Getting Rid of Want 1: Gratitude

SchumacherSiB200“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.”

– E. F. Schumacher (Economist, founder and exponent of “Buddhist Economics”)

Slowing down is a constant journey of discovery. This blog is as much a record of that journey as it as a place to offer advice, hints and strategies for how you can Slow Down.

The one thing I discovered about myself and the one thing I have been struggling to break is that I was a very “grass is greener” thinker. I was a marketers dream! As soon as I had something I would yearn for something new or something better! I always had the feeling that I was missing out on something and if I had “just one more thing” I would finally be happy.

Of course that never happens and all you do is want more and more. I know I am not alone! In fact that is typical of our high speed hare-brained society (and what our consumerist economy is based on – see my minor rant about toasters!). How far I had been distracted from my Buddhist studies in my early 20’s!!

So, how do you break that cycle of wanting and craving for something bigger, better, newer, faster?

Well first we have to understand why we crave those things:


A sneaky trick of our nervous system (that dates back to cave(wo)man days) is something called habituation. Basically, the way this works is that we stop consciously paying attention to, or ‘habituate’ repeated experience – what is around us everyday. But when something new turns up we pay attention to it.

This was a useful and important survival strategy. It allows the limited attention of the conscious mind to be available for spotting difference. And in cave(wo)men days difference could be a threat (or an opportunity to take advantage of).

The Reticular Activating System

Another part of our nervous system is called the “Reticular Activating System” or “RAS” for short. Its job is like the doorman of our conscious mind. It decides, from the billions (or something like that) of stimuli we are bombarded with makes it to our conscious awareness. It decides through a series of criteria, but mainly by what we deem to be “emotionally” important to us.

So, what we focus on we get more of. Ever bought a new piece of clothing or new car and suddenly seen it everywhere, even though you never noticed it before? That is because the RAS now deems it important and makes you consciously aware of it, therefore you notice it more. Make sense?

It is no wonder that consumerism has thrived, it plays on these 2 basic “cave (wo)man” parts of our nervous system! We are bombarded by very cleverly crafted adverts that tap straight into our emotional response, therefore tricking the RAS into making us pay attention to it.

And combined with the process of habituation, it makes us very aware of what we haven’t got. No wonder we crave new things all of the time!!

But the good news is that, once we are aware of them, we can control our RAS and habituation process to reduce or remove our cravings for the “next big thing”.

So how do we get around process and rewire our nervous system to stop (or reduce) habituation and get our RAS working for us and not against us?

Well, a process I discovered was, ironically, from that film “The Secret”, I am sure you know the one, the one that tells you that you can get everything you want just by thinking about it? You have to be very specific with your greed though…

Well, one of the (very few) sensible things they recommend in that film is the idea of the gratitude rock (although you don’t need a rock to do it).

All you need to do is be (consciously) grateful for what you have. Simple huh? How often are you grateful for what you have? How often do you sit down, look around and recognise how good life really is?

To start with, think of the things you take for granted. The things you really don’t think about, like the fact you have a house, you have your health (hopefully), you have food to eat. You have friends and people who care about you. The real basics. Then move onto the more “luxurious” things that you have (these are often the places we have the most craving to replace), you have access to a computer to be reading this. Which means you have access to all the knowledge that the internet has to offer.

Do it now, think of 10 things that you are grateful that you have. It can be as basic or as detailed as you want. I often spend 5 – 10 a day thinking of things I am really glad that I have got! Give it a go for a few weeks and see how much your craving and want reduces over that time.