Thinking is hard. It requires attention, focus and… oh look, a new car. Wow, it’s a pretty pearl colored mid-size SUV. Speaking of mid-size SUV, have you noticed all mid-sized SUVs look the same now, whether it’s an Audi, Toyota, BMW or Hyundai?
Oh wait, I was thinking about something else… our lives are complex. There are literally thousands of decisions we make every few hours, with most of them so programmed that we don’t even think about it anymore. I wake up to my alarm clock, get out of bed, hop in the shower, get dressed, eat breakfast and head to work*. Within those steps, there are hundreds of little decisions to make. Should I put my socks on my hands or my feet? Should I wear underwear or go commando? Should I drink straight from the milk carton or use a glass?
Luckily for us, there are entire companies to help us do our thinking. They’re called advertisers. They tell us what we need to make us happy, how we should dress to stay trendy, how we need to look to be considered beautiful and much more. Thanks to advertisers, many of our hardest decisions are made for us!
There’s always someone willing to do your thinking for you, and it’s pretty much always been that way. Before the Internet and television, we got advice from friends and family, or maybe the richies in town or other social trendsetters. That’s how local custom and traditions were formed and why men in Myanmar wear longyis… which the rest of the world calls skirts.
Men in skirts is perfectly acceptable there because everyone does it, similar to how wearing stoned-washed jeans was acceptable in the late 80’s and early 90’s (and apparently again today). We pretty much all look, live and act the same. We only have to choose if we want to buy our similar-styled shirts from Target or Banana Republic and then choose between five different colors**. Admittedly, it’s much easier that way than having to design our own clothes and work directly with the Cambodian sweatshops to make them.
But what if they aren’t just doing us a favor to simplify our lives? What if they have a hidden agenda to simply make us buy their crap instead of just being kind companies? I know it sounds conspiracy-theory-ish, but I think they don’t like us for who we are and instead just want our money! Just kidding, I know you already know that.
It’s all innocent when we’re talking about Target t-shirts, but what happens when it really impacts our lives? What happens when we’re so convinced that we constantly need a new car – as either a status symbol, a safety upgrade or a bigger engine – that we agree to spend our entire lives working in jobs we may not like just so we can keep a healthy level of consumption? What happens when we look at everyone around us who are doing the same things as we’re doing which validates in our minds it’s right? What happens when we stop questioning the norms and decisions that are forced upon us and instead agree to live a life we may not have picked if we got to choose on our own accord?
When we let others do our thinking for us it can be detrimental to a life we might want to live. Maybe you’ll start really investing in a few years when things settle down, or finally take that trip you’ve wanted to do your entire life once you get that promotion… or maybe you never will.
We decided to insource our thinking instead of outsourcing to advertisers when we kept our 2003 4Runner which now has 240k miles on it. We insourced when we decided to use the Dave Ramsey plan to pay off debt and control our spending…. even carrying around those silly little cash envelopes. We decided to insource our decisions when we didn’t wait until we were 65 to experience some of the great things the world and the US have to offer.
Advertisers are really good. They know human behavior and often know us better than we know ourselves. They know how many times they need to flash an ad in front of us to keep their company in our mind. They study how to trick us into doing things we don’t really want to do***. But we have to allow them trick us and influence us. In the end, we still have the power.
*Okay, I’m currently not working so that’s a fib, but that’s what I used to do when I worked
**I’m way out of the shopping scene so I’m not sure if Banana Republic is still cool (or if it ever was)… but I do enjoy a nice plain Target shirt for $7
***My favorite two brains on this subject are Robert Cialdini (Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion) and Charlie Munger’s 25 Cognitive Bias