Christmas time is fast approaching. It’s a time to shop for presents and even get a few…or many… sit down with family and enjoy togetherness. We all love Christmas, but why?… Every year, we and everything around us is engaged in the holiday cheer and corporate enticed shopping sprees.
To me, Christmas looks like a well formed habit. It’s celebrated by our surroundings with a clear goal to get us to spend more than we should. Each year we spend hours in long lines to buy each other ridiculously expensive gifts, get together with family and open each gift with the hopes that it holds the next shiny thing…admit it, we love it!
Why are we susceptible to spend more during Christmas? Brands know that in order to make us buy more, they need to create and nourish the habit of over-shopping and over-spending…After all, that’s why we have credit cards. Corporations are always trying to entrench our habit forming mechanism and encouraging us to buy the newest shiniest toy around and push us to see the next big movie premiere …and Christmas is a wonderful opportunity.
There are various ways to make a habit stick and I won’t go into them since it’s a relatively short Christmas post and you’re probably in the frenzy as we speak. I want to discuss the common misconception: it’s not the reward that causes the habit, but rather the thrill of the hunt.
According to Professor Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, there are three stages to dopamine release when creating a habit; dopamine is the chemical that is responsible for reward-driven learning in the brain a.k.a the creation of habits.
- Anticipation of the signal
- The Action / Habit
- The reward
“Dopamine as it turns out is not about pleasure (reward); it’s about the anticipation of pleasure (Anticipation of the signal). It’s about the pursuit of happiness rather than happiness itself”.
The way our mind sees Christmas: prior to receiving the reward (giving and receiving gifts), the dopamine is released in anticipation of the signal (Corporation announcing the start of Christmas Sales, aka Black Friday), ultimately, nourishing the habit: shopping spree.
Let’s take it a level deeper. The shopping spree habit or the Hunt is further ingrained by what is known as the variable reward system. According to the variable reward system there are three types of rewards that govern our desire engine: the hunt, the tribal reward, the hunt reward and the reward of self. All are being capitalized upon by the marketing engines of corporations.
Corporations have identified and are nourishing this paradigm and are cashing in. They are creating the perfect hunting grounds, outfitted with beautiful malls (real and online), music, and ads. Their ads touch on the joys of sharing Christmas with friends and family (tribal reward) and of course, the joys of receiving and giving gifts (the reward of self).
I don’t want to change the Christmas habit; for good or bad; it’s a lot of Fun! Let’s learn from the pros and apply some tricks that will help us stick to our upcoming New Year’s resolution.
On how to create a new year’s resolution that will stick, read The Rewarding Habit of Rewarding Habits – Part 2. Until next time.