Money Monday #4: Fallin' off the wagon
Somewhere at the end of week two of my 90-day shopping ban I fell off the wagon. It started with a run to the cafe for a bakery item on day 15 and I just never got back on track. I grabbed chai lattes, chicken Mcnuggets, and takeout Thai. I became an expert in “valid” reasons for going off budget.
In the end, days 20-25 were nothing but excuses. It was easier to seek comfort in food than deal with my discomfort. And it was easier to say “what the hell” than climb back on the wagon.
The postmortem: what exactly went wrong
During the early morning hours of the 15th, I woke to extremely painful menstrual cramps (TMI?). They kept me up for the rest of the night. I dragged myself to work, but I had zero appetite. The only thing that sounded remotely good was a pastry from the cafe across the street. Of course, if I was going to get a pastry I also had to get a chai latte.
With that one decision, I leapt off the shopping ban with abandon. Even though I had overspent my Fun Money fund, I went to the vending machine three more times over the next week. I stopped at McDonalds on my way to my weekend job. I NEVER eat at McDonalds.
The campus cafes saw my debit card twice more and I gorged on Chik-fil-A during my solo date night. Instead of making my planned fish tacos on Tuesday, I ordered takeout Thai. Takeout just felt right since we had been iced in all day. But there was plenty of food in the fridge.
I had obviously been consumed by the “What-The-Hell-Effect.”
We see this effect with dieting all the time. You stick to your diet for a week and then have a cookie at a birthday party. Then you rationalize having a slice of birthday cake, because what the hell, you’ve already ate off diet. And before you know it, you’ve binged all day and can’t find the motivation to get back on plan.
In The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal writes, “Giving in makes you feel bad about yourself, which motivates you to do something to feel better. And what’s the cheapest, fastest strategy for feeling better? Often the very thing you feel bad about ... It’s not the first giving-in that guarantees the bigger relapse. It’s the feelings of shame, guilt, loss of control and loss of hope that follow the first relapse.”
This psychological effect isn’t limited to dieting. It can happen anytime we decide to inhibit a behavior or choice. Stop drinking alcohol. Give up coffee. Go on a 90-day shopping ban.
Did I feel shame or guilt each time I bought more food? You betcha. Before I stopped at McDonalds, there was a battle raging in my head. A literal angel and devil duking it out. And I went with the devil.
Research finds that people who practice self-forgiveness for these transgressions are less likely to repeat the behavior. If I had acknowledged that first instance of going of plan, that first pastry and chai latte, with compassion and reflection, more than likely I would have gotten right back on plan.
Instead, I beat myself up. Which lead to shame and guilt. And how do I deal with discomfort?
My second lesson
If I ever doubted that I use food as comfort, this week dashed that idea. I felt horrible on that first day, physically and emotionally. And yes, nothing was appetizing. Except that pastry. I’m sure my body was craving the easy-to-digest carb, but there were many other choices I could have made.
Before going to work, I could have made some toast or ate a bowl of cereal. I could have made a green smoothie. All these options were available.
But I was seeking comfort. And I found it in processed sugars and a swipe of the debit card. I rationalized that I needed a treat, to splurge on myself because I deserved it.
As I ate that pastry, I knew it wasn’t the right choice. That I had consciously chosen the path away from the shopping ban and my intention to change my relationship with money. And I felt guilty.
I felt even more guilty when I realized the pastry was gone and I couldn’t remember what it tasted like. How much of treat is something if you don’t even remember the act of eating it.
And that lead to more guilt. The guilt, it gave the devil on my shoulder a boost each time I considered buying myself another treat. It was easier to seek comfort in my treats than take a moment to reflect on why I was needing comfort. And it was easier to buy another treat than to give myself a little compassion.
What’s the plan now
First, for the rest of the shopping ban I’ll be using the cash envelope system and I’m not going to carry my debit card. If I don’t have the cash, I can’t overspend.
Second, I need to remember why I’m doing this. Inhibition goals are more likely to have moments of “what-the-hell” than uninhibiting goals. I choose to call this ban the “I Have More Than Enough Challenge” for a reason. It’s not simply about not shopping, but rebuilding my relationship to money, to spending, and to the abundance that already exists in my life.
Third, look to my Feel Good List for free and healthier options to treat myself when I need comfort.
Last, and probably the most important, learn to sit with discomfort. Supposedly, all the enlightened people say discomfort loses its power when you sit with it. Perhaps I should give it a try instead of just reading about it.
Here’s looking to a more successful week four.