❝People like us do things like this.❞ -Seth Godin
It's 2007, and I'm walking through one of the buildings in downtown Minneapolis when I see a car dealership. Something about me wants to walk in and take a look around. I never want to look around at a car dealership or any other place where I know aggressive salespeople will attack me as soon as I walk in the door. Yet, I walk in, and I have a look around. I'm looking for a new car.
This is interesting to me because it's so different from my normal behavior. Then it occurs to me that last weekend, one of the partners at my employer had everybody over for a poker game. I drive a 10-year-old Dodge Intrepid with a belt that occasionally squeals along with many other mechanical issues. Oddly, before that night, that was okay with me. However, nearly everybody from work was at his house, forcing me to see what kind of car everybody else drives.
Subconsciously, I told myself a story. I told myself that if I wanted to rise through the ranks of this firm, I had to do what the people at the top of the firm did. The most visible thing I could see was to drive a nicer car.
In other words, I wanted to belong to the group of people who drove nicer cars. People like that - partners at the firm, did things like this - drive nice cars.
OUR SIX BASIC NEEDS
Author and financial psychology pioneer Dr. Ted Klontz has distilled all our human needs down to six basic needs. There are many sub needs, of course, but our basic needs have the initials BASSPC:
B - Belonging is feeling that we are a part of a group.
A - Autonomy is the feeling that we can make our own choices.
S - Safety/Security is the feeling that we are not in danger.
S - Self-Expression is the feeling that we have been heard and understood.
P - Purpose is the feeling that we matter; that we live a meaningful life.
C - Connection is the feeling that we have interpersonal relationships.
Every one of our behaviors is a desperate attempt to meet one or more of these basic needs. When our brains feel that a need isn't being met, it becomes emotionally flooded as a way to get that missing need met.
BELONGING - "PEOPLE LIKE US..."
With the exception of possibly safety/security, because survival is such a strong instinct, belonging seems to be the easiest basic need to hijack. We have an innate need and desire to be a part of the group, whatever the group means to us. This can be as big as being a citizen of a country or as small as being a fan of a local sports team.
Being a part of the group feels good. Conversely, it can feel awkward when we are not in the group. This is particularly true if we want to be in the group (if we don't want to be in the group, it doesn't matter as much).
The group, although made up of individuals, has a set of social rules. Sometimes those are explicitly stated, and sometimes those are just implicit. Being in the group turns you from a "you" to an "us."
PERSUASION - "...DO THINGS LIKE THIS"
Once you start to see yourself as an "us," you'll be more likely to do what your group members do. Thus, if marketers can help define a group that you're not a part of but you want to be, they try to make it easy for you to do the kinds of things that the members of the group do. They effectively hijack your need for belonging in order to sell you something.
In other words, if they can help you see what kind of group you want to be in (people like us), then they can start to nudge you in the direction they want you to go (do things like this).
ANTIDOTE - PURPOSE AND INTENTION
This happens, it's very strong, and everybody is susceptible to it. How, then, can you guard yourself against this belonging hijack? The antidote is first to understand your financial purpose, what money needs to do for you. The second part is to make more intentional decisions.
If you know your financial purpose, you can use that as the lens through which you look at your financial transactions. Thus, if you feel compelled to purchase something, possibly because your need for belonging was hijacked, you can simply ask yourself if this decision or purchase you are about to make is in alignment with your financial purpose. Using your financial purpose as a guide is a great way to live more intentionally.
Living intentionally and making intentional choices is the opposite of making impulsive decisions. You can think about a stimulus and a response. If the response is too close to the stimulus, then that would be an impulsive reaction. Anything you can do to grow the space between stimulus and response will help you make a more intentional decision. An intentional decision is one where 1) you know you're making a decision and aren't being tricked, 2) you understand what the trade-offs are in making this decision, and 3) you willingly make the decision with your opportunity cost in mind.
INCREASING YOUR AWARENESS WITH CURIOSITY
A shortcut into intentionality and running decisions through the lens of your financial purpose is to get curious about things that seem out of place. It's common for many of us to avoid uncomfortable thoughts or not want to think about tough decisions.
But by shifting to a curiosity mindset, you get to lean into any interesting things that have happened. If you suddenly find yourself wanting a new car, for example, you can get curious about that desire. You can ask yourself if there's anything that's happened recently to make you want that car. You can try to understand why you want that new car. By getting curious and leaning into it rather than avoiding it, you increase your awareness of your finances.
Belonging is one of our core needs, and we have an inherent desire to meet that need. Marketers know this and will use our sense of belonging against us. Marketers know that "people like us do things like this," and they will work hard to make us feel like "people like us" so that we will "do things like this."
You only have one life; live intentionally.
If you know someone else who would benefit from reading this, please share it with them. Spread the word, if you think there's a word to spread.
Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Cialdini, Robert: Influence
Godin, Seth: This is Marketing
Klontz, Brad & Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.