August 6, 2021

We are all Losers when we Play the Scarcity Game.


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Scarcity is sold to us every day and our mental health suffers because of it.

Buy now; supplies are limited. Some version of this pitch has wormed its way into our heads and drives a high volume of our decisions.

We’ve been told that something is scarce or rare and haven’t done the research to decide for ourselves.

There is only one Mona Lisa—that’s rare. And there are millions of pieces of art in museums—not so rare. There are two Dino 206 SPs that are still functional, but there are tens of thousands of vintage race cars running.

My favorite restaurant is doing a special fish dinner tonight, but only 20 orders are available and lots of seafood options are at my local grocery store.

Someone sells us a story of scarcity because they think it will influence our behavior. Opening weekends for movies, vacation travel, shoes, schools, makeup, and employers are all pitched as “scarce.” The word “pitched” should alert us. Movies are just as funny years later, millions have been to my favorite vacation spot, and shoes are rolling out of factories by the ton.

When something is actually scarce, we’ve likely never heard of it. That 206 SP that I mentioned above is an example, as is windsurfing in Adicora or scuba diving off the Capones. When something is actually scarce, I likely have no frame of reference to understand it until it’s explained. And because my friends don’t talk about it, it hasn’t caught my attention as desirable.

Climbing Mt. Everest was once scarce, but today crowds line up every day to summit just like they do for every ride at Disneyland.

Mostly, the marketing of scarcity is all about making something desirable to drive sales. Those new Yeezys are made in volume, so I can buy them to impress my friends. Binge-watching television shows, Costco-sized bags of chips, and collectible beer cans are not scarce but we get told they are.

And then there’s the harder arena to assess: scarcity about non-tangibles.

How about peace of mind or safety?

Are the number of people who like me scarce?

Do I think core group acceptance is scarce?

How about my feeling of personal ability to get things done?


Here’s the really bad news. Playing the scarcity game is worse than Vegas—we can never win. Playing the scarcity game is one of the most slippery and downhill roads to degraded mental health. We have to exit the game to save our mental health.

Enough. I’m convinced! How do I exit?

Enough is exactly the answer. We start by recognizing that we have enough.

We have enough shoes, enough social attention, and enough chips. This is a self-awareness exercise and an economics exercise.

What is the incremental value of one more pair of Yeezys? Will I choose to be amazingly happy for the next five years? Or, like the other shoes, will my happiness only last for a day or two? This is an opportunity to get off the scarcity treadmill.

I’ll admit, it took me some time to understand my own conditioning around scarcity. And to see the data that nothing was actually scarce. Enough is everywhere. There are plenty of amazing paintings, amazing dinners, amazing sunsets, and tons of amazing places to work. There are even enough amazing people to have deep connections with.

I had been sold a story that things are scarce, but it’s just not true. I had a daily surfing habit until I realized there was no scarcity of surf. I had a fictional reading habit until I realized there was no scarcity of books. I had to write all the code until I realized there was no scarcity of things to code.

Today I regularly ask myself: Have I had enough already? Will more be valuable?

My reliable, comfortable shoes can be enough; a simple dinner can be enough; a fun car can be enough; a great partner can be enough.

I have a lot of gratitude for what I have and how well it works, and that getting off the scarcity treadmill gives me time for deeper experiences.

Self Awareness

When we are aware of our scarcity patterns, we can have a choice about our behavior. What scarcity is driving your life? How can you better see and manage it? Is chocolate ice cream really scarce? Maybe just two bites are enough?

When we are unconsciously pushed around by our thoughts of scarcity, we lose our chance to operate mindfully.

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