Other Tricks To Reduce Habituation

In my last post we discussed how meditation can reduce habitation in general, but in particular in the context of “stuff”, the things we covet, buy and own; how we can reduce the neurological process whereby you get bored with what you have and start to yearn for more.

In this post I wanted to offer some additional strategies of how to reduce habituation and therefore craving when it comes to new stuff, other than mindful meditation (which can take awhile to kick in!)?

Often minimalist blogs will offer patronising, pragmatic advice about throwing out anything you haven’t used it in the last 12 months, stop drinking your daily cup of coffee and so on. The problem with this is it never that simple, it doesn’t address our emotional connection to stuff. So you either get all puritanical and throw things away and then frustrating and regretful for not keeping some things you really wanted, or you try, don’t throw anything away and feel like a failure.

There are very few people that can genuinely easily emotionally disconnect from their stuff. Those people tend to be able to do it as the disconnection has a higher emotional intensity – it has more meaning in their life – than keeping the stuff. One person is my good friend Rob Wringham of New Escapologist fame, another is Leo Babota of Zen Habits and another is my very good friend Andy who, even though he earns a six figure salary in his high powered job, can fit all his belongings in a bag. He genuinely prioritises experiences over stuff (something that Tim Ferriss and Mr Money Moustache also does) so spends his money on that.

So, here are a few different, fun (and sometimes downright odd, but don’t worry, no one is watching) ways you can reduce habituation and be grateful for what you have.

1. A Gratitude List

If you can’t be happy with what you have got, how can you be happy with more of it.

The first thing you should do is the old classic. It is a class for a reason. It works. Simply start each day listing five things you are grateful for in your life. For the sake of this context, pick things that you own. It could be something as big as your house or your car, or a simple as picture, DVD, album or book you really like.

2. A Regret List

Yes, that’s right! Lets take some time to regret some old purchases.  Most “self help” advice focuses only on “good” emotions and tries to pretend “bad” emotions don’t exist. This denial and repression really isn’t helpful and explains why many “self help” advocates are a brittle bunch. “Bad” emotions can be equally (if not more) powerful to help create change. We all feel bad from time to time, the only shame is wasting it.

So, go to that junk draw with the old mobile phones, tablets, CD’s and so. Now go to your wardrobe and look at all those clothes and shoes you have that you no longer wear and don’t really like anymore. Think about the limited joy that you got from it before you got bored and tossed it aside, do a bit of maths, work out how much money you have wasted on it all. Keep that bad feeling in mind when you want something new – project into the future and imagine it sat in that junk draw unloved and wasted.

BONUS: As a bonus, when doing this exercise, take the money you would have spent on the item and put it in a savings account – see how much you save in a very short space of time. Does the balance of the money you are saving give you a better feeling than purchasing the item (HINT: sometimes figures on a screen can mean little. Translate that into something more emotionally impactful – how much money can you save and how many years less do you need to work before you retire?!)?

3. Don’t Buy It Straight Away

I learnt this one from Marcel Proust via the lovely and very clever Alain De Botton. Covet it, fantasies about, risk regret if it may not be available, really build that want and desire. If after a day or two your forget about the coveting, then you probably really didn’t want it in the first place, if after a few weeks the desire is still there go for your life and buy it, you will appreciate it more and for longer. If we just buy something we want straight away without building that good feeling, it will dissipate just as fast. It’s why rich people are bored all the time (I have only ever met a handful of truly happy rich people)

BONUS: As when doing the last exercise, take the money you would have spent on the item and put it in a savings account, leave it there whilst coveting the item, if the feeling dissipates and you don’t buy it, see how much you saved.

4. Window shop for it. Again

Just because you already own it, doesn’t mean you can’t (window) shop for it again. Sometimes, by just looking at the item in a shop or on a website (reading reviews and watching adverts) is enough to rekindle that feeling.

5. Repackage it and open it. Again

Want that “like new” hit again? Keep the packaging and when you find yourself become disinterested in the item, give it a good clean (see below), and package it all up again. Pop it to one side for a day or two and then reopen it and unpack it again. This tricks your brain into thinking you have got something new.

6. Clean it, look after it

I was a boy scout, I was taught to look after my kit and my kit will look after me. I learned to polish shoes and sew buttons on shirts and clean and brush and spit and polish.  Whether it is a pair of shoes or a car. If you take the time to cherish the item and clean it regularly, you will appreciate it for longer.

7. Cycle

If you have more than one of the thing (this is usually appropriate to clothes more than cars or houses…), then don’t wear it for a good while. Pop it at the back of the cupboard and ignore it. I recently rediscovered an old leather jacket that I bought probably 10 years ago, it had sat in the cupboard in the spare room for two years unloved. I dug it out whilst tidying the other day, fell back in love with it, gave it a bit of a clean and some TLC and have been wearing it every day since….

And there we have it, some alternative, simple (and in some cases quite daft – but it is OK, no one is looking) ways of reducing habitation, but remember to meditate, meditation is the key (and it really does make you cool, honest).