Mindfulness & Shopping

“But it is a cold, lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy something, which does not represent your life and talent, but a goldsmith’s.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many people go into a state of mindless autopilot when shopping.  This is characterized by a sense of being numb, going through the motions, and engaging in compulsive behaviors.  It is the opposite of mindfulness.  Mindfulness involves complete awareness to the unfolding moment… noticing and welcoming all thoughts, feelings, and sensations with full clarity and without judgment.  It means being completely present.

Compulsive behaviors are repetitive and lack conscious awareness – they can be very difficult to overcome. Compulsive behaviors often cause suffering, grief, and the sense that you are not in control of your own behavior.  If you feel like you have a tendency to enter a “mindless” state of autopilot when shopping, cultivating a sense of mindfulness while shopping can be a wonderful way to help bring yourself fully into the present moment.

Siegel (2010) provides a brief thinking exercise in “The Mindfulness Solution” that can be helpful in walking through the actual process of making a purchase.  The idea is to become fully cognizant of the predictable phases involved in shopping and the short-lived gratification that often accompanies the final purchase.

Mindfulness Exercise: Shopping

1.  Imagine buying something new.  Notice the desire arise within you.

2.  Seek out and investigate the possibilities.  Notice the excitement building up.

3.  Make the purchase.  Notice the sense of gratification.

4.  Get used to having the new item around.  Notice the gratification fading.

5.  Imagine buying something else new and exciting.  Notice the desire arising all over again.

By applying mindful awareness to the process of shopping and buying “stuff” we are better able to see just how short-lived the actual enjoyment can be.  It is much like an intense wave of desire, excitement, gratification, and then boredom until the next “new thing” comes around.  This can create a sense of dissatisfaction with the present moment and lack of fulfillment.

When you get the urge to purchase things that you do not really need, try applying mindfulness to the process of making that purchase in your mind.  Visualize the process of making that purchase and imagine the stages of enjoyment that you will likely get from the product.  Really walk through the entire process.  Ask yourself if you still want to make that purchase.

There may be other feelings that come up when applying mindfulness to your shopping behaviors, such as guilt, shame, or anxiety over spending too much money.  Becoming more mindful of your thoughts and emotions before, during, and after making purchases can help you to feel more confident in the purchases that you do make, because you will have the knowledge that you were fully present and aware during that process.  With mindfulness, you are not “checked out” – you are fully involved in the moment.

When the application of mindful awareness becomes more natural, that deep feeling in your stomach of “what was I thinking when I bought that?” will gradually fade away.  Those situations will become more and more remote because, with mindfulness, you are fully present to the moment and conscious of your decision-making process.  No more auto-pilot.

Once you begin to become mindful during your shopping experiences, you will cultivate an increased awareness of your cravings and urges to buy “stuff.”  Mindfulness helps you to notice what is happening around you – fully and completely.  When you are able to distinguish between urges to buy simply for the sake of buying and a planned purchase of something that you truly want or need, those feelings of shame and guilt will begin to fade as well.

Mindfulness allows us to carve out a space between noticing what is happening around us and the choice that we make about how to proceed.  Without that crucial space between observation and decision-making, actions seem mindless and automatic.  Giving yourself the gift of mindfulness allows you to take back the reins of the decision-making process and mindfully choose.

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Siegel, R.D. (2010). The mindfulness solution: Everyday practices for everyday problems. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Featured image: Indoor Mall in Santa Fe, New Mexico Downtown Plaza by kevincole / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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