longer undesirable to workers, or to distribute the jobs somehow in an egalitarian fashion so that an underclass doesn’t develop. Maybe there are other alternatives too. A free market based solution would suggest that the wages would just get higher and higher until the work became worth doing – it would still be lousy work, but it would pay so well that somebody would want to do it. There are limits to the effectiveness of this solution of course; the labour might become so expensive that the work just wouldn’t be economical anymore. And until/unless guaranteed income becomes the rule in ALL countries and areas of the world, there will always be outsourcing…)

Some of us more privileged folks who work at coordinating programs and services for the community, or who do research, or who teach, or who work for or run businesses, might keep right on working the same job as we did before. However, I think that with guaranteed income as a backup security net, we might be more willing to fight for reasonable working hours and benefits where applicable. That is, we’d be less scared of losing our jobs, and more willing to take risks when it comes to being our own advocates and promoting our own best interests in the workplace.

Those of us who like having a lot of money and aren’t happy with just the guaranteed income would be adverse to the basic (minimum) option, and instead continue to work the more ‘high-power’ jobs and make the big bucks. BUT, maybe, just maybe, some people who had been stuck in the so-called rat race for a long time would ‘convert’ and come around to the idea that maybe you can be happy and less stressed with a basic living stipend and a less demanding job along with some personal projects and hobbies. Maybe they’d take a risk and try a job they never would have seen themselves in before, and wind up as teachers or something. Who knows.

Anyway, this is all quite rosy, but it’s a kind of optimistic alternative or counter to the ‘moral hazard’ objection, which is just as laden with assumptions and biases (of a different kind). Time will tell regarding what the reality really looks like. They’re putting guaranteed income to the test in parts of India and in some European countries.

Greenwashing

I fairly nice summary from worldwatch of the problems created by greenwashing.

My favourite point: If you can figure out a way to get by without a product, then not buying it at all is always a better option than buying the ‘environmentally-friendly’ version of that product. Buying stuff never does the environment any favours.

Plant-based diets

Check out this infographic from Civil Eats about meat eating in America.

Canadians were also eating less meat in 2015 (though it depends on how you define meat; apparently we were eating more chicken…) and like our American neighbours, cost was a main reason. Health and ethical/religious concerns were some other reasons.

I’m currently not a vegetarian (I eat animal products), but I am trying to be more selective about which animal products I buy, and fish/poultry is a fairly small part of my diet. I basically stay away from ‘red meat’ other than the odd exception, and I don’t miss it. I’ve never much liked pork, so that was easy to cut out.

A lot of the taste appeal of meat is, I think, the seasoning and the juices (fat). Getting your legumes and adding nutritional yeast or mushrooms (some prefer soy sauce…to each their own!) to savory plant-based dishes adds a nice umami flavour that meat-eaters might otherwise feel like they’re missing out on. It could also be the texture though…If you get a chance to try jackfruit, that has a very ‘meaty’ texture and can be incorporated into some very tasty stews and curries.

Teaching mindfulness in schools

I’ve been involved with a mindfulness study lately (for adults) and it got me to thinking about the possible benefits of teaching mindfulness to children. It takes a lot of practice to notice and recognize our physical sensations and also our mental/emotional sensations (thoughts and feelings) honestly and without ignoring or shutting them down or hiding from them by using distractions (i.e. not appropriately engaging with them or failing to appreciate them). Why not start practicing earlier in life?

I thought I’d share this project I came across: http://www.mindfulschools.org/

Another tool! Food Sustainability Index including 25 countries

I found this tool through the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition. It covers food waste, nutritional challenges (overnourishment and undernourishment), and sustainable agriculture. You can also view a ranking of the countries. I like the ‘heat map’ because it gives a better idea of the progress the countries still have to make – even those who rank quite high relative to the other countries. 🙂

http://foodsustainability.eiu.com/heat-map/