Updated: Oct 21, 2020
Have you gone through phases in your life where you decided you were spending too much money on something? Perhaps it's online shopping, the latte, the latest cookbook that promises you to serve dinner to your family in 30 minutes or less, or the impromptu pizza nights after a long day of homeschooling.
You wake up one morning, and you decide that you will stop spending money on these things and start saving for a rainy day, the next vacation, or the kid's college fund.
You think that you can turn on a switch within you, and next time you are faced with a decision to spend money, you will be able to say no and save money instead. It is as simple as that. And the truth is that you may be able to do it, but it will be short-lived as with fad diets. Sooner or later, you'll find yourself right where you started or may even gain a few additional pounds.
You want to cut back on your spending, and you cant' because you are turning on the wrong switch: WILLPOWER.
You programmed yourself to desire the latte, the new pair of shoes, and the comforting pizza nights. When you respond to desire with willpower, while it may work at the moment, long-term, your desire is growing stronger. It will eventually be so strong that you'll lose the battle, and you'll give in to your habitual spending.
Think about this for a moment. When was the last time you tried to stop doing something? Maybe it was eating dessert or sugar? Did you notice that almost immediately, the desire for brownies, ice cream, and other sugary goodies grew exponentially? You stop eating them, but you start to want them even more so than the day before you swore you would not eat another bite.
The same occurs when you attempt to stop overspending. When you are in the habit of shopping as a buffer (escaping your current emotional life), your dopamine receptors downregulate and require you to shop more often to get hits of dopamine so you can continue to feel better.
When you stop buying the latte or shopping online by resisting the desire to do so, also known as using willpower, not only does the desire for it grows but the deprivation that you feel also intensifies.
You may be familiar with the quote by psychologist Carl Jung "What you resist persists." This quote explains the effect of willpower.
When deprivation intensifies, you will soon seek out relief from it. Remember, what made you feel so good before? The latte, online shopping? Deprivation and the downregulation of your dopamine receptors perpetuate the buffering cycle because you are now feeling awful, and you know how to fix it instantly. You know how to get a dose of comfort and bliss.
You've been there before, so it's effortless to go back to that programming. And just like you went back to eating ice cream after intense feelings of deprivation, you give in to online shopping and your overspending habits.
The reason why willpower doesn't work is that we have a LIMITED amount of willpower. It is not a bottomless resource. Willpower takes so much effort, and we eventually run out of it.
We tend to use willpower throughout our day. It starts when the alarm goes off in the morning, and we "will" ourselves to get up and fix breakfast for the kids and get them ready for homeschooling. We use willpower to exercise when we don't feel like it. We use it to be more patient with our kids. The list is endless.
So when we are presented with the opportunity to buffer and tell ourselves that buying a pizza will solve all our problems and make us feel better, we give in. We had no willpower left to say no to the pizza and make spaghetti instead! It becomes too hard to resist the desire to spend money on something that will give us immediate gratification.
This is a battle that you will lose for as long as you use willpower to fight it. Resisting your desire to spend will cause you to be caught in the cycle of:
Trying to stop spending money
Feel intense deprivation
White knuckle your way through it
To the point where you run out of willpower
Feel out of control
Shop to feel better
Now we feel terrible because we can't stop spending
And shop some more to cover up this terrible feeling
I know you have no intention to perpetuate this cycle, and it's a very unconscious process. And this is why awareness is the first step to change. If you don't see how this is playing out in your life, you'll keep trying to solve it with the wrong approach. You know it's not working already because you find yourself right where you started or worse.
Here is the good news. There is no need for a battle or a fight. There is a different way; a better way. It does not involve resisting your desire. I teach it to my clients in my "Stop Overspending" Program, and I will introduce the concept in my next blog post.
In the meantime, if you are tired of using willpower to stop overspending and you are ready to start saving towards your emergency fund, dream vacation, kids' college, or retirement, click this link to schedule a time to chat.
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