The Psychology of Dress

The doctor is in... your closet!

I Want It...Now!

Sometimes better things do come to those who wait.

 

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Read Dr. B in the August issue of Cosmo (pgs 68-9)

Veruca Salt ain't got nothing on us. We are a society that revels in instant gratification. Our food is fast, our Internet is high speed, and our shipping is next day. If we don't have to wait for something why should we? What would be the point? Unfortunately, this desire to get things quickly goes beyond those items that make our lives easier, benefits our businesses, and adds greater fulfillment. Sometimes we want something instantly when it would be better for it to have happened more slowly...getting married, having children, leaving a job, having our dreams come true, even possessing our most coveted items. Sometimes better things do come to those who wait.

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It took an interaction with my Grammy to make me aware of how quickly we move. Guess I never took the time to consider it, go figure! She thoroughly enjoys watching "old time" movies, those which bring back memories of when she was younger. Like buoys in water, scenes from "pictures" as she calls them, are all connected unconsciously, under the water, to poignant moments in her life. When one memory is triggered, the others are also brought to the surface.

As I sat with her in my sunroom one Saturday after, I found that I was becoming more restless as the film progressed, while she was becoming more relaxed. "What is the freakin' plot of the movie?" "Let's get to the point already?" "Why the lengthy set up?" "What's with the excessively long pauses?" The slow motion pace of this motion picture was driving me mad! The lack of movement, that push that we are so accustomed to feeling in modern movies, was completely absent. The plot would unfold slowly and in order to experience this cinematic journey, I was required to slow down and watch. "Be patient, Jennifer and watch the movie!"

This experience led me to discover other times that I, or those around me, were uncomfortable with these lulls in our fast moving world. Silences in conversations drive people to fill the voids with meaningless dialogue. Open blocks of our schedule tempt us to fill the slots with activities. The time between desiring an item and having the funds to acquire it, urge us to buy now and pay later. Silence, times of nothingness, and waiting have become merely a waste of time. Unfortunately, even the mental space reserved for reflection, contemplation, and true meditation is limited to very small increments.

Specializing in the psychology of dress, I am privy to the inner sanctums of my clients' homes, the closet. Even in these private places, the ability to wait, be patient, and slow down, are absent. Drawers and shelves stuffed with clothes...and tags are still attached. Some are still wrapped tightly in their original shopping bags. Many of these items become part of an ever-increasing burden on my clients' credit card statements that, even after months, is still present. The only cure I can offer is to teach them how to stretch out the time between the desire to acquire and the purchase. Putting a larger space between point A and point B, over time, can successfully quell even the strongest shopping urge.

If we look at those, who Tom Brokaw considers to be the "Greatest Generation" born in the early part of the twentieth century, there is a consistent tendency to forgo instant gratification for the greater good, the larger picture, and the future. My Grammy never bought something she could not afford, from cashmere sweaters to the roof over her head, if she wanted it she would save her money, work extra hours, tighten her belt, and eventually buy...with cash. The concept of maintaining a balance was completely foreign to her. The space between the desire to act and the action was buffered by time, space, and thought.

As a woman obsessed with fashion, having to wait to buy something I want to wear is quite an impossibility. Why wait when I can technically have it now...with one swipe of a card? This impulse was put on hold when factors in my environment no longer supported the instant mindless purchase. "Sorry, kid, you've been cut off." Damn, my superego! Living with less was a cold hard reality, and I joined the many in our country who are part of that club. So how did I slow the space between points A and B? How did I quell my impulse to buy clothes? How did I find quiet in the noise?

Finding consistent inspiration If I was going to "suffer", I needed to find the fuel to continue my quest to delay instant gratification. For me and my "little shopping habit," I began watching Suze Orman and 'Til Debt Do Us Part weekly. I scoured websites that prompted a simple lifestyle and read about the benefits of resisting the shopping urge and living with less. After gathering enough data to support my behaviors, delaying my purchases, which once required a concerted effort, became instinctual.

Whether you are trying to delay dating, quitting, eating, etc. find information that clearly supports your efforts, normalizes your struggles, affirms your new behaviors, and strengthens the foundations of future efforts.

Living vicariously You can experience vicarious emotions just by witnessing another in the throes of them.  The thrill of a child learning to ride a bicycle, the devastation of someone who has lost a parent, the relief of an athlete completing a game. As part of our training, psychologists learn to experience the feeling of the patient in the room to become more effective practitioners. If we feel anxious in the room with a client, overly excited, confused, or elated, these are often the emotions that are brought in by the patient.

On my quest to thoughtfully buy rather than mindlessly buy, I used the shopping experiences of others. As I felt more secure in my saving convictions, I still craved the creative process of crafting a wardrobe. I began to shop with others to enjoy the thrill without the financial consequences. Once your new behaviors become a lifestyle, watching a friend enjoy serial dating or work, work, work, might be exciting to observe or talk about. As long as your friend doesn't need an intervention, you can bear witness without needing one yourself.

Scare tactics When it comes to stopping certain behaviors, scare tactics do not work. Lindstrom in 2006 conducted a brain imaging experiment to examine brain reactivity to cigarette warnings. Although the subjects reported a craving reduction, the nucleus accumbens of their brains, the craving center, was stimulated. Scaring without solutions, such as learning to "say no" or finding healthy alternatives, doesn't have the power to remove the desire or behavior. One could argue that this response to scare tactics was true for only those with addictions and not other repetitive unhealthy behaviors. As a person who loves spending on all things fashion related, I neither have an addiction nor am discussing addictions, and the scare tactic worked quite well on me and may work on you. When I was first trying to stop spending, watching stories of crazed shoppers overspending helped me avoid the stores. Hearing tales of foreclosure, credit card interest rates, draft fees, etc. kept me on the path toward frugal enlightenment. Number crunching my own budget, examining my retirement, pulling all the clothes I owned but never wore, acknowledging the treadmill of trend upkeep, and seeing what would happen to my bank account and closet if I actually bought everything I wanted, scared me straight.

So whether you are trying to find time for relaxation or avoid the impulse to overeat, watching another who is unable to slow down or stop, can let you see yourself if you don't hold onto your desire to make changes. In Tolkien's trilogy, Lord of the Rings, Frodo needed Gollum present so he could see what would happen to his own future if the Ring of Power was not destroyed.

Finding a worthy replacement Just removing behavior is not enough, having something in its place helps strengthen your resolve. Cutting back on my shopping was made easier by taking walks, having dinner in town, and cleaning my house. The distractors that had beneficial paybacks were highly effective.

What could your replacement behavior be? Maybe instead of immediately answering a deluge of email, tweets, and facebook announcements you take five minutes to just breathe. Instead of scarfing down you lunch, you take the full hour to eat outside. Maybe rather than watching the shopping channel, you have a dinner date with a friend. Rather than taking the call, focus on the current task. Rather than buying instant meals, you prepare one with your family.

Proclaiming the truth Being a faithful Suze Orman viewer, I was inspired by her season of "standing in your truth." What did that mean for me? Feeling totally comfortable owning my financial situation, the good and the bad, and letting others know when necessary. For example, when I was invited to go on a trip, honestly stating that did not fit in my budget. When asked for a donation, explaining that my funds were needed elsewhere. When planning my wedding, feeling comfortable saying "no" to over-the-top-suggestions.

Maybe your schedule is crammed due to an inability to say "no" rather than actual interest. Could it be that your desire to buy the latest item stems from insecurity rather than enjoyment? Is taking the time to find quiet difficult, because in those quiet moments painful thoughts rush in? There is no shame in acknowledging your reasons to yourself and others. You may find that you are not alone.

Finding the space between points A and B, between the desire and acting on the urge, can be a difficult and lifelong process....but it can be done. Just look at those before us who never had the choice. You will find that reflection, thoughtfulness, introspection, slowing down, self-denial, and self-fulfillment lead to healthy behaviors. When you are tempted to immediately start dating again, to buy that unnecessary stiletto (if there is such a thing), answer all the emails, or even fast forward through a slow moving movie, remember it was the tortoise who won the race not the hare.

 

 

 

Jennifer Baumgartner, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist who examines the underlying reasons for clients' style choices and creates a wardrobe to facilitate positive internal change.

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