How To… be rational, not rationalize.

In our home we often say humans are not rational creatures, we are rationalizing creatures. That is to say, we spend more time thinking about why we do what we do, explaining and justifying our actions, as well as those of others, than we do thinking through what we are about to do and planning ahead. There is a lot of research into why this is, but it boils down to:

  • most behaviour is driven by instincts and thus most processes begin before we start thinking
  • we are often stressed, which lets instincts run wild
  • we don’t actually think of our future selves as “us”
  • we want to feel good about things we have already done
  • we want to feel good about the people “in our tribe”

This is why your average person will see chocolate cake, feel hungry, eat it distractedly, feel briefly bad about it, then excuse it and seek validation from others for the excuses, even though it is not in their long-term interests to eat the cake. Quite simply, instincts and now won out over reason and the future. It is also why depressive cycles can be so strong, why we enjoy disassociative drugs, or why people with personality disorders often feel the best about themselves.

But there are ways to improve our ability to be rational, that is, to think about our actions in general, our future, and what we do… before we do it.

1. List your instincts and their intensity.

We all have three base instincts that give rise to other instinctive behaviours. Think of which apply to you, as you might find one or two do not, and think about how easy you find it to resist them.

1: Survive.

  • eat
  • hydrate
  • sleep
  • hide from danger

2: Reproduce.

  • partner
  • have sex
  • create safety
  • locate resources

3: Find worth.

  • relax
  • work at something you enjoy
  • feel pride
  • feel belonging

So, for example, I would say my drive to eat is very strong, whereas I can resist the need to drink or sleep for a while. I would also say my drive for sex is strong, but still far weaker than my drive to partner, and that my drive to partner comes before my drive to avoid danger or feel group belonging. This means I am very centered around what I eat and around Jon, and not easily swayed by groups or fear.

2. Consider the biological reasons for your instincts.

There is a biological reason for every instinct. Those you feel intensely are probably there for two reasons:

  1. They are hardwired in almost every human.
  2. They were reinforced during your childhood.

For instance, a childhood lacking much parental security, group solidarity and physical resources has made me very prone to disordered eating and eager to attach to one person very intensely. Both are at their core instinctive, but they were reinforced later on.

Likewise, your instincts will have a purpose.

3. List your life goals and how instinct may interfere with them.

But not all instinct is good nowadays. We have an instinctive urge to get fat, because at times of scarcity, we never got too fat, just about fat enough to keep us through a famine. But today there are no famines and the instinct doesn’t work. Likewise for every instinct. Fear becomes paranoia, sexual need becomes single motherhood or multiple child benefit claims, desire for pride becomes arrogance, desire to belong becomes dependence. They can all become dysfunctional when let run wild.

4. Whenever you feel an urge, ask if it is instinct.

Now you know what they are, when you feel a pull towards something, ask yourself what instinct it could be based on. The urge to buy the latest smartphone may be a need to belong, or a need for a partner, or a need for sex. The urge to eat the chocolate cake may be a need for food, or for drink, or for safety. The urge to slap someone may be a need for belonging, or a sense of fear, or a spike of pride. Every self-destructive knee-jerk is your instincts screaming in confusion at the modern world.

5. Whenever you identify an instinctive drive, think long term.

You won’t catch every instinct, but you need to think long term as soon as you spot one. Think about your bank, or future purchases, or the group you belong to before buying the smartphone. Think about your weight, your health, or bad habit cycles before eating the cake. Think about social and legal repercussions, loss of friendship or the risk of physical harm before slapping someone. Ask yourself where your actions will take you, and whether you really want to be there.

In summary:

1: Know yourself.

2: Know your body.

3: Know your priorities.

4: Identify your problems.

5: Plan ahead.

Because it may be easier to rationalize, but it does nothing to help you better yourself.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

 

For help starting out homemaking, check out The ESSENTIAL Beginner Homemaker’s Guide. For help budgeting all your everday and not-so-everyday essentials, from food to transport to clothes, check out On A Budget: The good homemaker’s guide to economizing.

How To… overcome impulse buying.

Everyone impulse buys to a degree. When we have some spare money (or sometimes when we don’t!) and we see something on the shelf, in the window or on Pinterest that we want, a few times we will buy it. And every time we will feel the pull. But what if you could enjoy window shopping without coming home with anything? Or browse the supermarket and get only what you need? Or go charity shopping without buyer’s remorse? Or leaf through a magazine and not feel jealous? It is possible, but it involves some careful retraining.

1: Make lists.

The first trick is to make lists. We will look at a couple of sorts of lists but, as with organization and memory, writing any suitable lists can help you avoid distractions.

You will firstly write lists of what you need. The most common list in this category is the shopping list: what you set out to get. Another list is a general list, where you note what sort of things you need (vegetables, protein, soap), allowing you to go with cheaper or better options when available. And another of my favourites is a permissions list, where you note what things you can buy if you spot them, allowing you to buy things you can stock up on, like freezables, canned goods and soaps when they are cheap.

And next you will write lists of what you want. This list is composed over the course of a week. Do not use it to write down everything you see that you fancy, because this interferes with step 3 and can make you miserable. Instead, when you see something you want, forget about it and wait two or three days. If after that it’s still on your mind, write it down. At the end of every week, have a look online to see what is the best way of buying one of these and whether it’s worth it. Often you will forget about most things before the day is out and become disinterested in other things when you consider their impracticalities with a cool head.

2: D.I.Y.

The next stage is to look at your list of impractical wants and ask yourself what you can make. These are the best things to start with. Often newbie diyers throw themselves in the deep end, not by making something too complicated, but by making something they need, or making something from their want list that wouldn’t be terrible to buy. When you try and start with things you need, you feel too much urgency and may mess it up or lose hope. When you try and start with things you would have bought anyway you are setting a standard you are bound to fall below, as it was already cheap, practical and suitable enough.

But by starting with things you wouldn’t otherwise have, you can ease your way into D.I.Y. and make it more worth your while. This means that your confidence grows and you end up relegating more and more of your wants to the D.I.Y. list, leading to fewer impulse buys. (Though your impulse crafting may skyrocket!)

3: Abundance mentality.

This term is often associated with the PUA community’s idea of viewing sex as plentiful, to stop young men thirsting for it and letting that thirst blind them. But whatever angle you take on that definition, it also applies to other facets of life, especially buying. You most resent not getting something when you think you can’t. You most dwell on something when you’re scared you may never be able to get one again. You most want to buy the less you are allowed to buy. This is a perfectly logical pattern for humans. When we deprive ourselves of things, our primitive selves assume they are scarce and, therefore, conclude it is more vital to grab them when we can.

What you need to realize is that you can afford that cupcake maker, those shoes or that ham hock. The money is there. You just don’t need it or really want it. Even if you don’t have the money in the bank, remind yourself that it isn’t because you have no money, it’s almost certainly because you prioritized another luxury, like smoked salmon, a new bag or some yarn for knitting.

Even if you can’t actually afford that thing at the present moment, it is better to train yourself to assume you can afford it, but don’t really need or want it. That way you are less likely to impulse buy when it is on offer, or when you find a similar item!

4: The second trip.

This is something that can very quickly annoy people you shop with, so it’s best applied when you are out on your own. Every shop requires two trips.

When we are shopping because we need something, we often pick up things we may not need. Start at the tills and browse your way around the supermarket. Put the things you came in for at one side of the basket or trolley and the things you picked up at the other side. Then, make your way back the same way you came. Put back anything you have changed your mind about in this time. I have no idea why this works so much better than just not picking it up in the first place, but it does!

When we are browsing, we often find ourselves shopping. Sometimes this isn’t so bad for a bit of fun and when we find things we like, but shopping sprees are rightfully seen as binge activities by many. Again, start at the end of town where your car is or where you will exit. Work your way through the shops in order. Don’t buy anything, just enjoy  browsing, take mental note of the items you like and their prices and carry on. On your way back, don’t go into any shop where you didn’t find anything you still want. If anything is really pulling you, just pop into the shop and, looking at it in your hands, ask yourself if it’s worth the price.

Your double trips may seem excessive, but the amount of money, stress and confusion they spare is helpful beyond belief.

5: Allowance.

Another trick is to give yourself a random expenses allowance. The allowance isn’t the random part, the expenses are! When you tell yourself you are only allowed one frivolous item or spontaneous purchase a week, it makes it a lot easier to control pointless clutter and lots of tiny buys. When you tell yourself that you have £X to spend on unplanned purchases, you spend less on each item. Whatever your impulse problem is, place a restriction on it. Preferably at half or below half your current levels. Ideally down to £5-10 or one single item.

This on its own can be hard to keep up, but combined with double trips, shopping lists and a well-cultivated abundance mentality, it is fairly easy to stick to even a ridiculous restriction.

The one caution is not to restrict it to nothing. The reason for this is the “diet effect”. The same way that someone on a low-carb diet will eat an apple and throw the diet out of the window for a day, someone who is not allowed to spend spontaneously will pick up one unplanned item and find their basket full of twelve more unplanned items. Rather than do this, having a little leeway will help you focus and allow for human error.

6: Practical shopping.

One sort of impulse buy that we can let go a little and go crazy on is practical purchases. When you find things on your permissions list, don’t stop yourself getting them. If you find something you will genuinely make good use of within seven days, contemplate a little, but you’re likely better off getting it.

Sometimes, going on a shopping spree with “anything for the house” or “ten new shirts” in mind can be very similar to going on one where anything goes. Of course, minus the guilt trip afterwards!

And those are my six steps to defeating impulse buying!

What are your tricks for avoiding spontaneous spending? What things do you find harder and easier to resist? Do share in the comments!

TTFN and Happy Hunting.