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211 Shopping Days Until Christmas: Are You Ready?

211 Shopping Days Until Christmas: Are You Ready?

Gift

    We haven’t even crossed the six month mark for Christmas this year, but here I am, talking about gift-giving. I haven’t lost it, though: along with Christmas, I’ve already got my gift giving for Father’s Day, various birthdays and a few weddings planned for. How many hours each year do you spend shuffling around for birthday presents or holiday gifts? What about cards? Or even trying to remember to call someone on their happy day? How much time — and money — do you think you can save with just a few lifehacks?

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    But why worry about it in May or June? Well, I don’t know about you, but I can’t bear the thought of even thinking about tinsel in January, or even February. I’ve got no excuse for not getting my plans out of the way in March or April, but I always seem to wind up getting this whole gift giving thing out of the way around Memorial Day — mostly because I’ll take a look through the sales papers and start thinking about who wants what for birthdays and holidays. And if I’m going to sit down and plan Christmas in May, why not get the next year’s worth of gift-giving entirely out of the way?

    18 Days Until Father’s Day

    The biggest change you can make is deciding who you’re planning to give gifts to this year, and how much you plan to spend. Oh, and for what holidays?

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    1. Start with family: Who’s birthdays are you spending what on? Are you doing a family gift exchange for Christmas or Hanukkah? Is anyone getting married or having a baby?
    2. Next up are friends: Do you really want to send a Christmas card to that kid you haven’t seen since 2nd grade? Do any of your friends have kids you plan to give gifts to, as well?
    3. Don’t forget work: Do members of your office ask you to contribute for birthdays and such? Or do you run your own business and plan to send out holiday cards to your business contacts?
    4. And what about your significant other? Do you celebrate an anniversary? Or Valentine’s Day?

    Don’t be surprised if you find yourself adding to this list over the course of the next year, and changing it year after year. I’ll guarantee, though, you’ll be surprised by how many gifts you buy each year. And you may decide it’s time to cut down — especially if you’ve been trying to budget. There’s no shame in cutting a few people off your list — or giving them something smaller than you might have in the past.

    Once you’ve got a list of who you routinely give gifts to, you can start budgeting how much time and money you spend on the effort. I’ve got everything in a spreadsheet with the following columns:

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    • Name of the Recipient
    • Date
    • Price Range
    • Gift Ideas

    It’s a pretty simple system. For date, I use whenever I plan to give the gift — December 25 or a birthday, for example — and I generally keep my spreadsheet sorted so that I can see what’s coming up. I tend to highlight names after I buy a gift, and then change the color of the highlight once I’ve actually given the gift.

    263 Days Until Valentine’s Day

    But what’s so great about this system? For one thing, I save plenty of money because I can buy gifts far in advance — I’ve already started shopping for the holidays. I also can spread out my buying to when it’s more convenient to my budget, and I can hit up sales throughout the year. And for gifts that are time intensive, such as knitting someone a sweater, I have a much better idea of when I need to start — especially if I have several gifts I need to give at the same time.

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    Since I’ve started this gift-giving system, I’ve managed to avoid missing a number of birthdays, as well. I check my list at the beginning of the month and make plans on what I’m mailing off based on that list. I’ve also been better equipped for taking care of time sensitive gifts — like taking a friend out to dinner. Not only do I know to make room for that meal in the month’s budget, but I remember to make reservations as well.

    An Unknown Number of Days Until Your Grandmother’s Birthday

    There are a couple of spots where your plan for the year’s gifts must be flexible. A friend might get married on very short notice or your cousin might have a baby that you didn’t take into account on your spreadsheet. Personally, I’ve made a practice of keeping a few gifts on hand that may not be perfectly personal but will still let someone know that I was thinking of them on their happy day. I also keep a variety of cards on hand for the same purpose — and I routinely make my own, as well.

    Another problem I’ve run into is with books, movies and games: not only do I run a risk of someone receiving whatever I plan to get them long before I hand over a nicely wrapped present, but there’s the fact that buying such a gift and then mailing it off can be far more expensive then letting Amazon do the hard work. For friends and family that I want to give books to, I try not to buy their gifts quite so far in advance anymore. Instead, I make a note on my spreadsheet to order it when their birthday or other event is getting closer.

    Overall, though, planning out my gift-giving is one of the greatest lifehacks I’ve managed to implement in my way of doing things: I’ve saved a pretty significant sum of money in the past couple of years and worried a whole lot less about snubbing Grandma by forgetting to get her a gift — or even give her a phone call.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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