Manipulate your influences

04.08.2016 |

Episode #4 of the course Financial wellbeing: How to worry less about money by Maureen McGuinness


Every day, we’re exposed to over 3,000 ads. Each of these ads has a central message: buy this and your life will be better. In other words, we’re regularly being told that we aren’t good enough. Given this message is reinforced daily, it’s unsurprising that we often pin our hopes on the external to feel fulfilled with life. More money will help. Finding my soul mate will help. Getting a great car will help.

Why is our default action to buy something when we feel stuck or dissatisfied? Why don’t we do something instead? How we experience purchases may be part of the problem.


Why we enjoy spending money

When we see something we want, the pleasure part of our brain–called the “nucleus accumbens”–is triggered. This patch of tissue is active when we receive a reward like food or money. It’s key to remember that although we may feel great immediately, the joy will soon wear off, and we’ll be left with the consequences of making the purchase. Especially if we didn’t really need to buy something in the first place.


The cycle of consumerism

Hedonic adaptation is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. Put simpler: whatever happens to you, good or bad, you’ll quickly get used to it.

One study examined the happiness of lottery winners and paraplegics six months after the life-changing event. The study found that although both groups experience heightened emotions of elation or depression at the time of the event, six months later their emotions and happiness returned to a stable level. This study is important because it demonstrates how we’re built to adapt to any change in our circumstances whether it’s good or bad. In the long run, we won’t feel any differently.


The Promise of Transformation

Ads play up to our fears of inadequacy and not belonging. Look at the examples below:



Both of these ads are promising to fix something. It might only take a couple of days of feeling down for me to think I need something to make me look better. The ad from Lumity is offering me a simple enough solution to make me feel beautiful. Hugo Boss suggests that successful people use their cologne. We are not being persuaded to buy services or products. We are being persuaded to buy a lifestyle.


How to manipulate your influences

Notice. When you go about your activities today, pay special attention to people you come into contact with and places you visit. Is there something trying to get your attention in the form of an ad or message?

Consider. Consider the information being presented. What do you notice about the messaging? Is something being sold to you? If it weren’t for that ad, would you find genuine value in purchasing that product or service?

Accept or reject. After you’ve taken time to consider what’s being sold to you, you can either immediately accept or reject that the product or service will bring you value.

Delay purchase. If you decide that you accept that the product or service will bring you value, it’s too easy to purchase something immediately. Your nucleus accumbens will be firing away and trying to persuade that you must get that thing now, but resist the temptation. Write down whatever the item or service is and keep it safe. Make a rule that you can purchase that thing after it has been on your list for 30 days or more. After 30 days, you’ll have a clearer perspective on whether you really want the thing or whether it was just an impulse purchase.


Recommended book

“Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics” by Richard H. Thaler


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