Want to know what matters to you in life? Have a look at what you buy each week.
That old phrase, ‘you are what you eat’ takes on a new meaning in the blog this week. Depending on who you are, you might pay very close attention, or hardly any at all, to what goes into your trolley. But even if food or healthy eating isn’t your ‘thing’, the fact is: you gotta eat. And with the array of foods on offer today, another fact is: you gotta choose. How do you decide which fruit, which treat, frozen or fresh? The fact that eating and shopping are non-negotiable activities for most of us means it’s a great place to uncover what matters to you.
Often, our values are expressed in the little, every day choices that we make. We make these choices so automatically, we don’t realise that we are actually acting on our values. Becoming aware of how we’re choosing brings us three opportunities. First, the chance to uncover what we’re currently saying we value through how we spend our money. Second, the chance to change that if we decide we don’t like it. Third, the chance to become aware of this opportunity to express what matters to us, and to take more enjoyment in the fact we get to make these choices – being able to be mindful of when we’re acting on our values. Often, a lack of awareness means we forget to enjoy these opportunities to express what matters to us.
What Your Trolley is Saying
Next time you go shopping, have a look at what drives your purchases. Below are several common ways of making a decision about what to buy in the supermarket, all of which reflect different values.
Convenience – If you buy products that save you time, what do you use that time for? Is it working more, taking care of your family, indulging a hobby? The activity/ies you do with the time you’re saving represent what you value.
Health Conscious – You buy products which represent the best value for your body nutritionally, with less importance on taste, price etc.
Creative – You buy products that allow you to have a role in creation: e.g. you make sauces or cakes from scratch, rather than buying them. You do that for that opportunity to create, and not because it’s cheaper or better for your body to do so.
Environmental – You shop based on whether a product is organic, or buy only what is grown locally, or choose recycled toilet paper and eco-friendly options.
Community - You buy local products because you want to support your local community (including feeling part of the’ community’ of your country) and the people who work in those local businesses.
Compassion – choosing vegetarian, free range, vegan options, or choosing products which donate some of their profits to charity.
Religion/spirituality – Do you respect the traditions of your religion/culture and choose Halal products, or always eat fish on Fridays?
Family – Do you buy certain brands because that’s what mum always buys, or eat certain foods because they connect you to your family (spaghetti Sundays or dahl at least once a week)?
What about Money?
Another important factor when shopping is money. There are a few different ways that money influences your purchases, and what that says about you. If you’re always buying the cheapest, it can be for a few reasons:
Honestly not having any spare money at all and needing to buy the cheapest products (see 'Keep it in Perspective' below).
Choosing to save money on food in order to spend it on something else you value (e.g. saving up for a house, for a holiday, to pay for your children’s education, donating to charity). If this is you, look at the area where the money is going to for a clue as to what you value.
Saving money for the sake of it (often based on fear, habit, or a lack of thought as to what values we would like to demonstrate– we want to change this one!)
But I don’t do my own shopping!
If someone else makes the food choices for you, or if you buy the cheapest out of habit rather than need, then take a moment to imagine how you’d like to be. What would you buy if you were consciously making purchases? Considering the options above, what kind of shopper would you like to be, if you got the opportunity to take more control?
You can also do another version of this exercise by looking at your bank or credit card statements. After you’ve paid the bills, what are you spending your money on? Is that a fair representation of what matters to you in life? If not, then what needs to change?
You could also do an audit of your weekly schedule, and look at where your time goes each week. Break it down by activity, and then decide how important each activity is to you. Do the most important activities get the most time, or are you out of balance?
Where to from here?
Once you have an idea about what you’re saying you value based on your purchases, you get to make a decision: is it accurate, or not?
If it’s not, then use this as an opportunity to change. When our values and our actions are out of sync, we feel unhappy. So if you don’t like what you find, then be sure to change your actions so they fit with what does matter to you. Do some research, and start shopping like the kind of person you think you honestly are, whether that’s buying local, buying more vegetarian options, or starting to cut the food budget because you’ve realised how important giving to others is and you want some more cash for that.
If you’ve listened to the trolley and decided that yep, it’s got you nailed, then remember to shop and consume with gratitude and awareness of this fact. Feel good about the fact you’re eating locally grown fruit while you bite into it. Remember to feel grateful when you hand over your money. After all, having the opportunity to express what matters to you in life, even in something as seemingly simple and ordinary as the weekly groceries, is something to be thankful for!
Keep it in Perspective
Obviously, money (and time) are limited resources for most of us. So it’s okay if some, or even most of your purchases are driven by a lack of these, rather than your values. Sometimes it’s just about making little tweaks when you can, and feeling proud that you did so.
If you can only afford to make one values-based purchase a week, then that’s what you do. You do that consciously, and appreciate the opportunity in that moment, and again while you’re consuming that product. And I guarantee that doing that will feel better than having a whole lot of extra cash and spending it without thinking about it, and without appreciating the opportunity provided to you. Life is just as much about the little steps as the grand gestures.
Still struggling to work out what matters to you in life? Later on this year, I’ll be releasing a handbook packed full of helpful information, exercises and activities around how to find and live your values. To make sure you don’t miss out when it’s released, join my mailing list here: http://www.lanahallpsychology.com/subscribe.html
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.