The Toughest Bad Habit to Kick

Originally published on December 15, 2014.

As I mentioned last week, I’m now five months into this yearlong ban on both shopping and takeout coffee. Thank you for being forgiving of the one coffee ban slip that occurred in October. You were all right about the fact that it happened absentmindedly, and I’ve tried to remain conscious of that mistake each time I’ve walked into a coffee shop since. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the shopping ban slip that took place a couple weeks ago. Nope, this one was deliberate…

First, some reminders: One month into the shopping ban, the only time I’d really felt the urge to shop and spend money was when I discovered new books I wanted to read. In the past, whenever I wanted a new book, I ordered it from Amazon or bought/downloaded it onto my e-reader. There were no questions asked. If I wanted a book, I bought it right away. So, in the first 31 days, my reaction to discovering new books I wanted was thinking “well, this sucks,” and then hosting a pity party for 1.

Three months into the shopping ban, I was still struggling with wanting to buy books. There was one time, in particular, when an author I love reduced one of his e-books to just $2.99. My “well, this sucks,” turned into “this $*#%^@! sucks,” but I still didn’t buy it. Beyond just books, a breakup proved to be another test that helped me discover one more of my bad habits: to shop when I am sad, in an attempt to feel better. But I pushed past that and came out stronger for it.

From these examples, you can see that the toughest part of the ban isn’t that I’m “going without” anything; it’s simply the act of trying to change my habits. Buying books whenever I wanted them is something I’ve been doing since I got my first credit card… that was 10 years ago. And we could go so far as to say I’ve always used consumption as a way to try to make myself feel better, whether it be with material goods, food, booze, etc. These habits are engrained in my system.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better and better at changing my tendencies to consume and turning them into good habits. I gave up (most) unhealthy foods, and rewarded myself with healthy recipes, workouts and more sleep. I also stopped drinking alcohol, which pays dividends all on its own. However, between the 3-month mark on this shopping ban and today, I’ve discovered one other bad habit of mine: talking myself into doing things I know I shouldn’t do.

How I Talked Myself into Shopping on Black Friday

The morning of Black Friday, I took to Twitter and shared all my thoughts on how ridiculous the day was. Unfortunately, that was also the same day I launched my Kobo Aura giveaway, and I realized I still hadn’t bought it. When I went to the website, I discovered they were on sale – from $139 down to just $99. This was obviously great news for Blonde on a Budget’s giveaway budget, but it piqued my own interest, as well. Here’s what started going through my head:

Omg. E-readers never go on sale! Not Kobo’s, anyway. This is incredible. And $40 is a huge discount! Ahhh, I should get one. Do I have $99 to spend right now, though? Yea, I could do that. But do I really need a new e-reader? The power button on mine is broken. It’s so annoying having to stick a pin in the reset button every time I want to turn it on. And the battery drains so quickly now. It used to last a whole month! I could remove all these daily annoyances from my life by buying one. Ugh, but the stupid shopping ban. I hate this! A new e-reader would be amazing. And the Aura’s are sleek and so much faster than mine. I’m not going to let the stupid ban stop me. I have $700 in my “shopping ban” savings account right now. I’m going to spend it on something one day, right? And when will the Aura ever be $99 again? Probably never.

…I then added 2 e-readers to my shopping cart, entered all my credit card and billing information, and submitted the order. As I was typing everything in, my hands were almost shaking at the thought that I was doing something wrong. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be shopping, but I’d convinced myself I needed to. Fortunately, almost as soon as I hit the “Submit Order” button, I realized what I’d done. In that moment, my train of thought stopped and moved onto the right track:

Cait, you don’t need a new e-reader! Yours is perfectly fine! So what if you have to stick a stupid pin in the reset button? It works fine, otherwise! And it takes just as much time to turn on doing that, as it did when the crappy power button used to work. It’s fine for now. It doesn’t need to be replaced – at least not until the shopping ban is over. Omg, this was a huge mistake. Please, Internet Gods, let me cancel my order.

The Internet Gods were on my side that morning, and I was able to remove 1 of the e-readers from my order. I then went back to Twitter and announced that, despite all my best efforts, Black Friday had nearly “got me”. I’m obviously happy I was able to correct my mistake here, so to speak, but I’m left fascinated by this bad habit of mine…

The Toughest Bad Habit to Kick

Throughout the shopping ban, I’ve talked myself out of dozens – maybe even hundreds – of purchases. Usually, I have no problem reminding myself of the ban and realizing I don’t actually need anything new to be happy. But shopping isn’t the only time I talk myself into doing things I know I shouldn’t do. On a consumption level, I used to talk myself into drinking more alcohol, and I still convince myself I “deserve” bad food sometimes. And I know I’m not alone in this.

Most of the decisions you need to make on a daily basis come with 2+ options (often good vs. bad), and you talk yourself into one of them. If you make a good decision, it’s usually because you have a very clear understanding of what you want the result to be (e.g. you choose to workout because you want to lose weight). If you opt for the bad choice, it’s often because you are struggling with “why” you would’ve taken the good route (e.g. you choose to eat junk food during your diet, because you’re not seeing results or you’re having a bad day). But you’ll also opt for the bad choice if you haven’t built good decision-making into your routine – a.k.a. if you haven’t made good choices a habit.

There are also some external factors, of course. For example, it’s been easy (or easier) for me to talk myself out of buying books, because I have so many on my bookshelf that I still haven’t read. However, when I saw the sale price for that e-reader, I realized I’d never seen it at that price before and convinced myself it would never be on sale again. Then there’s the family and friend factor. I’m lucky that most people encourage me to make good choices. Unfortunately, there will always be someone who will guide you to make the bad choice; to give into your cravings because “you deserve it”. But what you really deserve is to reap the rewards that come with making good choices.

I don’t know how long it takes to build a habit… some people say 14 days, 21 days, 30 days, 90 days. I’m 162 days into this shopping ban, and I still slipped up on Black Friday. What I do know is that I made the right decision when I cancelled my order. Since Black Friday, I’ve only turned on my e-reader twice, which shows that a new one wouldn’t have removed the “daily” annoyance I’d convinced myself I had. I also learned that I talk myself into doing things I shouldn’t do in all areas of my life. But I rewarded myself by putting $100 into my shopping ban savings account, which is now sitting at $800. And all I can do is keep moving forward, and try to make a habit out of making good choices.What was the last thing you talked yourself into doing, when you knew you shouldn’t?