Almost one month after I bought my last purchase before starting a 6 month shopping fast, I already have an epic fail and subsequent learnings to report. Let's call it a missed start. And the important learning, probably key to succeeding not only in that kind of random fast experiment, but in any habit change, being to manage one's willpower resources.
The Shampoo That Started It AllOn the 18th of June, when I went on my final pre-fast shopping trip, I also replenished a few daily things to prepare for the fast. Only, l'Occitane was out of my almost depleted shampoo. I thought none of it, as that kind of daily purchase is allowed during my shopping fast.
In the meantime, I was already starting to consider moving toward natural body care products with less chemicals. When my assistant offered me an Aroma Box, natural ingredients to make my own products, I decided to start switching now.
I would use the shopping fast as a way to deplete my current stock, and replace each used up product with a simpler, more natural option. That's how I ended up, a mere week after starting the shopping fast, already researching natural shampoos.
The Epic FailAnd that's how I found this too perfect website: Ecocentric. This is exactly what I've been looking for as a conscious consumer. Based on a careful selection of brands, Ecocentric's objective is to offer the best of the organic and ethical market: no animal testing, fair trade products, a controlled production chain with fairly paid and treated workers, natural ingredients and high quality items. Needless to say, I am within their core marketing target.
I stumbled upon their natural shampoo section and ordered 30ml samples for tests. However, as I was looking for more information on their policy, I soon found myself checking out the rest of the site. Namely, their "ethical & eco fashion" section. Organic fabrics, ethical production, appealing aesthetics and prices made affordable by 70% off sales could only lead to the inevitable: I ordered two of them, a cardigan and a sleeveless top.
On Overestimating WillpowerHere is what really happened here: I trusted myself to be able to "just look". When I stumbled upon the above desirable objects, I started a battle of willpower. Me #1 mentioned the shopping fast and the 30 tops I already own, and me #2 argued that these were so adequate and would soon disappear from the face of Earth, and wouldn't I miss a great opportunity? At some point, the willpower required for me #1 to win got depleted, and I hit the purchase button.
That being said, if I hadn't seen these items, I wouldn't have bought nor missed them, as they don't fill a specific gap. In other words, if I hadn't been exposed to them, I wouldn't have needed willpower to stop myself from buying them in the first place.
Jess recently wrote about how self control, and subsequent willpower, is a finite resource that can get depleted over time. Resisting a temptation that is in front of you - may it be a piece of cake when you are on a low carb diet or a couch and TV when you are on a running training - requires willpower. If you are exposed to too many situations that require your willpower to resist, you are bound to give in and fail at some point.
Learning: you can't rely on willpower alone to succeed at your objective, whatever it is (a shopping fast, more sport, regular instrument or craft practice, better eating habits...) How many of us would have resisted the aforementioned purchase - 100% within our own criteria, plus reaching an affordable price thanks to sales - when the "buy" button is so close by?
On Underestimating TemptationAnother point worth noting is this one: when I decided to browse the other sections of the Ecocentric website, I knew the probability of finding something I liked was high, so I knew I might want something. I simply thought I would resist. I am doing a shopping fast, I won't buy anything. In other words, I underestimated the power of temptation, or, if you prefer, I overestimated my capacity to resist it. "I'm just looking". Right.
Jess calls this the Restraint Bias. It would seem our brain overestimates our capacity to resist temptation once we will be in front of the item. So we expose ourselves to high levels of temptation, certain that we will resist. I mean, a reseller of organic and ethical products? And I expected to browse their items safely? Really? Stupid restraint bias.
Learning: Do not expose yourself to temptation. And do not listen to yourself when your brain says "don't worry, you won't buy it". That sounds like an obvious thing to do when on a shopping fast - not enter shops and not browse online stores, especially our favourite ones. But I think the habit of browsing is so deeply integrated for most of us that we might not think much of it at first. At least, that's what happened to me.
Start PreparedFrench apprentie minimaliste blogger Eva warned me when I mentioned my shopping fast on my French blog: "be prepared", she told me. I thought the shopping fast rules were enough of a preparation, plus, it is an experiment, not a debt-induced necessity. I now think she was right. So many of our consumption habits are unconscious, if I really want to make it six months without purchasing anything other than daily necessities, I'll have to come prepared.
I am gathering some learnings for this first month of shopping fast - which I restarted after not only this one but two failures, the second of which I'm keeping for my next update - extra ideas to keep in mind so that you can start prepared, if you are tempted to join me in this experiment.
For now, the important learning to keep in mind is: start prepared, and not not underestimate the power of temptation over your willpower, no matter how motivated you feel. For those of you who have also started end of June/beginning of July, I'd love to hear your first impressions too.