Mindset Overview of Our Preprogrammed Reward and Punishment Cycle

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An exert from Five Bedrooms to Five Boxes: Living Simply with Purpose.

For more information on this book head over to the Books page or to go straight to Amazon to grab yourself a copy click here (remember to change to the Amazon in your relevant country).


I am going to cut straight to the point: our consumerism often highlights an internal uncertainty, a desire to be acknowledged for our hard work and confusion with our place in society.

We tell ourselves ‘I have worked hard this week so I am going to enjoy this chocolate bar as my reward’. Replace chocolate bar with jacket, new phone, new dress…you get the idea.

The cold hard reality we are glazing over here is that what we are really saying is, I have worked hard but I still feel a little empty despite my hard work, so I am going to try to fill that gap with something gratifying for a moment, something I am going to pretend will satisfy me before consuming it because I don’t know how else to address this feeling, even though I will end up feeling guilty and self-sabotaged, and then I will put further guilt on myself once it is consumed to now have to do some extra exercise to address all those empty calories, which I probably won’t do and will in turn beat myself up over further, and don’t even tell me about the long term effects of over-eating refined sugars, like diabetes, or the fact that it actually makes me feel like crap once eaten knowing that I haven’t really rewarded my body, but rather punished it nutritionally.


Trust me, I don’t find that harsh reality easy either. I have been there. I fall into that crack often enough, and whilst I have come leaps and bounds I am still working on the little pieces of this that pop up. I am constantly having these harsh truth talks with myself.

I am taking the fake conversation and turning it on its head whenever I see it.

We have worked hard and we do deserve a reward, but too easily we confuse what is best for us in the long term with instant gratification. This is hard to change as most of us are conditioned in our upbringing with reward and punishment. It is often one of the earliest behaviours we witnessed or experienced.

Additionally sad is that the reward and punishment cycle steers us away from the amazing benefits of learning from our mistakes. It is sad to be punished for trying and failing. Making a mistake means you gave it a go; you actually put yourself out there. In truth, learning from something that didn’t quite work out will speed up our journey as our mistakes catapult our learning and growth.

Primal Drivers

There are primal drivers that make consumerism an easy excuse to ourselves. Review the following factors and try to identify where you have been in one or more of these circumstances to help you identify what is triggering any consumerism behaviour.


Survival is at our very core; subsequently it leads to many panic buys to this very day.

My life in Queensland was sometimes exposed to summer flooding, and during these times we would see some of the worst behaviours come out in people. One lady my mother witnessed was in the check-out queue with more than her allowable quota of bread (three loaves, instead of the two they were allowing at the time). When the poor attendant reminded the lady of the restriction, and that it was in place to ensure there was enough to go around before the next lot was brought into the area, the lady took threw the extra loaf on the ground and stood on it, proclaiming that if she couldn’t have it, no one could.

Such terrible behaviour showed panic and survival skills at their worst. It failed to acknowledge that if everyone stuck to their quota the restock would arrive within time for their next shop. Instead people were buying as if they were being stranded for months, not a few days, before fresh supplies would arrive.

Whilst this is an extreme situation, these behaviours carry into many everyday sales in our lives (like the Boxing Day or Black Friday sales). We get caught up in the rush this creates internally and the rational thought process often goes out the window.

In these situations, we need to acknowledge when there is a core survival instinct at play. Feeling panic around a purchase is a sign instinct has kicked in, and is therefore a good time to pause, take a few deep, slow breaths to reset that flight-or-fight rush, and think about what is rational as best you can. Try talking it over with someone, or waiting overnight if you can.

Competition and Social Status

We are competitive animals. Marketing has built into society over the years that more, whether in quantity or cost, indicates a better social status (an idea we have readily adopted). It’s the whole keeping up with the Joneses thing. We feel this need to assert our lead in a sort of pack mentality and we can cave to this unnecessary pressure by accumulating beyond our needs and/or spending beyond our budget.

What has propelled this notion further is the change in our community sense. We no longer see the inside of our neighbours house, to compare those who are more likened to ourselves, but rather spend more time exposed to the houses on TV – perfectly arranged studio sets or, even worse, the house of the Kardashians.

In addition to this we feel that having the same items and therefore experiences as our neighbour creates a sense of belonging, which again is a survival instinct. But just because your neighbour or colleague buys a Thermomix doesn’t mean you need one. We can enjoy without ownership.


We feel we need to show who we are with material items. That new dress or suit, a new car, shows our unique persona. This will often be underneath that age old ‘I have nothing to wear’ conundrum. This statement often follows some internal change that we wish to express we have been through. Whether we have lost a kilo, completed study, or been promoted, we want to show that we are a new version of our former self and, thanks to society’s conditioning, our first impulse is to do this through our external identity, and further to that, despite a wardrobe of great choices, we feel the item has to be new, like we feel inside, to truly illustrate the change.

But this needn’t be the case. I remember my partner and I leaving a party many years ago and he commented on to how attractive one of the girls seemed that night. I agreed, but asked if he thought it was all looks or more her vibrant, bubbly, and genuine personality? He thought about this and agreed that was it. Her amazing persona had left us all a little star struck by this person we had known for a while now. I couldn’t tell you what she wore but to this day I remember the amazing feeling of being around someone whose personality clearly articulated a new lease on life.

Expected Convenience

With our cluttered lives and desire for instant gratification we can get sucked into the ‘quick win’ story pretty easily.

Just think of the exercise machine ads with their claims to giving you rock hard abs in only six minutes a day, the diet that promises to help you lose weight without any exercise, those home-delivered booklets with all the different random gadgets that you cannot help but suddenly think you can’t live without.

We think a multitude of appliances will make life easier, even though we might use them once a year, or only once at all, and we now need to clean around or find space to store them, not to mention the few hours of our life we gave up to earn the money to buy it.

It might help to have a list, like a grocery list of what is needed as the need arises, and I would suggest sitting on the idea of a purchase a week or so to ensure it isn’t just a need on a whim. You might feel inspired by a friend’s new purchase but if you haven’t thought about needing it before, chances are you probably don’t. Sleep on your purchase wants and discuss them with someone if you can, advising the person that you don’t want to be encouraged to buy something you don’t need, but rather need someone to help you think about the reality of needing it.

For more information on this book head over to the Books page or to go straight to Amazon to grab yourself a copy click here (remember to change to the Amazon in your relevant country).

Check out the free sample option offered on Amazon of the book.


  1. Niamh September 9, 2015

    Some great advice here, Ta! IT’s really good to have a breakdown of the factors at play when we make our buying decisions. I especially like the whole buying things to match our new identities….definitely guilty of that!

  2. TaLisa September 9, 2015

    Thanks for the comment Niamh! Yes, always a challenge – if we could only see how brightly we shine from within to others!


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