A Free 'Shopping App' to Guide You Through the Christmas Maze

At this time of year, as holiday shopping swings into gear, you’re under more pressure to buy than ever before.
  • Advertisers tell you to spend up on your family and friends to show how much you love them. 
  • Stores lure you in with tempting displays, subtle aromas, scarily good-looking staff and special offers.
  • Brands evoke strong moods, emotions and character traits that make you crave their products.
  • Christmas hype and preparation can make you feel confused, depressed, tired and emotionally overloaded.
  • You add to the mix by heaping guilt on yourself for not being a good enough parent or friend.
  • Your smartphone sends you constant inducements to enter stores, pick up merchandise, and take advantage of time-limited discounts.

Advertising companies have long employed psychologists to advise them on the emotions and thoughts that unconsciously govern the behaviour of consumers.

But their knowledge of what triggers consumer behaviour is becoming more and more sophisticated. The burgeoning science of neuromarketing uses scanning to measure changes in brain activity and physical responses to discover what parts of the brain are involved in the decision to buy. Brands and stores are making use of this knowledge to influence your behaviour in ways you’re probably not aware of.

With the smartphone revolution, marketing in the form of discount offers has never been more intimate and in-your-face. Even when the discount is genuine, the question is: do you really need and want the product? Or are you just buying it because your buttons are being pressed?

A free app that looks out for you

The news isn't all bad. The fact is, you already have an amazing 'app' that counteracts the marketing messages. It's called your intuition, it's totally free, and it's at your disposal 24 hours a day. And better still, you don't need a smartphone to use it, although it does help! (Not really – I’m just being silly.)

Many people aren't clear as to what intuition really is or whether they have it. Some scientists routinely confuse it with emotions, and therefore warn that you can't always trust your intuition. However, other scientists are starting to take notice. One writer, Paul Bernstein, describes it thus:

The appearance of accurate information in the mind of an individual ... which can be shown to have come not through the five senses, nor through a rearrangement of the individual's stored memory contents.
When we shop, we have access to a number of sources of information about what we truly need: our rational mind, our emotions and our intuition, or gut feeling. Our bodies also give us information, such as telling us we’re tired or hungry.

Shopping can produce a whole spectrum of emotions, or simply strengthen feelings you already have. You might feel irritated, sad, depressed, excited, confident, triumphant, disappointed, apprehensive, anxious, fearful or even self-hating.

Your rational mind can help you by finding and processing practical information about the products you’re planning to buy. You can also use it to help talk yourself out of a bad buy, but you may sometimes use it to rationalise buying something you don't need.

Underneath all the hoopla of what’s going on for us is a steady stream of inner wisdom. It always has our best interests at heart, and a better understanding of our financial situation than our conscious selves. It’s there all the time, and all we need to do to access it is slow down a bit and take the time to tune in.

How to use your shopping app

Practise mindful shopping. Slow down. Breathe. Go ‘home’ to yourself. Be aware of your body in space, the feel of your feet walking, your arms swinging. Make calming self-statements. Remember there are plenty of goods, enough time, and plenty to go around.

Focus on the experience of shopping and not just the outcome. Stay in the moment. Be nice to the hardworking retail staff. Practise not shoving aside other shoppers. Stay aware of your perceptions.

Get to know how emotions affect you when you shop. Emotions and intuition aren’t always in tune. Discover how your emotions work by going on a shopping expedition where you simply browse. Note how you react to finding goods you love. What happens to your body and brain when you contemplate a Gucci handbag or a pair of Italian loafers? How does feeling tired affect your emotional state, eg do you suddenly feel an urge to buy products you would ordinarily dismiss? Do you lose the plot if you shop for more than two hours? Use this information to help you plan your shopping so as to manage your emotions and minimise the negative ones.

Build a secure base from which your app can operate. Intuition and rational thinking aren’t usually opposed (although sometimes intuition can trump rational thinking). It really helps to have a structure so you know roughly how much you can spend, and what you want to buy in the short, medium and long term. Research big-ticket items before you buy them and use intuition to make the final decision. Create a budget and keep track of what you’ve allocated to different areas. Create a Priority List of goods you want (and presents you intend to give). Do these tasks mindfully, and remember both your budget and Priority List can be flexible and dynamic – you are allowed to change your mind!

Let go of outcomes. Practise ‘negative capability’. Try to accept that, however much you plan, your internal shopping app may have its own plans. It’s great to be organised, but try to let go of the outcome of your shopping expedition. Be open to accidental finds, and to the possibility that you may not come home with what you set out to get.

Get to know how your shopping app works. A great way to find out how your intuition operates is to find something you’re almost sure you want to buy. If you’ve decided it’s within your budget and done any necessary research, decide to mentally give it up. Put it back on the shelf, walk away from it, walk out of the store if you need to. If you're online, navigate away from the page by opening another tab, or take the item out of your shopping cart. Mentally tell yourself you are letting it go and see what your gut feeling tells you. If there is a very strong protest at a gut level, approach the item for a second time and see what happens.

Use your shopping app for all aspects of the shopping process. Use it to decide how you will shop, where you will shop and for how long. Use your app to decide if it’s worth going into individual stores. Listen to your app if it guides you to new ways of shopping, eg ethical and sustainable Christmas and holiday gifts, shopping with small retailers instead of big box stores, charity-based gifts, thrifting.

Use your app to help you avoid going with the herd. Be aware of the energies of others, and mentally separate them from your own. Remember they have their own agendas, and you’re biologically wired to want to follow your fellow creatures. But your internal shopping app can help you override this urge and only buy what’s right for you.

Use setbacks to become a more effective shopper. If you have an unpleasant shopping experience, use it as feedback to get to know yourself better. What are your triggers for overspending? What times of the day are best for you to shop? Could you set some limits on your online shopping? Remember, every shopping expedition can make you a more aware and effective shopper if you’re open to the lessons.

Until next time!

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