An intentional wish list

#minimalism · July 2020 · 4 minute read

Generally, without checks and balances, I’m a rather bad consumer.

I’m impulsive, which means that the right Instagram ad can be quite dangerous for me. Also, I’m easily persuaded, so branding, FOMO, and other psychological tricks can push me to buy a wrong item for a reasonable need.

Being aware of my personality, I needed to find a mental framework that could help me become more intentional with my consumer habits, without — however — restricting my freedom.

Luckily, the model I came up with is quite simple: you just need to convince your future self by answering a couple of questions first.

An odd coincidence is that the very same biases that make me a bad consumer are also risk-factors on my job.

A mistake I’m likely to make, if I’m not careful, is to get overly excited when it comes to building new products. To have no thinking between idea and building — just raw, constant, creation. Many fellow startup founders suffer from the same condition.

The symptoms are very easy to spot:

  1. There’s no real problem behind the idea → the solution is coming before the problemThis usually means that people won’t care about what you are doing.

  2. The technology used is not the right one, and it’s been chosen just because it’s cool (you have no idea how often this happens) → implementation before solutionThe consequence is that the development ends up costing exponentially more than what it should.

As you can tell, the connection between bad startup management and bad consumer habits is striking: when you buy something you don’t need, you’re putting a solution before a problem. When you are buying an overpriced item because you’re in love with a brand, you’re putting the implementation before the solution.

Luckily, these are known biases in the startup literature, with known fixes. Most of the times, you just need to ask yourself the right questions.

The very same questions can be deployed to become a more conscious consumer.

An intentional wish list

Simple things work better, so the foundation of the system is just a wish list.

First, I put in the list everything that I’d like to buy and that would cost me more than 30$. The limit prevents the system from becoming too bloated, and I rarely buy trivial frippery. Also, in my experience small purchases are not really moving the needle when it comes to financial, environmental and physical allocation impact.

There’s no limit to the amount or the nature of what I put in it: if it implies a monetary transaction of more than 30$, it goes in there.

Before granting myself permission to buy something, I then need to answer two questions:

  1. It sucks that…

  2. It’s the best option because…

The first one is taken directly from Dan Shipper — a former startup founder turned leading expert in productivity and personal development. It-sucks-that helps diagnose true problems, and be sure that you’re not tricking yourself into buying something you don’t really need (or build something people don’t really want, for that matter).

The second helps make sure that the purchase is the best choice among those available, and you don’t fall trap of dark patterns like artificial luxury.

The wish list then looks like this:

Why this works

By answering those two questions, I effectively make the case for the purchase in front of my future self: I argue with him about the reasons why I need to buy the thing. If my future self deems the reasons valid, then I actually move forward with the transaction.

The system reduces the dopamine derived from the purchase: it’s an analytical transaction, not impulsive buying. I noticed that I crave less the moment when the box will be delivered: at some level, it’s like I already solved the problem I wanted to fix.

It also intrinsically reduces impulsive purchases, as it takes time to go through the process.

It’s not a big deal. At the end of the day, it’s just a wish list with some bells and whistles. But trust me: it’s good enough to do the trick.

Try it and let me know!

A copy of this post first appeared in the MyStvff newsletter, from my good friends Kev, Mathilde and Max.

I'm on Twitter at @giansegato. Comments and feedback are more than welcome.

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