Why you're going to buy something you didn't know you wanted

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During 2015, I made a conscious decision to reduce the number of emails I received from companies trying to sell me something. Before I made the cull, I was getting about 30 emails a day from reputable companies and I'm sure that if you check your inbox, you're probably getting emails from them too (don't let that take away from how special and important the emails make you feel!).

By consciously reviewing the emails I had signed up for (and those that I hadn't signed up for), I was able to reduce the volume of emails I received by over 200 a week (10,000 a year!) and although I really appreciate the time saved and a reduction in the distractions, the impact to my life is much more significant.

On the face of it, it doesn't sound like a big problem. We open the email, glance and then move on. But what happens behind the scenes - in our own minds - is profound. 

What the retailers don't want you to know when you sign up for their emails is that every time you see a product, it registers with your unconscious mind even if you're not consciously aware of it. And with the average email containing 5 or more products or services, you're getting bombarded with products every time you open an email. By my calculations, even when I was briefly scanning the emails I received, I was looking at more than a thousand products a week (30 emails a day x 5 items per email x 7 days a week) and, over the year, I was being force fed 54,600 products and services. Imagine going to a supermarket and just staring at that many products or services or sitting through that many commercials on TV/your favorite streaming service. You just wouldn't do it!

So what happens inside your head that makes this so impactful? As there's too much going on in the world for us to absorb, we filter what's happening to make sense of it all. Some gets deleted, some distorted and other parts generalized. This process happens at the unconscious level and so you don't have a conscious choice as to what goes where. The outcome is that we are left with internal representations of what we've seen and they are stored in our head. At the same time, although you may or may not consciously remember seeing that t-shirt or television or whatever it was from the last email you received, the memory is there in your unconscious mind and it can trigger what is known as a strategy.

Strategies are a sequence of internal and external representations that always lead to a specific outcome. You have strategies for everything you do. These are our internal processes; they are how we do what we do and we are not aware of most of our strategies at the conscious level. Possibly the most conscious strategy we might have manifests itself in our habits. Although we don’t really know what’s going on inside our mind - we just know the outcome - which might include chewing our nails or buying coffee on the way to work each morning.

A key strategy that companies take advantage of is our motivation strategy. This kicks in when we see something or hear about it, whether we've consciously chosen to buy it or not. Now it happens all the time, but when it comes to email, the profile is somewhat different. For example, you walk through a shopping center and see a new, big TV. A seed is planted in your mind about this new, amazing TV. You know that when you go to a shopping center that you are bound to see products on display and you expect that they are being put there to encourage you to buy them. Here's the thing though; the same happens when you're checking your email on the device you own and control and suddenly there's a kind note from a retailer with a picture of a product. You delete the email but by then it's too late. The seed is still planted and your motivation strategy has started.

When you're in work the next day, you happen to be browsing the internet during your break (or, perhaps not during a break) and you don't know why, but you start looking at TVs. Before you know it, you've identified the one you really want and you're ready to buy it. The TV is delivered the next week and you love it. But did you really need it?

In this case, the motivation strategy has been fulfilled and you have gone on to your buying strategy. That has also been fulfilled, which is why you've got a new TV in your home. And remember, this all started because you were sitting in your front room when you opened an email containing a picture and link to a new TV. (We haven't even got into how retailers use your online browsing history to target you with ads in unrelated browser windows, emails or snail mail, all of which are designed to trigger your motivation strategy even further and get you into that buying strategy as quickly as possible.)

Look around your home and think about how many things you really needed and how many you didn't need at all. Consider how you ended up buying them; maybe your motivation strategy was being played by one of those friendly companies that sends you emails.

The good news is that a trained professional can help you change your internal, unconscious strategies to include additional steps that will help you be successful. For example, you could add in an affordability check to any of the strategies, or you can add a different sense check that would limit the number of products/services that successfully transitioned from the motivation to buying strategy. That way, before you buy that new TV (or any other product or service), you would unconsciously check that you could afford it or that you truly needed it before clicking that check-out button. Wouldn't that be helpful?

The same applies to people who have an OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). This is caused by a recurring strategy that either never ends because it is on a loop or requires many more actions to be completed within the strategy than are truly necessary (e.g. turning a light off ten times or checking a door is closed properly thirty three times). This can be a terrible situation to face each day.

Now if you're reading this in the One Brit, No Bull newsletter, fear not! I'm happy if you read through the content each month or so and make changes in you life that make your life amazing even if you never decide to invest money on my one-to-one or corporate services. My aim is to help you and your best interests. So, you can keep your subscription active and not worry. If you're reading online, then I strongly suggest you sign up now to the free newsletter so you get all of the exclusive content that could change your life, knowing that there is actually value to what you'll be receiving and you might save a bunch of time, money and hassle by signing up.

So, next time you look to fill in an email subscription form, ask yourself whether you're ready to let the content into your unconscious mind. If not, or you'd like to save yourself a lot of time and effort, then don't subscribe and enjoy the freedom and savings, instead.

Rob Whitfield is the CEO and Founder of One Brit, No Bull, a coaching and corporate training company based in Los Angeles and operating worldwide. Rob can be contacted here or on (+1) 518 9NO BULL.

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As well as being an experienced management consultant and energetic public speaker, Rob Whitfield is a certified Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a certified Master Coach and a certified Master Practitioner of Hypnotherapy and Time Line Therapy. No Bull.