Caught in the Consumerism Trap? Here’s How to Change Your Behavior

Saturdays are Personal Change Day at In addition to my work with organizations, I am very interested in personal development and personal change management.  Once a week I will post an article or links about the fine art of making changes in our personal lives. Have a topic you’d like me to cover? Leave a comment on this post.

Have you ever gone shopping just because you’re bored? Do you have a closet full of perfectly good clothes and “nothing to wear?” You may be caught in consumerism. The good news is that there is a logical explanation – and a way to change. The best news is, it won’t cost you a dime ;)

Humans Crave Change
In the change management field there are volumes written about resistance to change. You would think that humans are hard-wired to dig our heels in and refuse all types of change in all circumstances. This is far from the truth.

The human brain actually seeks novelty. It stimulates all kinds of happy-making chemicals in our brain (things like dopamine and endorphins). We will do a lot of things to boost our levels of these chemicals. Some of them are pretty crazy (such as jumping out of perfectly good airplanes). Others seems normal on the surface, like buying a new pair of jeans, even though you already have 4 or 5 pairs. Over the course of a human life, this translates into a lot of potentially interesting experiences and piles and piles of new stuff.

It goes almost without saying that most of the media that we consume is designed to encourage us to consume more and more products and stimulate all those brain chemicals. According to the marketing group Yankelovich, the average person (I refuse to call people “consumers”) in the United States in 2005 was exposed to 3,500 to 5000 marketing messages per day. This is up from 500 to 2000 in the 1970s. This is great news for marketers, but it may be making junkies of us all.

Focus on What You’ve Got

My point in writing about consumerism is because I believe that it induces a mindset of lack, rather than of abundance.  The entire basis of advertisements a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear and marketing is to get you to want what you don’t have. This is particularly damaging to people in developed countries because most of us have more than enough resources available to us to live a materially comfortable life. At the very least, most of us are doing okay on the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy. With sufficient food, shelter, clothing, and even safety, there isn’t a whole lot more that we have to have to free up enough psychological attention to ascend the additional levels of the pyramid such as Love and Self Esteem.

Now, I’m just as guilty of focusing on getting stuff as most people. I have a long list of vacations I want to take, restaurants I want to try, wine I want to drink, and shiny gadgets I want to own. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to realize that taking up mindspace with thoughts like that can distract me from what I really want, which is to add value to the world while growing as a person. If I pay attention to my surroundings, I realize that the obstacles preventing me from doing this have nothing to do with possessions and credit card charges. I have all the material possessions I need to create the life I want!

This is an incredibly freeing thought, and it’s the first step I’ve taken down the road to creating an abundance mindset. For those unfamiliar with this concept, the abundance mindset refers to knowing that you have every thing you need available to you in some form or another. Some of the explanations I’ve read get a little New Age-y for my liking, but it all boils down to having the inner confidence to know that through creativity, work and an expectation that your needs will be met, you can achieve whatever you desire.

It is a huge advantage in life to have an abundance mindset because it keeps you focused on finding ways to use what is available to you to solve any problems you may have. For example, I used to get a little freaked out every time something went wrong with my car. I do a LOT of driving and not having a car available is a big disruption. With an abundance mindset, I can realize all of the resources available to me to take care of anything that might go wrong. I can borrow a car from someone, telecommute until my car gets fixed, search the Internet for quick repairs to keep the car moving until I can get it properly serviced, etc. There are many solutions available, so I just don’t have to worry about it anymore.

Buy Nothing Today

So, how can you practice abundance thinking in your daily life?

Just… don’t… buy… it

Try to go 24 hours straight without buying anything – no groceries, no coffee, no gasoline. Nothing. If this sounds like an insurmountable challenge, here are a few tips to getting through the day.

  • Practice creative meal combinations. Unless you literally have no food in your home, you can get through a day without buying groceries. Even if you have to eat pancakes and green beans for dinner, you’ll be okay.
  • Entertain yourself with things you’ve already got. How many unread books, unbeaten video games, and unwatched DVD’s do you have floating around? Dig in the drawers and closets to see what you can turn up.
  • Invite friends over. Finish up the odds and ends of your beverage cabinet instead of stocking up on more mixers.
  • If your gas tank is on “E” think of other ways to get through the day without filling up or paying bus fare. Can you put off errands? Could you trade a ride for another service? Is your old bicycle still working?

The common theme running through all of these suggestions is to focus on what you have, rather than what you lack. If you practice this skill enough, you will become more creative and probably more aware of everything that is available to you. You may even end up with more money in your bank account AND a happier and more fulfilled life!