Surviving Scarcity; Maximizing Periods of Abundance – one message of Scarcity Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir

ScarcityI’ve just finished reading Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. It’s a book about…scarcity. Scarcity can be scarcity of money, food, time… any kind of scarcity. And, when a person experiences scarcity, it utterly focuses the mind. From the book:

Scarcity captures the mind. Just as the starving subjects had food on their mind, when we experience scarcity of any kind, we become absorbed by it. The mind orients automatically, powerfully, toward unfulfilled needs. For the hungry, that need is food. For the busy it might be a project that needs to be finished. For the cash-strapped it might be this month’s rent payment; for the lonely, a lack of companionship. Scarcity is more than just the displeasure of having very little. It changes how we think. It imposes itself on our minds.

The two primary “responses” to scarcity are these: it makes us focus on what we don’t have enough of; and, it make us ignore other “important” areas that should get our attention. (The authors call this the problem of “tunneling”).

For example, if you are worried about finishing a project (a scarcity of time), or paying your rent (a scarcity of money), there is a pretty good chance that you will not clean your house or help your children with their homework as well as you “normally” would, or clean off your desk from the clutter that has accumulated while your focus was elsewhere.

This is a provocative book. (I’ll be sharing my takeaways, and a few more thoughts, later).

But, here is one key point for most of us: we do have areas/periods of abundance (when we are not facing a time deadline; when we have money in the bank that is not already marked for a specific bill)… It is what we do with such abundance that brings order and calm and sanity to the rest of our lives.

But, it turns out, we don’t take advantage of/use such periods of abundance very well at all.

Wouldn’t it be nice to master that practice?


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