For many of us, online shopping was an issue long before Coronavirus touched our lives.
But now as the days stretch on and every day feels oddly like the last, many of us are seeking comfort by online boredom shopping.
At the heart of it, boredom shopping is like any other soft addiction–those seemingly harmless activities that we so often overdo from overshopping, too much social media, overwatching TV/news/youtube, over-snacking…and we don’t really realize the cost to us. They take time, cost money, numb our feelings, and mute our consciousness–and don’t really deliver what we hoped they would. Soft addictions like boredom shopping are something we do to fill a void. It doesn’t really bring us joy or fulfillment, but it temporarily scratches an itch. We get a little rush when we add an item to our cart. We feel a little thrill when we click the “place order” button.
But often, by the time our new toy arrives, the thrill has already worn off–or will soon. How many of us buy an item and leave it in the box or bag for days—even weeks? Or notice that the “new shiny object” isn’t so attractive after a short time?
More importantly, how many of us are shopping online to help us feel better when really it makes us feel more worried about our finances, more concerned about debt, and stressed out because we’re bringing more clutter into our lives? Shopping feels like a fun activity, but it can actually be terribly detrimental to our wellbeing.
If you’re struggling with soft addictions, particularly boredom shopping right now, you aren’t alone. Here’s how to address your shopping habit before it gets hard to control.
I don’t know about you, but my shopping habits have changed—and escalated—during the outbreak of Coronavirus.
When the outbreak first started, I found myself shopping for immune system boosters. I was looking for ways to stave off illness and methods for keeping my household and myself healthy. At first, I wasn’t shopping out of boredom so much as worry and fear. Shopping gave me a sense of control over a situation where I felt powerless.
Now, as time has gone on, many of us are finding ourselves shopping for different reasons. We’re locked down. We’re lonely. We might be feeling sad, scared, and even angry. Shopping becomes something that passes the time and offers a temporary mood boost.
We’re hungry for something, but what? We have a deeper yearning under this desire to buy. It’s boredom, yes, but it’s not JUST boredom. When we look at what’s going on and what we’re feeling, we may realize that it’s deeper than that.
After working mostly from home for the last several weeks, I’ve found myself looking for “comfortable, colorful clothing.” I’m seeking comfort, cheer, and a way to boost my mood. This desire is especially strong when the world seems dark and grey. Things are frightening and even painful. “Retail therapy” will help, right? The truth is, not really.
Retailers are wise to our online boredom shopping desires. In fact, as you may have noticed, often we’ll search for something we want to buy and see it appear again and again across our browsing—on Facebook ads, Instagram ads, or promotional emails. It’s almost like it’s calling to us.
While I won’t presume to explain the technical side of all of this, suffice it to say, retailers have built algorithms that track your clicks and searches. When you see or search for an item you desire, you’re likely to see it pop up again, and again, and again.
These popup commercials are continually feeding our desire to distract ourselves with some shopping. What’s more, because these are targeted to our search habits, it really feels like the options are speaking directly to our needs.
First, I was searching for vitamins and supplements. Then as I adjusted to working online, I started to get an influx of webinar accessories—headphones, speakers, and microphones. Now, I’ve been at it a while, and there’s that comfortable, colorful outfit I looked at a few days ago. So even if I didn’t “buy” right away, and gave myself more time to think about it, it keeps haunting me.
This is the wise way retailers market to us. When we’re bored and seeking escape, these ads become highly distracting.
So, what if we limit our distractions and unsubscribe from email lists? Can we insulate ourselves against these soft addictions?
Like a bag of chips, a pint of ice cream, the show we want to binge on Netflix, or our social media scrolling, avoiding soft addictions will only go so far. In fact, in most cases, avoidance isn’t practical, and it certainly doesn’t address the root cause of our desire.
I’ve found that often when I put items in my cart, I come back in a few days and wonder, “what was I thinking? I didn’t really want or need that item at all! Why did I think I wanted that?”
Retailers like Amazon make it easy with one-click buying, but if we take a step back, we can ask ourselves, what is it we’re really seeking?
To help you drill down and pinpoint your underlying yearnings, I’ve created a Soft Addictions Template. This free template will help you work through your feelings, identify mistaken beliefs, and discover positive alternatives to meet those deep hungers.
Shopping is really an attempt to be more connected with the outside world. We’re trying to feel a sense of connectedness with others or that we fit in with society. We may hope to become a better version of ourselves, thinking that if we just had this outfit, this car, this “thing”—whatever it is—we would be exactly who we want to be. But shopping can never really meet these deep desires.
But instead, we can ask ourselves, “what am I really feeling? What am I truly yearning for? Excitement? Engagement? How else could I meet those needs?”
Like any pleasure, shopping certainly isn’t wrong or “bad.” Eating ice cream or watching movies isn’t wrong or bad either. When carried out with purpose and intention, these activities can be nourishing, satisfying, and quite enjoyable. Soft addictions become a challenge when they turn disempowering.
It’s not that we need to rid ourselves of this “sin” of shopping. It’s normal human behavior. But if it’s damaging our self-esteem and our bank account, then we may need to take a step back. Is it distracting us from actions that are more empowering and uplifting? Are we using it as an escape?
Shopping ignites the pleasure center of our brain—the wanting center, which gets excited by the possibility of reward. We get a shot of dopamine that gives us a kind of “high”, but can never fully satisfy us. The wanting center does not have satiation built into it. It keeps us seeking and and shopping and clicking and buying, but never can deliver a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. More important is the yearning center of our brain, what the neuroscientists call the satisfaction center. This pleasure center actually gives us a nourishing pause and satiation. It is fueled by the neurotransmitters, opioids, which give us a sense of a satisfaction, a feeling of well-being. If there’s no satisfaction, we don’t feel contentment. We can shop and shop, but we’ll never feel that same sense of fulfillment.
When we actively engage to meet our deeper yearnings directly–the deep desires we have to connect, to matter, to be secure, to create, to express, to make a difference–then, we experience true satisfaction.
We can shop, but what if instead of shopping for new items, we shop for new experiences, new ideas, new creative expressions? For example, what if you look for different types of uplifting music? Or what if you explore ways to have a creative dinner with your spouse tonight? What if you look for new ways to connect with friends and family, even from a distance? All of these activities meet our deeper yearnings, activate the satisfaction center of our brains, touch our hearts, and uplift our spirits, and are much greater rewards than empty, boredom shopping!
The experience of Coronavirus has given us a powerful opportunity to learn more about who we are and what we really want out of life. In many ways, we’ve been given the blessing of taking a pause. The situation has forced us to evaluate what really matters to us. When we refocus our approach to bring more of those important things into our lives, we will automatically feel more satisfied and fulfilled. Finding new paths to connection and discovery will make us happier than anything we could put in our shopping cart.
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach. She is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.