How Attention Bias Makes You Fixate on Buying Unnecessary Things

Every few days, something new will catch my attention (or, in some cases, some old thing that has escaped my memory). Maybe it’s a movie. Maybe it’s a board game. Maybe this is a new gadget. Maybe it’s a book. Whatever it is, something about it grabs my attention.

This post was originally published on The Simple Dollar .

I am reading an article about this or watching a video dedicated to this issue, and suddenly this topic pops up in my mind. I will think about this throughout the day. When my thoughts wander, it often occurs to me that book or game that penetrates my conscious thought. I think about the topic he covers and how I would enjoy reading this book or playing this game.

The more I do this, the more I feel about the subject. The positive impact this subject could have on my life grows and grows in my mind, often to ridiculous proportions. This book would literally change my understanding of the world. This gadget will completely change how efficiently I can work and achieve results. This game will be a huge hit for my gaming group, will bring hours of fun, and will be playable over and over again.

Over time, these constant thoughts begin to over-inflate all the positive traits of the subject and completely wash away all the negative traits. I will notice that more and more people have this item or similar items. I find more and more indirect references to this subject in what I see and do. I am more and more convinced that I must have this subject.

More often than not, it all ends with a purchase. More often than I would have liked, after the purchase, this item really hasn’t made much of a difference in my life.

After a few days or a week, the whole cycle starts again with something new.

Sounds familiar? This is what is called attention bias at work. Here’s a description from Wikipedia:

Attention bias is the tendency for our perceptions to be influenced by our repetitive thoughts. For example, people who often think about their clothes pay more attention to other people’s clothes.

In other words, if you have repetitive positive thoughts about something, your overall impression of it will become more and more positive, and you will become more and more aware of it in the world. (The same is true – if you periodically have negative thoughts about something, your impression will become more and more negative, and you will also become more aware of it.)

As you can imagine, this is manifested not only in our desire to buy or own things. It manifests itself in things like our political convictions, our intellectual interests, and so on.

If we give our mental attention to something, our perception of it will change due to this prolonged attention, and this perception often becomes very exaggerated due to small details. The things we draw our attention to — often positive things if it’s what interests us or what we desire — tend to be disproportionate.

People often do this when they first fall in love with someone and begin to fall a little in love with that person. They will take on the positive traits they see in this person and will grow and grow until this person is placed on an unreal pedestal.

Let me give you another example from my hobby – board games. I could read on the Internet about a board game that sounds interesting. In my head, I imagine playing it with my play group. If the description is particularly interesting, my thoughts on the game will be very positive. If thoughts start to repeat itself, which means they pop up in my random thinking, it won’t take long before I start imagining the game being played over and over again and how it will become a huge hit for my game group and my family and how this will lead to a lot of great social and intellectual experiences. At the end of the day, if I’m not aware of what’s going on and do something to fix it, I think it won’t be difficult to spend some of the money on this game. When I do this – and I will often do it if I don’t do something with my biased attention – I almost always find that this is not the mega-hit I was hoping for.

Another example: I have a friend who is obsessed with playing his guitar. He spent absurd amounts of money on various instruments and various items to accompany them. He sees these huge differences between different guitars and different strings. Sure, sometimes I hear the differences between the two, but he’ll spend hundreds of dollars on a new guitar or modifying an old guitar just to make the change so minor that I literally can’t hear it. For him, the differences are enormous and very important; for me, since my focus is not on these differences, they essentially do not exist.

Think about your life. Have you ever been the victim of bias? Think about what you most wanted in your life. Have you over-exaggerated the positive aspects of this thing? Did you end up coaxing yourself into making a purchase or taking actions that you probably wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t exaggerated these positive traits?

This is an attention bias problem, and it occurs more often than you might think.

It’s worth taking the time to try to combat attention bias when it occurs in your life. It’s perfectly okay to have a deep interest in something, but when that deep interest distorts your buying habits into an area where you spend a lot of extra money on that interest, you can test if attention bias is affecting your spending and control that bias (and these additional costs). There are several ways to do this.

Talk to trusted people who are not as focused

If you are considering spending your hard-earned money on something that you have persuaded yourself into, stop before buying and talk to someone you trust first. Ask them what they think, but try not to upload the question. Get their opinion on what you are going to do or buy.

Make sure you use someone you really trust for this, because you need to trust what he says to you, even if it doesn’t match what you want to hear. Remember, they don’t lend themselves to attention bias like you might be, which is why they often see things outside the distorted mirror of a funny house, which can create attention bias.

One of the challenges is finding someone who knows a little about your area of ​​interest but is not as focused on it as you are. Find someone with a casual interest in the subject you are talking about. If you find someone with no interest, chances are good that they don’t understand what you are talking about. If you find someone with a very deep interest, they probably have many of the same attention biases that you do.

For example, I often use my wife for this. She has some interest in things that I am passionate about and knows about them, but she does not have such an ardent passion in many of these areas. So she’s a good person to help me figure out if something makes sense as a purchase or not.

Research and focus on criticism

Every time I find myself trapped in this cycle of overpricing a subject, I decide to start more research on the subject. In particular, I’m looking for negative feedback and criticism on this matter.

What’s not good about it? Are there other options that are better to choose (I especially like them, especially if the other options are those that I already own or with which I already have experience)? In what areas is this product not up to par?

I’ve found that over and over again negative feedback on a subject can ruin this fun home mirror quite effectively. It can bring me back to earth in regards to an item and make me see that it might not be a good idea to spend a lot of money on this item.

Give yourself a 30 day waiting period

I have called this concept the “ rule of thirty days, ” in the past, and it definitely holds true when dealing with attention bias. If you give yourself thirty days before you take any action on this purchase, your mind will have ample time to do other things – and it often does.

I’ve found that many things that grab my attention for a while tend to linger on it for a week or two, and then if I don’t act on that desire, it will naturally start to fade and my thoughts will switch. on other things. What I think is happening is that a mixture of other strategies plus my own subconscious are coming together to make me subconsciously realize that I am over-inflating this item, and when it returns to earth, I no longer have it. irresistible interest in her.

Thus, after thirty days, it becomes quite easy to say no to this item. I no longer exaggerate the positive features of the subject, and I have a much more realistic idea of ​​what this subject is and what role it will play in my life.

Time is one of the most effective responses to attention bias. If there is a true quality factor here, time will not slip away from it, but if it is just an inflated perspective due to your short-term focus, time will make those inflated traits disappear.

Intentionally Explore Other Interests

Whenever I find myself focusing on a particular subject, it’s usually because that particular area of ​​my life has been getting a lot of attention lately. For example, if I focus too much on board games, it means that I have been focusing heavily on board games lately, for good or bad.

Like many people, I want to lead a balanced life when it comes to my hobbies and personal interests, so whenever I see attention bias come to the fore, it’s a call to me to focus on other things for a while.

I will spend a few days hiking. I will spend several hours reading the book, although I could have spent it organizing or reading the rules of board games. I will do whatever I want, just not touching the area of ​​interest that made me fixate on this one purchase.

Almost always, deliberately focusing on these other areas of my life quickly weakens my attention bias. I take the item off the pedestal that I was so focused on and it quickly returns to normal proportions, which means I quickly lose interest in buying it.

Look at the realities of your life impartially.

How much time do I really spend playing board games? How much time do I actually spend watching movies, playing video games, or reading books? In fact, as much as I love doing these things, the time devoted to each of them in a particular month is actually quite short.

Now, how much time can I free up for this new purchase? It will take my time away from what I already have. I have board games that I haven’t played enough to explore the strategic corners. I have films that I watched once or not watched at all. I have several unread books and another library full of unread books.

The reality is that there really isn’t much room in my life to enjoy the many things I would buy, so I have to be very careful with additional purchases. I don’t have a lot of free time right now, so finding free time for this new thing is actually quite difficult.

Consider the opportunity cost

The phrase “opportunity cost” simply refers to the fact that whenever you spend time or money on something, it means that you cannot simultaneously spend that time or money on anything else, which is a hidden “cost.” use of this time. or energy.

For example, if I spend $ 1000 on a new TV, that means I can’t spend that $ 1000 on retirement, paying off a debt, or buying a new pair of hiking boots (and other $ 800 items).

When you fixate on something due to an attention bias, you may still be aware of the opportunity cost of buying that item, and quite often this knowledge is enough to sow the seeds of doubt in your purchase. You can of course buy this item that you are obsessed with, but look at what you cannot buy now as a result of this purchase.

This is a great trick to discourage yourself from making any purchases.

Take another action

Quite often, the pressure you put on yourself to buy this item because of your constant focus on it can be relieved by simply taking another action related to the item.

For example, you can add an item to your wishlist on Amazon instead of buying it, or you can take a photo of it and send to a friend who will someday buy it for you as a gift. You can write this down in your pocket notebook or diary.

Often, by taking some tangible action other than just thinking about an item, you can break whatever bubble of intense attention you have about that item. Just by doing something about it, you can feel relief from all this concentration. You have done something, so this is often enough.

I personally like the Amazon Wishlist strategy. I put things in there, and quite often my desire for this item fades very quickly.

Clear your mind

One of the best practices I’ve ever added to my life is focused meditation. I do this at least twice a day, and it has helped tremendously in removing distractions and focusing on the task at hand.

When I do focused meditation on a regular basis, I find that attention bias is much, much less severe in my life. I don’t just dwell on one thing and I don’t dwell on it. Instead, I find that I can hold my attention and focus on things without falling into the trap of over-inflating the positives.

In other words, focused meditation allows me to more rationally evaluate the positive and negative aspects of what I think about. This provides a kind of subconscious defense against falling into the attention bias trap.

If you want to try focused meditation, I recommend starting with Calm.com . It works on almost any device and provides excellent guided meditation for focusing attention.

Final thoughts

All of these strategies serve one purpose: they help fight attention bias. Attention bias is what happens when you over-focus on one thing, when you start to distort the true characteristics of that subject. You are exaggerating the importance of certain features compared to their actual importance compared to other features or other things in the real world, and this can easily lead to an incredibly strong urge to purchase that item.

Attention bias is something that happens to all of us. This can happen quite often for me if I don’t get ahead of him, which is why I use these strategies all the time to keep this at bay. I don’t want to fall into this mindset of excessive expectations, because it’s not only expensive, but it usually ends in disappointment – the money is gone, and I have something in my hands that did not match what I once expected. The honeymoon is over and I no longer have this bias.

If you find yourself in this cycle – get stuck on a particular item, end up persuading yourself to buy it, and then feel frustrated when the novelty wears off and you realize that it wasn’t all that was hacked – use some of the these strategies. They really help fight one of the main ingredients in this overspending recipe.

If I had to offer one tactic above all others, try focused meditation. I find it cleans up my thinking incredibly well and helps me see when I am trapped in attention bias. It also just helps me in my day to day life and helps me a lot to focus on work tasks.

Good luck!

Attention Bias: Why Are You Talking About Buying What You Do In Your Head … And How To Stop It | Simple dollar

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