Buying for your Ideal Self

As the New Year comes round, and we make ourselves a whole list of resolutions, we tend to also purchase products to fit our new lifestyle. At least the lifestyle we are going to pursue and think will last. How eternally optimistic we are.

Now going into a new phase of your life requires the right gear. Pregnant women buy maternity clothes to get ready for their new lifestyle (if we can call pregnancy a lifestyle). People who want to lose weight motivate themselves by buying clothing in sizes smaller than they are now. But does that actually work? Is this behaviour motivating, or demotivating us?

Buying for our ideal self does not need to be limited to clothing and direct appearance. It can also be about buying that (overpriced) Nutribullet because you have set yourself the resolution to eat healthier and cook more. And such a device is just so convenient, and so necessary in every 20-something year olds kitchen. Naturally.

So after a hard day at work, you go to the store (or let’s be realistic, you go online) and you check-out with said device. Now what?

I'm sure you have such a purchase, somewhere in your house. And I am saying somewhere in your house, because guess what? You have sort of forgotten where it is as you have tucked the thing away, because you never used it, and it was in the way. Gotcha.

If you were planning on purchasing for your ideal self to achieve your ideal self, get ready for disappointment my friend. Lifestyle changes, at least the sustainable ones, happen gradually. So just jumping into a whole new range of products to radically change your life might not nearly be as motivating as you had hoped. It might just end up being a constant reminder of how you failed to (radically) change your life, and how you have spent a significant amount of money on things you are never going to use. Oops.

So what can you do? This moves into the domain of habit formation. How do habits form? Easy. You have done an action, it was rewarding, it was a pleasurable experience and as such it released dopamine in the brain. This makes us want to do it again. Now that we expect the action to be pleasurable, the dopamine release is a bit less, however still enough to make the action pleasurable. As such we continue, again and again and again. It is how people get “hooked” on gaming, shopping, sex and gambling, all of which can turn into life-ruining addictions. Now this is the mere foundation of habit formation. Something just being pleasurable will not be sufficient for it to continue to occur. We also need to allow for the option of continuation. Now allowing might sound a bit passive, but it is quite active, as it entails setting the right scene, making sure everything is in place and allows for the action that is soon to be a habit to occur. For example, runners having running gear. Without the running gear, running in itself does become more difficult (yet not impossible). Maybe a better example are more extreme sports. Without climbing gear, going climbing becomes near impossible. And quite frankly, if you don't even have the stuff to do something properly at home, why bother going in the first place? As such, a habit won't form. There will be no repeated (pleasurable) action, as there are too many obstacles to overcome initially, without the proper preparation of owning the right materials. Similarly, and maybe a bit more accessible for most people: it is easier to be a coffee addict (habit!) when you have a fancy coffee machine in your own kitchen and can make it each morning. Or just pick it up from the Starbucks next to your own house, or even the cantine at work. It is easy to fulfill all the necessary preparation for the action to be done, repeated and become a habit. You understand where this is going right?

Now, before you invest all your money in expensive new stuff to make you ready for “the new you,” you might want to start out buying the bare necessities for what you need and get them rather cheaply. Get a random pair of trainers and use your own old(er) clothes to work out in, before you buy a whole new Nike outfit. If it turns out you won’t continue your habit of working out, you haven’t wasted hundreds of pounds. Don’t invest yet in all kitchen appliances known to mankind. See first if you actually bother using one new kitchen appliance and then delve in deeper into your Delia Smith fantasies. Allow for the habit to form, before investing more and more.

When it comes to habit formation, resolutions and wasting money, a lot of research has already been done when it comes to gym memberships. As part of their New Year’s resolutions, most people indicate that they want to be healthier, more active or just lose weight. And often these resolutions are followed by purchasing a year-long, rather expensive (all-inclusive?) gym membership. Why? Because we feel that in the moment we will make this work. We are motivated to reach our ideal. Two weeks later, however, after having been to the gym 4 times, we have had enough. The moment of motivation has passed. Within those 4 sessions we have made no progress, and we feel awful. Just like the Nutribullet, we tuck away our gym membership, somewhere deep in the back of our minds.

According to Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist, this is quite normal. You are not alone, and you won’t be for a while, as a New Year’s resolution with regards to exercise has to be made about five or six times before people actively stick with it. So that’s another five to six years before you actually have to hit the gym!

But seriously, if you are serious about becoming your ideal self, then read my previous article on making resolutions actually work out for you. So you will actually go and work out in your not-too-expensive new gym clothes, in your not-too-fancy new gym. Or whatever it is that will lead you to your ideal self.