From Chapter 2: What Hooks You and Unhooks You
Triggers and Aftershocks, Values and Vision
In the previous chapter, we looked from a broad psychological perspective at what lies behind overshopping. Now our focus narrows to the immediate precipitants, which we call “triggers,” and to the negative consequences of overshopping, which we call “aftershocks.” In this chapter, you investigate and document your personal triggers and aftershocks—and then you begin to connect the dots between them. You look at the overshopping sequence—triggers ➝ actions ➝ aftershocks—whose three elements unfold like a little Rube Goldberg machine: a squirrel drops a nut on a lever, the tripped lever releases a trapdoor, and a ballerina drops down onto a miniature hay bale. Triggers lead to overshopping, and overshopping leads to aftershocks.
Once you’ve worked with your triggers and aftershocks, you look at them within the context of your values and vision. Then, so you can make an informed decision about stopping, you identify and balance the benefits and costs, learn what to do when your heart and head disagree, and discover ways to maintain and boost your motivation. Finally, having learned about getting hooked and unhooked, you arm yourself against the inner grinches that may kick and scream (and try to steal from you) as you stop overshopping.
The Urge Strike: What's Triggering You?
A trigger is a starter, some stimulus that elicits a response, something that stirs you up, an itch that makes you want to scratch. It’s anything that inclines you in particular toward shopping: something you see or hear or think or feel or experience or remember that stimulates you. It can be as pointed and specific as a Sale sign or as all encompassing as the loss of a loved one. A trigger can lead directly and immediately to the action of buying—you pass a store window with an eye-catching display of the exact shoes you’ve coveted—or it may initiate a chain of intermediate steps that culminate in buying. (It’s worth noting that being in an emotionally or physically vulnerable state predisposes you to being triggered. Hungry, angry, lonely, tired—these and many more physical and emotional states are times to pause, to halt rather than do something impulsive. On a day when you’re feeling physically strong and in high self-esteem, it’s much less likely that your usual triggers will set you off.)
To organize our consideration of triggers, I’ve divided them into five types—situational, cognitive, interpersonal, emotional, and physical—and offered common examples of each in the self-recognition exercises below. As you read through the questions, statements, and phrases below, check off any that apply to you (even if not exactly). Then, dedicate a page in your Shopping Journal for a list of your triggers, copying any important ones from this exercise. Write only a word or a few words on each line, just enough to jog your memory, but make the list as clear and complete as you can. Put your most potent and/or typical triggers toward the top, and put down as many as you can think of. You might even want to paste in a visual reminder, something you’ve cut out from a magazine, perhaps, or a price tag, a receipt, a sketch, a business card, a piece of fabric—anything that will remind you of what you need to steer clear of. Throughout your work with this book, add additional triggers to the list as you discover them.
Common Situational Triggers
- If you see a Sale sign in a store window or get an announcement of a sale in the mail, do you have trouble passing it up?
- Do you almost always buy something new when you have an important party or event to attend?
- Do birthdays and other holidays lead you to overshop, either for yourself or for other people?
- Do you feel compelled to buy things you see in magazines or on television?
- Do you spend a lot of time looking through catalogs?
- Do you see someone wearing something and decide you have to have it?
- Does rainy, cloudy, or snowy weather bring out the shopper in you?
- Does being homebound (for whatever reason) cause you to shop?
- Does merely being at the computer tempt you to shop online?
- Does being off from work with no plans set you up for overshopping?
- Do you overshop when you go on vacation?
- Is your living space so cluttered and disorganized that you buy things you think you need but in fact already have?
Common Cognitive Triggers
- “If I don’t buy this DVD now, I’ll never be able to get it.”
- “I’ve done a terrific job on this paper; I deserve something special.”
- “I feel so guilty for yelling at my daughter that I’ve got to buy her that jacket she wants.”
- “I’ve kept my cool with my teenage son this week; I need a reward.”
- “Those sneakers [or earrings or gloves or boots] are so cool! I want a pair, too.”
- “I look terrible! Some Botox and some new makeup would help. This is an emergency. I’ll put it on my credit card.”
- “My Volvo has no sex appeal. I really want a Mercedes.”
- “When I find pants that make me look thin, I’d be a fool not to buy them.”
- “This high-end attaché case spells success to everyone who sees it. It’ll get me new accounts.”
- “I’m not going to retire for at least twenty-five years. Why start preparing now?”
- “I’ll never save up enough money for a trip to Japan. I might as well liquidate my vacation account and buy that fabulous designer suit.”
Common Interpersonal Triggers
- Do you shop when you’ve had a fight with a friend or a family member?
- Does someone’s commenting negatively—or positively— about your appearance send you shopping?
- Does wanting to fit in or impress your peers drive your shopping?
- Does being with a particular friend predispose you to go to the mall?
- Does seeing someone else get something you want lead you to overspend?
- A favorite salesperson calls to tell you that there’s something new in the store, “with your name on it.” Are you off and running?
- Is retail therapy your favorite response to a demanding or sick parent or child?
Common Emotional Triggers
- Life is looking pretty dull and gray to you. Does shopping always connect you with a brighter emotional shade?
- Something or someone is really annoying you. Do you shop to forget about it?
- It’s hard to shake the sadness that you’re feeling in your gut. Does this send you in search of mood-enhancing bargains?
- You’re feeling underconnected and lonely. Do you go shopping to be around other people and then find yourself buying?
- Do you habitually use people you pay—personal trainers, for example, or beauty experts, yoga instructors, dance teachers— to fill some kind of emotional void?
- You’re excited, maybe even euphoric. Does a mood like that send you shopping?
- You remember a happy experience—maybe even a good shopping trip. Do you shop to try to re-create those feelings?
- You feel stressed and overloaded. Do you find that one way to decompress is browsing (which in your case all too often leads to buying)?
- You often judge yourself: whatever goes wrong seems to be your fault. To drown out some of the self-blame, do you submerge yourself in stuff?
- You’re constantly hounded by thoughts about what you should or shouldn’t be doing and what you should or shouldn’t have done. Have you found that one of the only ways to keep such thoughts at bay is to get in touch with your inner shopper?
- You feel embarrassed or ashamed about some aspect of your behavior, character, or lifestyle. Do you use shopping as a way to try to cover it up?
- Whether vaguely or distinctly, you’re anxious and restless. Does shopping seem to calm you down?
- Do you think you have to keep buying gifts for friends, family, or coworkers, either in order to be liked or because you believe you owe it to them?
- You’re constantly comparing yourself with other people.
- Is shopping a way you try to silence your feelings of envy, jealousy, or inadequacy?
Common Physical Triggers
- You’re trying to watch your weight, and you’re feeling hungry.
- You shop in order to avoid eating.
- You’ve got a stress headache, and, rather than take care of yourself by lying down or taking aspirin, you figure you’ll distract yourself by browsing in a store with soft music.
- Your lower back is acting up again; one way to forget it temporarily is to spend an afternoon at the mall with some friends.
- It’s 3:00 a.m., and you’ve been tossing and turning for hours. Why not put on the TV and see what’s happening at QVC or HSN?
- You’re out with friends after work, and you’ve had a few drinks. On your walk to the train station, you see a pair of shoes you have no business buying, but the alcohol has affected your judgment.
And Then What Happens?
Aftershocks are the undesirable consequences of overshopping—the costs, whether financial or otherwise. Until now, the consequences of your overshopping, even if they haven’t been positive, have been positive enough for you to continue with this behavior. The fact that you’re working with this book, however, suggests that you’re beginning to recognize and face the aftershocks.
Shopping aftershocks span at least as wide a territory as triggers;
I’ve organized them into seven categories. The financial impact of your overshopping behavior is the most concrete and most countable aftershock, but it’s merely the visible tip of the iceberg. Lurking beneath are other, sometimes even more important costs—costs to your relationships, your emotional life, your work life, your physical body or your living space, your personal development, and your spirit.