Growing up I was taught to “mind your manners”, “mind your business” and “be mindful of others”, but I never heard of being a mindful shopper. Now, when reading about effective tools for avoiding overshopping, the words being mindful and mindfulness are always popping up. What exactly does it mean to be a mindful shopper? What is mindfulness and how do I get it? And if I do succeed at achieving mindfulness, will it really decrease my shopping desires? I decided to do a little research on the subject to see how I could learn to be a mindful shopper.
Let’s start with the basic question of what mindfulness really is. According to mindful.org, mindfulness can be defined as:
“the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Could we really learn to not over react or get overwhelmed about life? This seems almost impossible, but those who practice mindfulness insist we all have the ability to become present to the moment and achieved this. And if we can learn to stay in the moment, live the moment, then we can also realize that each moment passes into the next. No moment stays still. So when we are feeling anxious, lonely, or sad, we can recognize sooner that those moments will not last either, and therefore we need to “ride them out” and not react to them immediately. For those of us with compulsive and impulsive shopping tendencies, we usually react by buying something to make us feel better. If we can learn to “ride it out”, then we can avoid making these unnecessary purchases. Mindful shopping isn’t just about knowing what you need and what you don’t, or just about putting together a shopping plan and shopping strategy. It is also about learning to recognize our emotions, feelings, and becoming aware of all that is going on around us.
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness increases inner strength. It can make you more aware of the cause of shopping triggers which in turn helps to make better shopping choices. People who practice mindfulness are happier, less stressed, less anxious, and more in tune with themselves and the reasons for their choices.
Okay, sounds great…sign me up! How can I practice mindfulness? What do I need to do?
According to mindful.org here are the simple steps to practice mindfulness:
Although mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, for a beginner it is recommended to find a quiet, calm place to sit. You can be in a chair, or kneeling, or sitting on the floor. Any position is fine as long as you will be comfortable there for the entire time.
Set a time limit for yourself..whatever feels right for you. This can initially start small (like 5 minutes) and then increase over time if you’d like.
Focus on your breath as it enters and leaves your body.
Notice when your mind starts to wander. This will definitely happen. It is suppose to happen. Once you notice your mind has drifted, just direct it back to the breathing.
Be kind to yourself and your thoughts. Do not judge yourself or get frustrated that your mind won’t stay focused and keeps wandering off. The mind will try to go off to anywhere except the present. This is the point of practice..to catch your mind and bring it back. That is the essential moment..recognizing that your mind has wandered and bringing it back to the present. When emotions arise from those wandering thoughts, acknowledge them, and then let them pass, always bringing your mind back to the present moment.
The first thing to realize is that this truly is a “practice”. There is no need to run out and buy a mindfulness mat or pillow or redecorate a section of your house to create a “mindfulness room”. Mindfulness isn’t something we can purchase, or obtain without “doing the work”. It is not difficult work, but it will require time and commitment…yes, we must actually practice training ourselves to be more present, see what’s happening around us, creating distance between ourselves and how we may want to react.
In her book Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict, Avis Cardella writes about how mindful shopping helped her on the road to recovery. A few ways that mindfulness helped her maintain control over her shopping impulses are:
She became aware of the difference between her desires and her needs, and could determine when each was appropriate.
She was able to evaluate the meaning of a purchase beforehand, allowing her to become more discerning. She began to avoid buying things that had no real purpose or place in her life.
She no longer allowed the things she bought to define her.
She learned to no longer use shopping as an escape and wrote:
“Mindfulness also meant no longer using shopping as an escape hatch, an easy out whenever I was confronted with difficult emotions. I realized that in sidelining grief with shopping for all those years, I had ended up trapped in that emotion, like a fossil trapped in amber. I was unable to be fully present in my relationships and unable to move forward in my emotional life.”
Avis Cardella also mentions that becoming more mindful does not mean becoming perfect. She says:
“I am more aware, but still not perfect. And that's okay, because the biggest lesson of my new consumer behavior is that I don't need to be. There is such a thing as being enough and having enough. There is such as thing as being happy with what you have.”
Now, I understand better...practicing mindfulness is a type of meditation. Except, I never understood before how to really meditate and that is likely why it never worked for me. I was introduced to mediation in high school in a Zen class I had taken. Unfortunately, I believed I was a meditation failure because my mind would always wander. This experience prevented me from trying to practice meditation as I got older. I didn’t realize that a wandering mind was normal! I didn’t know that catching my thoughts and bringing myself back to focusing on my breathing over and over again was actually okay and beneficial and exactly what I should be doing! I always would claim “I can’t meditate. My brain won’t stop”. Now I know this may not be true…it’s not about my brain stopping…it’s about me controlling my rambling brain and bringing it back.
Before writing this post, I decided to take what I learned about mindfulness and put it to action. I sat in a chair in my bedroom during a quiet time of the day. I set my timer for five minutes, closed my eyes and begin breathing deeply in and out. I would repeat the words “breathe in, breathe out” in my head. It did not take very long before my thoughts began to wander. First, I started thinking of all the things I had to do that day. I dragged my brain back to the breathing. It then ran off in a different direction concerning itself with some anxiety I had been having. I acknowledge the anxiety and then I grabbed my brain back and pushed it toward the breathing. After a few moments it escaped again and I hooked it back. This cycle continued for the next few minutes and then seconds before my timer would have gone off, my phone rang (solictor calling!). I didn’t answer the phone, but my concentration was broken.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel much differently after that first meditation session. But I realize I need to give this some time. It seems like it should be easy, but as I witnessed, it is not. I asked my pilates trainer about meditation and she said it was a daily practice of hers. She warned me that it could be difficult at times and that like anything else “practice will improve my results”. I will continue to practice mindfulness each day, and hopefully in time I will begin to feel the benefits that others have. Next time though, I’ll remember to silence my phone!