Table of contents:

Why we buy unnecessary things and how to stop
Why we buy unnecessary things and how to stop

How we get into dopamine loops, ride in a van with an orchestra and become slaves to new robes.

Why we buy unnecessary things and how to stop doing it
Why we buy unnecessary things and how to stop doing it

You walk into the store for milk and bread and leave with shiny pink stilettos, a hula hoop, and two garden gnomes. And this despite the fact that the heels are not yours at all, and you do not have a summer residence. Let's figure out why this is happening.

Why do we buy unnecessary things

We need quick pleasures

Everyone wants to be happy. The sooner the better. A purchase, even an unnecessary one, is a burst of happiness, fast and affordable. Same as food, YouTube videos, Facebook likes, and PC games.

Wanting to get a dose of joy here and now, we do not think about the long term and are ready to give up something more if we still need to wait. Therefore, it is so difficult for many to save money: it will be possible to buy a car in a couple of years at best, but a set of 60 rolls will arrive in an hour and a half. This, by the way, is one of the many cognitive traps - overvaluation of discounts.

We become victims of it because of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which transmits signals between neurons in the central nervous system. Among other things, dopamine is an important part of the reward system. At first, scientists decided that it caused joy and pleasure.

Otherwise, why would experimental rats shock themselves 100 times per hour, stimulating the production of dopamine? But later it turned out - also thanks to not very ethical experiments on people - that he does not bring happiness.

Dopamine is responsible for feelings of desire and anticipation. That is, it only promises us pleasure, but does not give it.

Initially, dopamine was needed to force a person to act: to get food, to hunt, to seek shelter, to look for sexual partners - in other words, to survive and procreate. But now, when food can be bought in a store near our home, dopamine and the entire “reward system” play into the hands not of us, but of marketers and creators of social networks.

We are provoked with promises of pleasure - beautiful photos, delicious smells, discounts, promotions and tastings - and lured into the so-called dopamine loop. Sounds threatening, right? We get pleasure that promises us even more pleasure, and we cannot stop. We stick to YouTube for hours, opening video after video, flowing from department to department in the supermarket, raking soybean sprouts, sports water bottles and notebooks with cats into a cart.

Dopamine reward is one of the mechanisms of the limbic system, which is responsible for emotions. It is also called "hot" (as opposed to "cold" prefrontal cortex) because it responds to stimuli faster than we can realize it.

New items beckon us

“After the rebranding, the company will bring in more money!”, “The new technique will help you learn English easily!”, “If you update the system to the latest version, the phone will work faster!”, “Buy our new washing machine! It erases better than the old one, and you can also send stories from it! - all these are examples of an appeal to novelty - a cognitive trap, due to which it seems to us that everything new, be it an idea, a technique or a smartphone, is a priori better than the old.

It is the appeal to novelty that makes us mindlessly sweep gadgets off the shelves, chase clothes from the latest collections and throw things away because they are supposedly outdated.

Even the French philosopher Denis Diderot once fell into a similar trap. He bought a new robe - so luxurious that all the other garments on his background seemed too old. As a result, he even changed the furniture and paintings to match the new thing.

And he described his sufferings in the essay "Regret for my old dressing gown": "My old dressing gown was in full harmony with the trash surrounding me", and now "all harmony is broken." "I was the complete master of my old robe and became a slave to the new one." If something similar happened to you, know that you are the victim of the Diderot effect.

We depend on other people's opinions

In 1848, US presidential candidate Zachary Taylor used a band van for his election campaign. It was successful, Taylor became president, and other politicians adopted his idea. And the expression "jump on the bandwagon" has become stable in English. This is what they say about who wants to be part of the majority.

In other words, this trap can be called the effect of imitation or the effect of joining the majority. We want to be no worse than others and for this we buy what everyone has - what is fashionable and popular.

This effect is clearly illustrated by the queues for the new iPhone. Or groups of teenagers in identical sneakers and multi-colored hair.

This is not surprising: we all crave social approval, and conformity is an automatic reaction of the brain. Sometimes, on the contrary, we try to stand out by buying something that no one else has (the snob effect) or demonstrate our high status with the help of very expensive things (the Veblen effect). And this is also done for the sake of attention, acceptance and approval.

“If people are given the opportunity to do what they like, they tend to imitate each other’s actions,” wrote the American philosopher Eric Hoffer. His idea is repeated by the theory of information cascades.

When we make a choice, listening to someone else's opinion, we can involuntarily launch an information cascade: people ignore their thoughts and needs and make decisions over and over again, repeating the behavior of others. If someone in this chain makes a mistake, one mistake pulls others along with it. And all this can lead to collapse. For example, to a collapse in the stock exchange.

Psychologist Solomon Ash observed something similar during his experiments. The group was asked to compare the lengths of the lines in the two pictures. But most of the subjects were decoy ducks and deliberately answered incorrectly. When the turn came to the only real participant, he, under pressure from the others, also gave the wrong answer in 75% of cases.

We believe we did everything right

When we bring home a pile of unnecessary purchases, we can feel ashamed. But we push the feeling of awkwardness and frustration away and explain to ourselves that we did everything right and wasted money for a reason. Jeans that are two sizes smaller will motivate us to lose weight, and an expensive leather diary will definitely help to cope with procrastination.

It would be a huge mistake to refuse to buy, because you will no longer find such jeans and such a wonderful notebook. And this is also another trap - a distortion in the perception of the choice made.

You can consider it as a psychological defense: a person deceives himself so as not to experience negative emotions and not to suffer.

Or maybe the brain stores good and bad memories in different ways and reconstructs them in a positive way. So, during the experiment, the students were asked to recall their grades for the entire period of study. And many of them claimed that their grades were better than they really were.

By the way, there is a funny way to get rid of the illusion of the right choice - to wash your hands. In any case, the participants in the experiment managed to get rid of the misconceptions that their choice was correct. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the Lady Macbeth effect. Feeling shame or discomfort, a person seeks to wash in order to be cleansed of imaginary sins. Like a Shakespearean heroine who, after the murder, dreamed of bloody spots on her hands.

How to refuse such purchases

Avoid temptations

  • Make a grocery list before shopping and don't back down unless absolutely necessary.
  • Leave your bank cards at home and disable contactless payment services on your smartphone. Bring only cash with you - a fixed amount that will be enough for the planned purchases. Or set limits on your spending in Internet Bank.
  • Gather information and reviews about the product you want to buy in advance. The more time you spend in the store, the greater the risk that you will be persuaded to take an unnecessary item.
  • If you often scold yourself for rash spending in online stores, block yourself from making transactions online.
  • Don't go to stores on an empty stomach. Not only grocery stores, but also any others. Appetizing smells and images fire up the dopamine system and make you seek pleasure, which means buy-buy-buy.

Connect your imagination

Science journalist Irina Yakutenko in the book "Will and Self-Control" suggests not thinking about the positive qualities of the object of your desire, but instead focus on its abstract characteristics.

If you want to buy a new dress, you should not imagine how beautiful it will accentuate your figure, how the hem will flow with your every move, and what looks others will reward you with.

You can think of it as just a few pieces of fabric that were cut and sewn together in a garment factory, then brought to the store, steamed and hung on a hanger.

It's the same with gadgets. Marketers, forcing us to buy a new smartphone, talk about an ergonomic case, a bright screen, clear photos. To avoid the temptation, you should think that the phone is a box made of plastic and glass, inside of which are packed microcircuits and wiring.

During the famous marshmallow test, Walter Michel, a psychologist and self-control expert, invited some children to think about the most seductive qualities of this dessert - how tasty, soft, pleasant it is - and they could not resist the temptation and ate the sweetness. But those who imagined that the marshmallow is a fluffy cloud lasted much longer.

And also, fighting the temptation to buy something unnecessary, you can think about the bad. For example, you can colorfully imagine how you have to live up to your paycheck on bread and pasta alone. Then the limbic system, which usually makes us chase after pleasure, will work in the opposite direction and help you to be properly scared.

Look for sources of joy

Impulsive buying is often associated with a lack of positive emotions. You can make a list of the pleasures - other than shopping - that you can indulge in. And contact him every time there is an acute desire to buy something.

Fool the dopamine system

The main thing that makes us acquire unnecessary things is the thirst for momentary pleasures. It is fed by dopamine, which promises us pleasure and makes us buy too much, overeat, spend hours on social networks. It is almost impossible to fight this mechanism: nature invented it so that we would survive and not starve to death. But you can use dopamine to your advantage. Here is what Kelly McGonigal writes in the book "":

“We can learn from neuromarketing and try to 'dopamine' our least favorite activities. Unpleasant household chores can be made more attractive by instituting a prize for them. And if the rewards for actions are pushed into the distant future, you can squeeze out a little more dopamine from your neurons, dreaming about the time when the long-awaited reward for your efforts will come (as in a lottery advertisement)."