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Sensory Overload

It was Aristotle who first suggested that humans are driven by five senses: eyesight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. However, neuroscientists say we have between 22 and 33 senses, including:

  • Equilibrioception – our sense of balance
  • Proprioception – controlling body parts without looking, which is how we can type without looking at the keyboard or walk around without looking at our feet.
  • Thermoception – feeling whether the environment around us is cold or hot
  • Chronoception – sensing the passage of time

What’s interesting is that our senses tell us more about our environs when they work together. For example, we may see a coffee cup, but it’s not until we pick it up that we get the sensation of it as a three-dimensional object. Furthermore, that sense of feel can tell us whether the liquid inside the cup is hot or cold; its weight tells us whether the cup is full or empty.

Our senses are so strong that they can instinctively influence our daily lives — even our financial decisions. For example, we may see something at a shop or on TV and get a gnawing, pervasive drive to own that item. All sense of discipline or prudence may go out the window, replaced by something far more aesthetically gratifying. It’s not just sight. Wonderful smells coming from a restaurant can cause you to abandon all plans for cooking at home tonight, even if that means the meat you left out to thaw will go bad.

However, there are ways we can attempt to control our senses and even use them to our advantage. For example, practice “selective hearing.” Try filtering the advice you hear on the local news or a financial news channel. You could also utilize the advice of a trusted financial advisor who has taken the time to understand your particular financial goals and situation.

When it comes to impulse buying, perhaps you can replace a frivolous item with a symbolic one. For example, you may be tempted to buy a new cellphone or a pair of shoes that you really don’t need. In the moment, these products can be more satisfying than paying off a credit card because they are tangible items you can touch. To counter this tangible reward, find a symbol of your financial goal that you can see and/or touch on a daily basis — even if it’s just a picture torn out of a magazine and stuck to your refrigerator — such as the house of your dreams, a picture of your credit card, a cap and gown, a sailboat or the Eiffel Tower.

Physical and visual reminders can help you stay on track to meet your goals and offset temptations that may steer you wayward.

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