What supermarkets teach us about habits

8 mins read

Despite being only three months into the year, the chances are, that most people have already abandoned their new year resolutions. Crafted by our deepest desires, goals are set in place, sometimes daily, in order to achieve some semblance of achievement. Yet, again and again, many of us are failing to tick our To Dos off of our list.

The secret? Supermarkets.

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At first it may not be clear why supermarkets have anything to teach us about the way we think. What tactics do they use that anyone could possibly translate into positive habits? So many of the methods that they use to get us to buy things are reliant on our subconscious and therefore a lot of the time, we don’t even notice it happening. This article however will pick apart these tactics and use them to demonstrate the impact of our environment on the way we act.  

The first method we will analyse is shelf placement

Next time you are at your local shops, take a look at which products are displayed at eye level. Maybe even crouch down and check out what is taking up that bottom shelf. 

In many instances, supermarkets strategically place the more expensive, branded items at eye level in order to draw customers to the more profitable option. 

Now, knowing this might save you a bit of money. Scout the lower shelves for some bargains and forego those easy to grab middle shelf items, it might shave a few pounds of your bill. 

However, the main point that we can take away from this is simple. If there is an easier option available to us, we are more likely to grab it. 

As students, we are more finely tuned to calculating how much bang we can get for our buck, but how often are we picking up an item just because it’s the one most clearly presented to us? How often do we actually realise that we have done just that?

We need to approach our habits in the same way. 

Do you want to eat healthier? Hide away your crisps, display your fruit. Do you want to go to the gym more? Lay out your gym outfit so you are ready to go first thing in the morning. 

The fewer barriers that there are between you and your goal, the more likely you are to achieve it. 

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However, the inverse of this must also be considered. Building good habits is one thing, breaking bad habits is another. 

One simple solution when you find yourself snacking on biscuits and ice cream every day is simply not to buy them. Remove the temptation altogether. It feeds into this idea of: out of sight, out of mind. If they aren’t in the house, you can’t get them- unless you fancy trekking to the nearest shop, at which point you’ve probably decided they aren’t worth it. 

Remember, the easier it is to do something, the more likely it is to happen. By making it harder for you to complete a bad habit, you instantly lower the chances of it happening. 

Another way that supermarkets trick us into spending more, is by the impulse purchase worthy items stocked up at the tills. How many times have you seen a chocolate bar or a packet of gum at the checkout and grabbed some? They do that on purpose.

By making sure you eliminate the urge, you have a better chance of resisting those alluring wrappers. 

Eating before you go shopping is one easy fix. Ever heard the saying “your eyes are bigger than your belly”? Studies show that you will buy more food, the hungrier you are. 

The lesson here is simply to get ahead of those negative impulses. 

If you are a smoker who’s trying to quit, you might find your cravings worsen when you are stressed. By dealing with issues before they become too stressful, you can largely reduce that cue to start craving a cigarette. 

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If you binge eat when you’re bored, find other ways to occupy your time. Question whether you are really hungry or just bored. If the answer is bored, go for a walk, hang out with friends or catch up on reading (the latter may increase boredom so beware). Remove yourself from that initial offset of craving and replace that negative habit with a better one. 

For some of us, a food shop is a laborious task that is put off until the last can of baked beans has been devoured. One way to make it a quick in and out process, is to have an action plan; more commonly referred to as a shopping list. 

We write down what we want to get from the shops, clutching it as we wheel trollies through aisles, hoping to make the endless amble as efficient as possible. So why don’t we do the same with goals?

Instead of making goals a distant prospect, written down on the back page of a notebook you never look at, write them bold and bright somewhere where you will see them every day. By reminding yourself of these goals as often as possible, you are more likely to make decisions to fulfil the aims you have set out. 

It might not be obvious at first, but the subconscious parts of our mind that companies take advantage of, can be wielded by ourselves in a more productive manner. The takeaways are this: make good habits easy to do, make bad habits difficult, recognise and tackle impulse cues and have your goals clearly outlined. 

Find that old notebook shoved in the back of a closet, or under that avalanche of laundry, take another look at those resolutions and give them another chance. Keep supermarkets in mind and write up an action plan, who knows? This could be your fifth time lucky.

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Brig Secretary 2019-2020. Studying Politics BA(Hons).

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