The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Change. Change happens all the time…to everyone. Sometimes we have no choice in the matter, things change and we need to adapt. But that’s not the change I want to write about today. I want to discuss how to go about implementing a personal change when you just don’t know where to start. Or perhaps you have tried to change in the past, but have not succeeded and want to try again. I can relate to that since many years when my shopping was completely out of control, I so desperately wanted to change….and truly tried…yet time and time again could not. Of course there are people out there who will decide one day they are going to make a change, and just like that, do it. But for most of us change is difficult and takes time, practice, and dedication.
Change comes in all different sizes. Certainly changing my hair color has been much easier than changing my shopping habits. But either one requires ongoing maintenance. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and for a big change like overcoming an addiction, it is a lifelong project.
We are all different, and therefore, what works for some may not work for everyone. Here are a few ideas I’ve found useful in my own life as I set out to change my overspending and compulsive shopping tendencies. Although I write about change as it relates to my shopping recovery, I believe these tips would apply to any type of change a person wants to make within themselves.
1. Set a clear goal for what it is you’d like to change.
If your goal is to become a mindful shopper, then you need to ask yourself "what exactly does being a mindful shopper mean to you"? Does it mean you want to spend less on clothing? Do you want to only buy clothing for your real life and not a fantasy version of yourself? Do want to pair down the amount of items you own? Or do you simply want to stop making impulsive purchases? It can even mean all of those things or something else entirely. Be specific. Understand fully what you would like to achieve.
2. List the pros and the cons of making the change.
What do you have to gain by making the change? What do you have to lose? Don’t skip doing this even if you feel it is obvious. Creating this list will help make it very clear to you why you need to make the change, or perhaps it will reveal that you are not yet ready. Listing all the reasons you have for making the change will be a great reminder to you on those days when you feel like throwing the towel in. Additionally, being reminded of all the negative consequences that will occur (if you don’t change) may be an even greater impetus to get you started.
3. Set Subgoals and take small steps.
The definition of a subgoal (from Wiktionary) is “a lesser goal that forms part of a greater goal”.
If you were training to compete in your first triathlon you would not start off by running, cycling and swimming all in the first day. Instead, you would start by training individually for each segment. Training for each leg of the triathlon would be a subgoal. You would start small, working on each segment individually and then build your way up and bring it all together. The same approach is true for any goal we are trying to reach. We need to start with small steps. Small achievements will add up to big achievements.
Having a shopping addiction is a culmination of many things. The ultimate goal may be “To no longer be a compulsive shopper”, but in order to reach that goal we also need set up subgoals. These subgoals help us attain important tasks which ultimately leads to the change we are trying to make.
One of the first subgoals I set for myself was to stop spending more than my monthly budgeted amount. Changing the way I viewed a credit card was just one step in my recovery. There have been many other subgoals such as identifying and understanding my triggers, taking time off from any shopping, and learning to accept my emotions better.
Just like breaking down an ultimate goal into a series of smaller goals, we also need to take small steps to reach each goal. For instance, the first small (yet huge) step I took was to close out my Nordstrom credit card. Even after paying the card balance off, I knew that I could no longer have that card…it enabled me. Not having that card saved me a few times in my early months of recovery from compulsive purchases during trips to the mall.
More recently I set a goal to change my “down-time” routine to be more productive. One small step I took was a two week ban from reading/watching blogs and YouTube videos of my favorite fashion and beauty bloggers. These small steps all helped me to practice discipline, create new routines, and even to work through any emotions that resulted from the ban.
Another ongoing subgoal I set for myself is to go to the mall and accomplish only what I have to do…without any additional unplanned shopping. In one instance I had to visit the Apple store in the mall for a scheduled Genius Bar appointment. One small step I took was altering my usual parking spot and entrance route at the mall. Usually I always park by Nordstrom and enter the mall through Nordstrom. That was my route for many many years. But now if I am going to the mall (and shopping at Nordstroms is not part of my plan), I park and enter elsewhere. This was a small step that has proven very effective in avoiding any distractions walking past the clothing and shoe departments.
This same strategy can be applied to other changes. If my goal is to eat healthier, My first sub-goal might be to lower my sugar consumption. Then for that goal, my first small step might be to use less sugar in my coffee each day.
Bottom line here is to approach a big change as a series of smaller changes that you need to accomplish. This creates a more realistic, thoughtful, planned out approach for progression.
4. Visualize your life with the change.
Here’s an instance when a daydream can be a very helpful thing. Imagining a picture of how our life might be after making the change can help motivate and keep us on course. Having that vision of success is a great reminder to stick with your plan and make your daydream a reality. Positive visualization is even helpful with small goals. Here is a link to an article which provides techniques on how to use visualization to obtain your desires:
Currently, I have been imagining having a less full, yet more loved closet…I’m working toward getting there!
5. Get help and support
Don’t be afraid to need help. Needing help is not a sign of weakness, but rather courage. There are a multitude of reasons that have led to my over shopping, but I can assure you that it was never because I didn’t want to change. I simply didn’t know how to change. As with any addiction, saying “just don’t do it” is not enough. I needed to understand why I shop and what triggers me to shop, and then to learn how to handle each trigger. It is complex and it is work. Getting therapy and sticking to it has been instrumental for me. Besides therapy, there are so many books and other self-help programs out there. Just finding someone you trust and can talk to is a start. One of the best ways to remain accountable in any goal you set is to tell people about it. Let others know you are working on a change and let them help you.
6. Remind, Repeat and Refine.
You will need to remind yourself again and again of the steps you need to take or the adjustments you need to make. Whenever I choose to watch a YouTube fashion blogger, I have to remind myself not to get caught up in purchasing everything I like. I remind myself to use the videos as inspiration for putting together outfits. If I do love an item I see, then I remind myself to wait before rushing to purchase. Often when I let time pass before purchasing, I lose interest in the item or realize I truly don't need it. I have to remind myself everyday of all sorts of strategies that I follow to keep myself from overshopping.
Repetition helps to re-train our brain. We need to continue practicing over and over and over. One example, that I just mentioned in my own recovery, has been the practice of pausing before purchasing. At first, I wanted to resist this idea because it was really hard. I didn't want to give up the "instant gratification" of a purchase. But each time I successfully paused and used my urge strikes app or asked myself the important pre-purchase questions (click here to read my post on this), I saw that I gained more control over my shopping. I was able to snap myself out of the shopping daze and gain clarity over the situation. Through repetition, pausing has become much easier for me. I know. now that it is necessary and helpful, and I hope that one day it will just become second nature.
As you continue toward change, you may find that you need to adjust (or refine) your plan. Shopping bans were once useful for me, but I have since learned what I needed to from them. I also use to keep a daily log of all my shopping urges or emotions. This allowed me a way to express my feelings and those recorded thoughts were very useful in working with my therapist. I may still do this if I have a particularly tough day or have something I want to remember to write about , but it’s no longer a daily practice.
7. Remain Committed.
There are going to be moments when we just want to give up…times when we feel we just can’t change. I’ve been through these emotions on many occasions. Sometimes I’d become frustrated when I experienced an overwhelming amount of shopping urges. Or there were times when I gave in to shopping urges and ended up buying things I didn’t need again. This would lead me to feel that I was hopeless and would never improve. I had to stay strong and keep going. I had to remind myself of my successes and not wallow if I slipped up or took a step backwards.
Although I have come far in my own recovery, I still experience shopping urges and might still have instances where I shop too much. However, I believe that as I continue on this journey, those times will become less and less. I am not perfect. No-one is.
Let’s not try to be perfect..let’s just try to be the best we can each day.
Believe in yourself. Don’t let a bad time cause you to become hopeless and give up. Stay committed and remain on track. it’s important not to expect that everything is going to change overnight. Change requires work, persistence, and dedication.
With 2019 approaching quickly, now is the time to start thinking about New Year resolutions and aspects of our lives where we would like to make a change. I believe that most resolutions get lost early into the new year because people don’t plan properly to implement them. They make a quick “wish list”, but don’t really take the time to put together a course of action. Having the desire is only the first step of many steps we take in climbing the mountain of change that lies ahead. As we keep climbing, getter closer and closer to the top, we learn more about our amazing selves and all that we are capable of accomplishing!