Desire Triggering

Today's post goes deeper into a specific aspect of consumer stoicism: the concept of desire triggering. We'll start with yet another intriguing quote from William Irvine's excellent book A Guide to the Good Life:

"When I go to a mall, for example, I don't buy things; instead, I look around me and am astonished by all the things for sale that I not only don't need but can't imagine myself wanting. My only entertainment at a mall is to watch the other mall-goers. Most of them, I suspect, come to the mall not because there is something specific that they need to buy. Rather, they come in the hope that doing so will trigger a desire for something that, before going to the mall, they didn't want. It might be a desire for a cashmere sweater, a set of socket wrenches, or the latest cell phone.

Why go out of their way to trigger a desire? Because if they trigger one, they can enjoy the rush that comes when they extinguish that desire by buying its object. It is a rush, of course that has as little to do with their long-term happiness as taking a hit of heroin has to do with the long-term happiness of a heroin addict."

Okay. Let's start off with the punch line of this post: If you allow your desires to be triggered, you are obeying someone else's instructions. You're literally obeying the indirect instructions of some company that made some thing or service. Worse, your ego shields you from this knowledge by making you believe you really really need that thing.

Worst of all, you need to work to earn money to pay for that thing, which means you will spend still more of your time obeying--in this case, your boss or your company. This neatly completes the circle of disempowerment.

This is why desire triggering is so toxic. Consumers who permit their desires to be triggered literally give away control over their life. Twice!

Which is why empowered consumers train themselves to respond differently to advertising. They make sure they are brand disloyal and never brainwashed by branding activity. And they understand the various Jedi mind tricks of the consumer products industry.

To these, let's add another (very) brief set of skills empowered consumers will want to cultivate:

1) The ability to recognize a "triggered desire" for a product or service the instant it happens, and to recognize that this desire was installed in your mind by a company seeking your obedience.

2) The ability to identify the underlying genuine desire (e.g., companionship, attention, love, friendship, joy, etc.) the product or service purports to satisfy.

3) Finally and most importantly, the empowered consumer will cultivate the ability to find a genuine way to satisfy the underlying desire. Preferably for free.

Readers, do you want to be controlled by your desires... such that you receive pleasure from "extinguishing" them? Is that pleasure even real?

Read Next: Why Can't I Find People Who Share My Values on Anti-Consumerism and Frugality?

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.


Lauren said...

I had a university room mate who had a "need it yesterday" rule: if she saw something and felt triggered to buy it (ie "wanted it") she asked herself if she needed it yesterday. If not, no sale. If I still want it the next day, it then passes the rule, but by then it's not an impulse purchase.

Lauren said...

(of course, that doesn't address the question as to whether the desire was intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. But usually the distance from idea to purchase allows for filtering through personal value assessments.)
I have forbidden myself to buy anything online after 10pm because I found that I was making decisions I would not have made at noon, probably because I was hoping to meet a need with shopping that was really best soothed with sleep.

Daniel said...

I like this technique you describe Lauren, thanks. The worst kind of desire to have triggered has got to be a random impulse purchase that you never would have thought of--without some "help" from a retailer or advertiser. Good comments.