Cognitive Behavior Therapy and The Scary Truth About Target

Y’all, you might need to sit down for this.

I have figured out why we have virtually no ability to self regulate in Target. Why we all understand the scenario of walking in under that big red bullseye and walking out 3 hours later with no idea what happened and cart full of things you had no intention of buying.

There I was, doing dishes and thinking about what to do this week while the kids are gone at the beach. Enter stage right of my daydream was the front of that red cart. I could feel the chill of a cold coffee in my hand. I could feel the motion of the back and forth as I would weave in and out of The Spot. I could hear myself saying “Now Sarah, if you behave, I’ll get you a treat!”

Something new occurred to me at this point in the daydream. Target has its impulse buys at the very beginning of the experience. How strange. This is not how other stores function. Target also has impulse buys at the register, but their major point of “Do I need this? Aw who cares, it’s only a dollar!” is at the beginning. Why could that be?

In the next moment the background in my daydream changed. There I sat in the gross motor/meeting room at Head Start back in Washington Court House, Ohio. We’d had a particularly challenging time in those months leading up to that training and were hungry for any advice that this behavioral expert could give us.

Over and over through the years I have used what he taught that day about “neutral observations.” Creating a connection with a child who wants to fight off any connection by making them feel noticed but not attaching a positive or a negative connotation to what you say to them. No more “I like your criss cross applesauce, calm body!” No more “We shouldn’t hit our friends!” Now we were to look at the child and say “I see you are wearing a blue shirt” and leave it at that. The child feels noticed but cannot exercise control over that interaction to push you away. You build a relationship. You sound like a big ol’ weirdo, but let me tell you. It works, every time.

The other concept he introduced was a “yes set.” You get a child to agree to what you want him to do by asking him questions that are very obviously answered with a yes. “Is that a ball?” Yes. “Is it red?” Yes. “Would you put it in the bucket?” Yes. It was not as mind blowing to me as the neutral observations and so I’d set it on the shelf in my mind and forgotten it.

But leaned up at the sink today, there it was again. A “Yes set.” And I understood. Target has exercised an amazing cognitive behavioral challenge on us!

Think on this. A mom goes to a similar big box store. She spends the whole store trip say “No. Don’t touch that. Don’t grab this. Put that back.” She is all practiced up for getting to the check out aisle with her little ones who match her training for training. Who will break? Can I have it, Mom. No. Pleeeeeease! No. Just one, Mom! No.

Mom wins the impulse control battle with the child, because she’s practiced the whole trip just repeating no. When she leaves the store, she feels negative because she just had to spend the whole time arguing with her kids.

But imagine, Mom walks into Target. The first thing she sees, which is actually stuck out further into the walkway so she cannot ignore it, is an impulse buyers paradise. And why not?!? A scarf? It’s only $3! A bow for your daughter? Just a dollar. A light saber? $3. A floppy hat, some seeds, a journal (she’s been meaning to write more), a pet toy, a new cell phone case, a very thin yoga mat (if it’s December and that New Year’s resolution is coming up), some educational tools for the kids, Minions socks for her son, a tea towel with a witty phrase, a holiday decoration, a chalkboard something (because it’s almost exactly what she saw on Pinterest, and now she won’t mess it up making it herself), a few pirate kid’s plates, a candle and she has a good start to filling up that cart. Turn the corner and there are those animal cracker packs so easy for sticking in lunch boxes. For just a measly, well, uh, it can’t be that much right, because each thing was like, a dollar….ish.

She has just said yes to every department she will walk through. She has already agreed to buy clothing for her and her children. She’s nodded happily to toys and home goods. She remembers that Fido was low on food, which she hadn’t really thought about until that squeaky seasonal bone looked so agreeably at her. She’s felt that holiday spirit and dropped in something that will remind her she did want to go all the way to the back of the store to see what they put back there in that impulse control disaster of a seasonal section, which is right next to lawn and garden where she certainly needs everything it will take to make those dollar seeds grow. As she walks out of lawn and garden, she remembers, Junior needs some food to go on that new pirate plate.

She has said yes so many times that by the time she makes it out of the Spot the idea of saying “No! Don’t touch that!” seems foolish, because HELLO who wouldn’t want to touch everything?!?!

Not only that, take a moment and realize that the other end of the cash registers is closed off, so Mom can’t skip it and enter through another path. This creates a bit of a bottleneck over by the entrance. That paired with the walled off feeling created by the snack display on the back of the Spot is absolutely enough to make Mom think twice. She had considered telling Junior that if he doesn’t sit down in the cart and stop harassing his sister, then she will make him put that light saber back! But ugh, to go back up there and put it back in the bin? That is a hassle.

She bites her tongues. Yes has been so easy and so pleasant, and no….well, no is the worst, because her cart won’t fit going against the flow of traffic and nobody wants to take a screaming kid back into the Spot.

So she heads to the register, Junior is happy, she is happy, the baby has fallen asleep because she’s been in the carseat on top of the cart for the past …uh…hour-ish. Mom reads the covers of the magazines. She smiles at the college girls with this dorm signs and the same holiday decorations she’s chosen, and feels hip and with it. They smile back, and she sees their approval of her life and perhaps their future, where they might have kids of their own and still use the same things in their cart which makes them feel super mature. Mom hears Junior tells the clerk about his new light saber. The clerk gives him a sticker. Mom thinks that she deserves a treat for having such a lovely outing with the kids and after loading the bags in the cart she heads right into the Starbucks line. And out into the bright, bright sun….and yes…yes…is it a beautiful day? Yes. Yes it is.

And all those tiny wins, those mom victories next to the college girl victories, next to the working woman victories, oh how you can almost smell the dopamine releasing in their brains. All those women releasing all those happy little pings that will let them know….on those days when the world seems just a little too NO to be fair, a little to “Don’t touch that” to be tolerated, she can find herself daydreaming about the one place that from the moment she steps in the door is yes.

Fellow women of America.
It is not our fault.
We are victim to one of the most extensive cognitive behavioral experiments ever.

Target has created a “yes set” and has changed our feelings about their big box store from negative, local store killing beasts with no heart, to the store that just feels good to be there and we don’t know why. Now, you do know why!


Should you accept this?
Should you allow a big business to control you like this?
Should you permit your mind to be changed and feed the addiction it creates?

Well, I for one can say quite clearly, yes….but…I’m not quite sure why I feel so compelled to answer that way…….

***Disclaimer – I do not have any rights to anything Target, except the stuff I bought from Target, which, if I find you snooping around my holiday oven mitts I will put a fight for. I do not work for Target or against Target or super duper near a Target, except relatively, it is closer to a Target than where I used to work. I made that picture on Canva, and the circles aren’t even even like Target’s circles, so it’s only supposed to be reminiscent of Target, but not identical to it, so that seems safe. My views do not represent anyone else’s views, except yours if you totally agree with me. I also am not a psychol-psychia-doctory person and so nothing I said above is to be considered medical advice.  If you have an emergency, please call 911.


Christmas and Women’s Liberation

It is one of the most perplexing, laughable suggestions to when someone tries to throw into a conversation, “Christianity and the Bible are so oppressive to women!” Surely, they are reading some other book? And while I can admit that there are churches and people who claim to be teaching the a Christian message while demeaning women, that problem is not rooted in truth of the Bible.

This has been so sweetly brought back to mind this past week. We lit the first advent candle on Sunday, a nice moment for our family and a nice moment for me personally, as I have felt our church here became the kind of home here in Virginia that our church in Ohio was. I wondered as I read and reread the passage I was to read if I’d make it through without my voice cracking. This Christmas has felt newer than many in recent years, fresher, brighter, greener. The magic that the movies tell us should be a part of the season and so many years we feel like we’re failing at Christmas because that is missing…well it’s there. But that’s not the reason I thought my voice might break and betray the emotion I felt about the passage.

It’s a story we know. Mary is pregnant. Joseph is supposed to marry her, but, oh no, pregnant fiancee, not the thing you wanted in those days. Joseph had figured out how to handle it. Quietly divorce her. Don’t let her be too disgraced, but certainly, he wasn’t going to hang around and deal with that. Then the angel comes to him in a dream and tells him this, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

And my voice cracks.

We do acknowledge that Mary was in a tough situation, but do we read the story slow enough to recognize these things?

First, God could have formed Jesus from clay. God could have just poofed Jesus down from heaven. But no. Jesus chose that the first interaction he would have, would be with a woman, being intimately connected and totally dependent on a woman. In order for Jesus to come to us in the way he did, He has to value women. He has to value women enough that he is willing to make his life depend on her. If God had to be at that point to come to us, certainly He doesn’t find women less than.

Second, God could have put Mary in that situation and just said “Trust in me and it will all be ok.” But He didn’t. He provided for Mary physically, giving her the social protection of a husband, giving her the daily provision of a wage earner.  And to top it off, it presses in the message that we are designed for community. After God split the cells and began incarnation, he created and ensured community for his son and for her. If God shows up for Mary, to met her physical, social and emotional needs, won’t he do that for us, too?

Third, God anticipated Joseph’s doubts and concerns. God anticipated Joseph issue of pride and prepared an answer to questions I don’t even know if he knew he was asking. “How can I do what is right? It makes no sense to do this, so I will do something easier. And…really? This is the story she’s going with? Pregnant by God? And right there, God anticipates this very human response, but I can also see that he anticipates male pride, male ego, the struggle to fulfill a male stereotype and the concerns that are still to this day very male. And in order to value what He does in a woman, he has to assure a man, what is going on here, you can trust it. If God speaks to the pride of one man to assure him that he is working in one woman, can’t we hear his word echo over our stories as well?

This is the first Christmas I’ve experienced since my decision to go into ministry and that sentence is so sweet to me. Over and over I hear, “What is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

Some of the brightest highlights of this year was turning to my husband and telling him I wanted to go into ministry and he said “If that’s what you’re supposed to do, then that’s what you do.” A friend told me when I told her “You let me know. Any church that would have you as a pastor is a church I’d go to!” My cousin told me she’s known basically for decades that this was my path. Over and over people this year have stopped me mid-sentence to say “I just want to affirm this for you.”

I am a woman walking towards ministry. I am a person who I know some churches object to, some churches limit opportunities to. I have attended those churches. But in this passage, just like I have heard all year long in encouragement, I hear God saying “Walk ahead in this. What I’ve started is of the Holy Spirit.” It certainly doesn’t mean that everything that a woman puts her mind to is of God, that’s not my point, but it is my assertion that just like at the beginning of the sweetest and best story ever told, God uses a woman, values her immensely and then goes around breaking down pride and adjusting human perceptions to protect his work in a woman.

Just one of many moments in the Bible where God frees women, values women, honors women, uses women. There are certainly enough to tell about all year long, but right now, at Christmastime, this is the one that is singing with my heart. Do not be afraid. God started this. God will provide for what He’s started. God’s got this, girl.