Our brains on scarcity: The trap of not having enough

I recently discovered the book “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.” To be honest, I don’t even remember how I came to find out about the book. Maybe someone recommended it; maybe I read about it somewhere. Lately, I’ve been overwhelmingly busy, and, as a result, my short-term memory is shot.

Coincidentally, that’s what the book is about. Authors/researchers Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir explain how our mental bandwidth changes when we don’t have enough of something — namely, time and money.

Contrary to the belief that poor decision-making leads to poverty, the book’s authors sought to prove that it’s actually the other way around: poverty (or scarcity) leads to poor decision-making. What’s more, scarcity creates an awful cycle of bad decisions. The authors point to study after study that proves this to be true.

According to the book, there are a variety of ways scarcity negatively impacts our mindset.

“Scarcity is not just a physical constraint,” the book points out. “It is also a mindset. When scarcity captures our attention, it changes how we think. By staying top of mind, it affects what we notice, how we weigh our choices, how we deliberate, what we decide and how we behave.”

Scarcity Lowers Cognitive Capacity

The researchers conducted a variety of experiments to test the effect of scarcity on our cognitive capacity. To put it crudely, they wanted to find out: Does scarcity make us dumb? Or at least, does it make us perform poorly?

In one study, researchers conducted basic IQ tests on subjects in a New Jersey mall. They noted the subjects’ self-reported income, and introduced them to a financial problem:

“Imagine that your car has some trouble, which requires an expensive $3,000 service. Your auto insurance will cover half the cost. You need to decide whether to go ahead and get the car fixed, or take a chance and hope that it lasts for a while longer. How would you go about making such a decision? Financially, would it be an easy or difficult decision for you to make?”

Without this problem presented to them, both groups generally performed the same on the tests. But once the financial problem was presented, sure enough, the low-income group performed worse than the high-income group.

To test their hypothesis in the real world, the researchers studied sugar cane farmers in India. They found that, during months when their crops weren’t harvested (and they weren’t paid), farmers performed worse cognitively than where their pay was abundant.

“Using these tasks, we found that farmers performed much worse before harvest than after harvest. The same farmer fared worse on fluid intelligence and executive control when he was poor (pre-harvest) than when he was rich (post-harvest). Much like the subjects at the mall, the same person looked less intelligent and more impulsive when it was poor. Yet in this case it was not us who triggered scarcity-related thoughts or even tried to bring them to the surface. These thoughts were there naturally…”

Basically, in both a controlled study and in a study of the real world, Mullainathan and Shafir found that not having enough lowers our intellectual performance.

Scarcity Makes Us Less Polite

In yet another study, researchers wanted to test the effects of scarcity on behavior. They presented a group of Australian students with “something they found revolting: a chicken foot cooked in a Chinese style that preserved the entire foot intact, claws included.”

“The challenge for the subjects was that this was served by a Chinese experimenter, creating some pressure to act civilized.”

Before being presented the chicken foot, some of the subjects were asked to memorize two numbers. Others were asked to memorize eight. Obviously, the latter task was more difficult. It imposed upon their bandwidth. Those participants were now busy with the task of memorizing a series of numbers.

Subjects who only had two numbers to memorize were polite about the offering of the chicken foot. The taxed group wasn’t so polite:

“Those whose minds were not loaded managed to maintain composure, keeping their thoughts to themselves. Not so with the cognitively loaded subjects. They would blurt out rude comments, such as ‘This is bloody revolting’ despite their best intentions.”

When our brains are preoccupied, we act differently. We’re less focused on the “pressure to act civilized.” Based on their data, it seems like our preoccupation makes us less polite.

Scarcity Makes Us More Impulsive

Mullainathan and Shafir used the same number memorization experiment to test impulsiveness. Instead of presenting groups with a chicken foot, they presented them with a room of cake and fruit, giving them the choice of either.

“Those whose minds were not terribly occupied by the two-digit number chose the fruit most of the time. Those whose minds were busy rehearsing the seven-digit number chose the cake 50 percent more often. The cake is the impulsive choice … when our mental bandwidth is used on something else, like rehearsing digits, we have less capacity to prevent ourselves from eating cake.”

Scarcity Causes Neglect

To summarize the rest of the findings, the book’s researchers found that scarcity causes us to neglect other areas of our life and prevents us from thinking about the consequences of our decisions. The book points to a series of real-world examples, including payday loans:

“Why do those strapped for cash take on such extreme loans that they cannot afford to pay back? Why do they allow themselves even to start down such a slippery slope? Such questions typically lead to debates about the importance of personal responsibility or about how unscrupulous businesses prey on low-income individuals; they fuel discussions about the myopia of the poor and the need for financial education…”

Those arguments might have some truth to them. We’ve often talked about the need for financial education. And the answers to the problems aren’t simple. But, overall, the book points out that, in addressing the issue of poverty, we should consider the role of the scarcity mind-set.

When we’re constantly juggling life’s demands, zeroed in on survival, we don’t have much time to take a step back and focus on the big picture.

Are There Any Advantages to Scarcity?

The book does address the benefit of scarcity. When we’re under pressure, sometimes we perform better. Sometimes, not having enough teaches us lessons that help us later in life. This reminded me of our discussion on romanticizing poverty. Yes, maybe there are some lessons you learn when you don’t have enough. But, as the book explains, and as many of you pointed out in that post, this can have a negative impact in the long-term.

“What [the poor] have is a specific skill: they are better at making ends meet today. They make a dollar go further. This expertise can make them appear more rational, less prone to inconsistencies, in some contexts. But this local expertise also becomes a hindrance. Along with the focus that brings expertise comes tunneling. And with tunneling comes a slew of negative consequences.”

When you’re tunneling, you’re only focused on the desperate situation of the moment. Other areas of your life become neglected. You lack foresight, and you get caught in a scarcity trap.

Breaking Out of the Trap

If you’re struggling with a major lack of resources, you can probably relate to the trap of the scarcity mindset. Living paycheck to paycheck is an example of this trap.

When I was struggling to pay off student loan debt without an emergency fund, I was stuck in a scarcity trap. I thought it was silly to save $1,000 for an emergency when I felt buried in debt. To me, I was struggling to financially survive, and saving for an emergency seemed like a luxury. But an emergency would always pop up, as they inevitably do. I’d end up taking one step forward and two hugely frustrating steps back. So in a moment of clarity, I vowed to start an emergency fund. Once I created that safety net, I was able to reach my goal more easily. I broke out of the trap.

In the book, the authors refer to tunneling. When you’re overwhelmed with scarcity, you get tunnel vision. Your only focus becomes the quick fix to the various emergencies that arise.

In a chapter titled “Scarcity in Everyday Life,” the authors share some research-based insight on how people cope with the effects of scarcity.

The following is a very general rundown of each of their points. I should mention that, in the book, some of these seem to be less meant as solutions and more as objective observations on, well, scarcity in everyday life. Still, I think these observations are helpful.

Set Reminders

The authors point out just how effective simple reminders can be. In one of their studies, they sent subjects a simple reminder at the end of the month, via text or letter, to save money.

“This benign reminder alone increased savings by 6 percent,” the authors reported. “We were able to increase savings not through education or by steeling people’s willpower but merely by reminding them of something important that they tend to overlook when they tunnel.”

A quick, simple reminder can distract you from your scarcity problem and redirect your focus to the big picture.

Reminders, in all of their simplicity, are seriously underestimated. Here’s a personal example. I’ve talked about how I sometimes overwork myself. I feel stressed, and I worry about not having enough time to finish a project. The result? I get burnt out, the quality of my work decreases, and this stresses me out. I feel like my only option, as I’m stressing, is to push myself. I don’t have time to think about the big picture; I get stuck in a trap.

For me, it helps to set a reminder on my computer to shut down at a certain time. Yes, some days I don’t finish as much as I want to, but after heeding these reminders for a while, I have more time, I’m less stressed, and the quality of my work improves.

How can you use reminders to break a financial scarcity trap? If you read this blog regularly, that’s a reminder in and of itself. A reminder is anything that makes you remember your financial goals. This could mean:

  • Scheduling an alert on your calendar to do some financial spring cleaning.
  • Taking the time to celebrate your financial milestones.
  • Using an accountability partner to remind you of your financial goals.
  • Taping your financial goals to your desk — or credit cards!

Automate Your Vigilance

When you automate your finances, there’s less risk of making financial mistakes when you’re tunneling.

“Automatic bill pay is a prime example. A busy person who enrolls in automatic bill pay no longer runs the risk — in the tunnel of work — of forgetting to pay her bills. Or, rather, she is free to ignore her bills, but when she does, those bills still get paid.”

When you tunnel, you neglect certain areas of your life. Lots of tasks take vigilance — paying your bills, ensuring you save, etc. When you’re caught in a scarcity trap, you have less bandwidth to worry about being vigilant.

By automating your tasks, you can combat this. The book offers a few examples:

  • “Paying your bills every month requires vigilance. Setting up automatic bill payment only needs to be done once.”
  • “Remembering to have sufficient cash for tolls while you drive requires vigilance; signing up for E-ZPass…is done once.”
  • With dieting: “Rather than having to be vigilant every time you grab a snack from the pantry, just be vigilant at the grocery store.”

Automating your savings is a great example of this. You pay yourself first, so your “vigilance” is automatic.

Take Action When You’re Focused

“Our needs for today are pressing; those a month away are abstract and unrealized. This, as we have seen, is how we end up overcommitted. It’s how those strapped for cash end up buying items they eventually cannot afford.”

We get stuck thinking in the present without giving much thought to the future. Our future selves seem completely unfamiliar. This seems true even for people who are doing well financially. But those struggling with scarcity have an even more difficult time finding an “appreciation of scarcity in the future.”

Back to my debt example — this is why I neglected to save for an emergency even though an emergency seemed to arise every month or so. This is why some people neglect to save for retirement. The future seems completely disconnected from the present.

To combat this mindset, the authors suggest taking action during a moment of focus. It’s pretty simple: next time you think, “Ugh, I really need to get around to doing this,” actually do it.

“Otherwise, you’ll plan to do it sometime soon, but you’ll be in another tunnel then.”

Change Your Decision-Making Time

In the book, the authors use the word “bandwidth,” meaning our mental capacity to deal with certain situations. When our resources are scarce, our bandwidth is taxed, and we don’t make the best decisions. One simple way to combat this? Change when you make decisions. In an interview with Marketplace, Mullainathan said:

“One powerful tool is to just change when you make very big decisions. We call this bandwidth. We often neglect the importance of bandwidth in our decision-making.”

He refers to a study that featured farmers as subjects. They studied the psychology of these farmers pre- and post-harvest:

“In some sense, that farmer could say, ‘you know what? I’m a better decision maker post harvest. So if there are important decisions to be made, I’m going to make them then. At least recognize that I have these … waves of capacity.”

Whether the resource is time or money, all of us have probably been caught in a scarcity trap at some point. Many of these answers are simple, but they’re certainly not easy. I think most people who have escaped the trap will likely point to one or more of these solutions, though. It can be daunting, and sometimes it can seem pointless and counterintuitive, but it’s also worth the effort.

How did you break out of your own scarcity trap? Did any of the above help you stop tunneling? What advice would you give to those who feel stuck?

More about...Psychology, Frugality

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There are 53 comments to "Our brains on scarcity: The trap of not having enough".

  1. Paul says 25 June 2014 at 05:24

    I’ve been seeing quite a bit about this lately – the psychology of decision-making in the face of need. Looking forward to part 2!

  2. Dave LaLonde says 25 June 2014 at 05:34

    Thanks for the post! I must give this book a read. I wonder what other areas scarcity would affect us. I’m surprised the farmers performed worse when their crops were down. You would think that it could probably make them work better..

  3. nicoleandmaggie says 25 June 2014 at 05:36

    Yeah, it’s really eye-opening how scarce resources along any dimension can cause you to be more impulsive and to do stupid things that keep you in the trap. It makes some sense though– on the most basic level if you’re trying to survive in the short term and people could take your food away, you’re going to eat it all rather than save some for later, even if that means you’ll be hungry later.

    And it’s not just money, it’s also time. Who in a time crunch hasn’t done something stupid and procrastinatory? That’s why our houses are so clean when we have short deadlines. But maybe you’ll talk about that in your next article.

    • Kristin Wong says 25 June 2014 at 09:11

      Yeah, they talk more about scarcity of time in the book. I think I mention it a bit in the next piece, but I tried to focus more on the money angle, though it’s often a combination of both many people struggle with. Anyway, I think some of the ‘solutions’ in Part II will translate from money to time.

  4. Jon says 25 June 2014 at 05:42

    Very interesting. The tunnel vision created by scarcity may explain why people, when given reams of good financial advice, often cannot see it applying to their situation, responding “You don’t understand, this won’t work for me”.

  5. Laura says 25 June 2014 at 05:43

    Kristin, thanks VERY much for this post. I will have to pick up this book and read it.

    I have both heard, and when I was a child in a poor family, received, so much criticism of the poor as if it’s their fault they wound up in that situation. While I don’t dispute that bad choices lead to poverty, I totally agree that poverty leads to bad choices. It’s a vicious cycle. IMHO, it’s also why I think, no matter how financially successful we personally may be in life, we do also need to concern ourselves with issues of financial inequity.

    When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the poor who couldn’t flee were trapped at the superdome, I was amazed at how quickly human civility degenerated when a group of people were faced with scarce resources of food and water. That’s what we face on a global scale if we decide the poor aren’t our problem.

    • Kristin Wong says 25 June 2014 at 09:04

      Oh yeah, we definitely need to concern ourselves with that issue. I’m glad the authors wrote this book, and I wish more people would pay attention to what the researchers have proven here. It’s not easy. I think people know that, but I don’t think they fully understand how “not easy” it is.

      It’s also baffling to me when the poor are blamed for problems with our economy.

  6. Jon @ Money Smart Guides says 25 June 2014 at 06:23

    I think it all goes back to our basic instincts of fight or flight. We are wired to survive and in today’s world we really don’t ever face fight or flight situations. We know this, but deep inside we don’t. Our body sees stress and instantly we think fight or flight and end up making bad choices.

    The key is figure out how to change our make up so that when we are stressed or the like, we don’t revert to fight or flight. How we do that, I have no clue. But it must be possible since some people seem to handle these situations better than others.

  7. A0 says 25 June 2014 at 06:51

    I’m so glad you wrote and posted this. it made a few things click for me this morning.

    I had the dubious honor of going from middle class comfortable, to lower end middle class, but really actually poor after my mom died and my father lost his job. Both events happened within months of each other and right after my 13th birthday. The rest of my formative years were truly spent in a mindset of survival, trying to help make ends meet, and trying to adjust to the major life changes — though at the time I didn’t realize how much in survival/poor mode my family was. I just knew life sucked and you had to keep trying because younger siblings needed things and deserved some sense of stability, even if you didn’t have that same sense yourself.
    Fast foward many years later and I can finally acknowledge that I grew up in survival mode AND I STILL operate in survival mode. My sense of ‘scarcity’ and ‘insecurity’ for shelter and food is on a hairpin trigger even to this day– even though I earn plenty and manage money extremely frugally. The way my sense of scarcity plays negatively is, oddly enough, at my job. I tend to always be anxious, even when there’s no pressure, and my self doubt often erodes my ability to sieze opportunities. How ironic that the source of income I need so badly to feel secure in life is also a thing I feel so very anxious and insecure about losing. So there’s a personal vignette about how scarcity might effect someone’s life in a negative way and cause them to not be as successful as perhaps they could be.
    I am looking forward to part 2 and obviously need to read this book!

    • JBOOKS says 25 June 2014 at 08:28

      Very interesting self-evaluation. Wondering if there is a way for you to “shake” those feelings of being insecure? If you have a stable career and live very frugally, why are you so afraid that everything will be taken from you?

      I grew up poor but made a decent life for myself. My mother still has a scarcity mindset and her decision making aggravates me deeply. This article really helped me to understand how this mentality can almost be impossible to escape until you obtain an abundance life and choose to live life freely without fear of lose.

      • KC in GA says 26 June 2014 at 13:11

        I can’t speak to her, but I can tell you, losing a parent suddenly and during adolescence (I lost my dad to murder at 16) really creates that insecure and vulnerable feeling that has lasted throughout my lifetime. I am in my 40s now. I am always reminded that everything is fleeting. I have weird habits where I have to say “I love you” and give a kiss goodbye because I have no idea if I will ever see that person I love so dearly again. So, while I wish it were easy to shake off, it isn’t. At least, with me.

    • RandyC says 25 June 2014 at 09:20


      Saw myself in your life history. I finally lost the scarcity mentality a few years ago when I realized I had enough saved so that work was not required – financially independent. I still work, but to fulfill my need to be a contributor – I’m no longer worried about the paycheck. Ths has made me more confident and bolder in my career.

    • Elizabeth says 25 June 2014 at 16:20

      I have the exact same story, AQ and am experiencing the same thing as an adult.

  8. Anna says 25 June 2014 at 07:24

    Really looking forward to part II!

  9. Aldo @ MDN says 25 June 2014 at 07:42

    This is very interesting. I will definitely read more into this. Can’t wait for part 2.

  10. Selah says 25 June 2014 at 08:03

    A0, in comment 7, describes something very similar to what happened during my childhood–in my mother’s case, a divorce and a plunge from the lower middle class to the “barely getting by single mom” refrain. My mother was so tense and scared during those years, and as an adult, I began to swing between two extremes: binge-spending and extreme frugality. I still struggle between these two sides of the same coin, as it were: survival anxiety.

  11. Carla says 25 June 2014 at 08:11

    Can’t wait for part 2!

  12. M says 25 June 2014 at 09:03

    @AO, You and I had the same childhood. I agree that such an experience shapes you for hypervigilance in adult hood. I spent too many years anxious about my future. A waste of time in retrospect. I have found that when the heeby-jeeby scarcity thinking enters my head I to say, “Ahh, there you are ” and these thoughts eventually pass. They were a habit I developed but can let go of, too. And time and age has a way of letting you relax into life. Be gentle with yourself and proud of what you’ve survived.

  13. imelda says 25 June 2014 at 10:15

    Wait, did I miss something? How did they transition from “low-income” to “having a lot on their minds” (e.g. in the case of having to memorize more numbers, leading to rudeness or bad decision-making) How are those two equated?

    Certainly people strapped for money might have a lot of concerns, but so do plenty of rich people. I don’t understand the equivalency here.

    This struck me so strongly because they use it to make the claim that poor people are “ruder”, which I think everyone knows, thanks to both anecdotal and scientific knowledge, is simply wrong.

    • Riss says 25 June 2014 at 10:53

      I didn’t interpret them as equating income scarcity to ‘having a lot on one’s mind’. My understanding of it was that they were talking about scarcity in general, which could be applied to income/money but also time, or mental space. So they had some experiments where they looked at how people reacted when they were suffering money scarcity, and other experiments where they looked at people’s behaviour when they had time scarcity, or to use the word from the article, scarcity of ‘bandwidth’. I think the two examples were not meant to be taken as one. The people who were given too many things to concentrate on, had trouble being polite. The people who didn’t have enough money, had trouble working out a financial problem. I agree wholeheartedly with your point that people of lesser financial means are often just as kind or more so than those with great wealth. I don’t think the article was trying to make any generalisations like that, but only to say that under equivalent situations, scarcity of any sort reduces a person’s level of composure and mental control, compared to a situation where that scarcity is absent.

    • nicoleandmaggie says 25 June 2014 at 10:58

      Scarcity makes people more impulsive and less able to do things with long-term benefits (like being polite). It’s been found in a number of different settings. The book Willpower also talks this effect (scarcity affecting willpower), but not in terms of poverty like Scarcity does.

  14. Carol says 25 June 2014 at 10:33

    “Scarcity makes us less polite”

    When I saw this, the first thing that popped into my head was being at Costco when they are sampling. The rudeness of many of the adults who crowd in for the most popular samples always surprises me.

  15. Riss says 25 June 2014 at 10:54

    Kristin, thanks so much for a really interesting article. I’m looking forward to Part II.

  16. Edward says 25 June 2014 at 11:37

    So thinking too much can actually make you dumber and make even poorer choices? Goddamn, looking around the at the folks at my local Wal-Mart it seems incredibly difficult to imagine them actually thinking less about numbers. It would make squirrels absolute Einstein geniuses by comparison.

  17. E.B. says 25 June 2014 at 13:36

    It’s also worth mentioning that scarcity is a state of mind too. You have people who are relatively wealthy who are convinced they are one day away from having nothing; and people on the edge who can’t believe their good fortune and how good they have it. The numbers don’t mean as much as a person’s perspective.

    • jim says 25 June 2014 at 20:48

      Exactly. I have been on both sides of that coin and you are exactly right!

  18. Arya says 25 June 2014 at 21:30

    This reminds me of a Cracked article I read a few years ago:


    It stuck it my mind because the mindset of “gotta spend any extra money I have before it goes away” seemed so crazy to me (obviously the money will go away because you just spent it!) and yet I could start to understand the mentality behind it.

    • Laura says 26 June 2014 at 07:56

      LOVE this article! Having grown up poor, I can tell you it is 100% spot on. Thanks for sharing it.

    • BD says 26 June 2014 at 16:21

      Ah yes, John Cheese. He should be a guest author here! He certainly has life experience about being super-poor, and then actually turning his life around.

  19. Babs says 25 June 2014 at 22:10

    Good post! I’m old & my parents were children of the depression. People react differently to scarcity! This is food for thought for me.

  20. Gwen H. says 25 June 2014 at 22:13

    That was an interesting article. Looking forward to the follow-up article.

  21. redstar says 26 June 2014 at 02:26

    Very interesting topic. I noticed in times of stress, or lack, my pessimism of the scarcity of things does get the best of me. But I have also been around people who exude an abundant mentality, not just about $$, but are easy to be around, have solutions, see the good in things. It can be a wake-up call, this scarcity thing, but it can also be an invisible chain of thought that can prevent us from succeeding, taking risk, enjoying the now ….. I can see how poverty can lead to bad decisions… Or at least, lack of foresight and patience when dealing with an issue ….

  22. Jon says 26 June 2014 at 04:22

    re: It’s pretty simple: next time you think, “Ugh, I really need to get around to doing this,” actually do it.

    “Otherwise, you’ll plan to do it sometime soon, but you’ll be in another tunnel then.”

    I find this true in relation to those situations when you encounter an old friend, and say “We need to get together sometime”, and then don’t. What I have to do is to immediately schedule it, as we are having that conversation. If it’s on the calendar, it will happen.

  23. AMW says 26 June 2014 at 04:31

    Great set of articles Kristin! I am such a fan!
    I can attest to the scarcity mindset. It gets worse when a financial scarcity creates a time scarcity (need money then work more) and the two converge and the burn out results in some very bad decision making. Many times this results in compromised quality in your work and home life. I find two things helpful when this gets away from me. 1) Take a “do nothing” day…crash, zone out, stay in my pjs, and become quiet. It breaks the mental cycle for me and helps me reset my brain and become more energized. 2) Have a friend or a loved one who you can call to talk you off the ledge when something stupid might cause you to make a stupid decision.

    • Kristin Wong says 26 June 2014 at 15:57

      Thanks, AMW. I like those ideas a lot! And it’s true–usually a money and time scarcity go hand in hand, making it doubly difficult to break out of the cycle.

  24. Seth at Ectopistes says 26 June 2014 at 04:47

    The main takeaway I’m seeing here is to stop the multi-tasking – it makes for bad decisions.

    I’m a big believer in setting calendar reminders. I do this not just to mark actions but to actually block the time to complete them so I can focus on just that task. This works for personal life just as it does for work. For me my Outlook calendar works best to set a half hour aside to focus on an item because I’m always on it for work anyhow, but Google calendar or the like work well too.

    • Carla says 26 June 2014 at 08:50

      I use Google Calendar for this and it works well especially since it syncs with my phone. I use Outlook but I only use it for work (same computer) so I like to separate work/life as much as possible.

    • Kristin Wong says 26 June 2014 at 16:03

      I think avoiding multi-tasking is a big part of it, yeah. Because multi-tasking can take away from focus. It makes you frazzled and taxed. This is something I’ve actually been working on lately. I used to get up and head straight to the computer. I would multitask all of the following: make/drink coffee, respond to comments, reply to emails, write, schedule stuff, chat on IM.

      This was really distracting. It took me forever to get one thing done, because I wasn’t ever fully focused on any one thing.

      If you can forget the other stuff and focus on just one thing, it’s a lot more productive. Thinking about focus in terms of scarcity reminds me of a pretty cool Warren Buffett quote I recently came across:

      “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

  25. FI Pilgrim says 26 June 2014 at 04:58

    For the calendar-using aficionados out there– This may sound like some kind of product plug, but it’s really not. As an IT manager, my stress level and productivity level both hinge on having a reliable, always-on calendar to add reminders to, even a year ahead of time. For a lot of us that means Microsoft Outlook, but others can use Google or Apple products for that. Just wanted to say that Microsoft’s Office 365 product is like having your own Exchange server, so you can pay $5/month for your own email that syncs to your Outlook on the computer and to your smartphone/tablet. It makes a huge difference for me!

  26. Brett says 26 June 2014 at 05:13

    Love these articles. Passing them onto a friend I am working with as a coach/accountability partner. I wondered if one part of getting out of a scarcity mindset would be charity? No matter how much you have, if you can give to others in some way, your scarcity mindset is reduced? Not suggesting sandbagging folks already trying to make ends meet, but if a small dollar/value amount could make a big perception difference, it is probably worth it.

  27. Dave LaLonde says 26 June 2014 at 05:14

    Great points about setting reminders for yourself. I read somewhere on another blog that this man would throw a pillow from his bed and toss it somewhere he would encounter the next morning. Then when he would wake up the next morning, he would find the pillow and question “Why is this here? Oh! Right.” Pretty clever.

    • Seth at Ectopistes says 26 June 2014 at 06:06

      I’m hoping this wasn’t a reminder to clean the litter box.

  28. Liette Seguin says 26 June 2014 at 06:40

    Thank you for sharing such an amazing post! I’m really looking forward to part 2. Thanks a lot.

  29. Green Girl Success says 26 June 2014 at 08:12

    For me, I can live on very little ‘stuff’. I really dislike shopping and I adore small living spaces. I even sold my car and couldn’t be happier. I am very confident that I will always be able to afford the necessities to stay alive and kicking, like healthy food, medical care and safe housing.

    However, as a sustainability consultant, I’m more concerned with future drinking water scarcity. Many people fear rising gas prices, however, life has evolved over millions of years without cars and electricity, and some people still live without these modern luxuries, but not one person can live more than a couple of days without water.

    I think our idea of ‘scarcity’ can sometimes be skewed by modern comforts.

  30. Marie-Josee says 26 June 2014 at 08:15

    I loved this series of posts and I appeciate Kristin’s contribution to GRS. I forwarded both articles to my son who is currently in the midst of completing his master’s degree in economics. He is naturally anxious and gravitates towards this scarcity mindset: he is taking on too much at school (difficult classes, student committees, plus assisting his professors) all because he wants a stellar resumé when he will be job hunting next spring. Instead of focusing on his studies, he’s already worried about the scarcity of jobs for economists. The scarcity of time is making him forgetful and much less productive. I hope I can convince him to slow down, focus on the task at hand and enjoy this period of his life. He can worry about finding a good job when that time comes.

    • nicoleandmaggie says 26 June 2014 at 13:47

      He may also enjoy The Paradox of Choice. It teaches us natural optimizers that sometimes the optimal thing to do is satisfice. An excellent lesson.

      • Marie-Josee says 27 June 2014 at 08:10

        Thanks for the suggestion. I have read the Paradox of Choice and regularly discuss it with my son. I often feel overwhelmed by all the options when making purchases (major ones, such as electronics, or services)so I can attest that what the author puts forward (too much choice paralyzes us. It’s a wonderful book!

    • Kristin Wong says 26 June 2014 at 16:09

      Thanks very much, Marie! He should check out the entire book, too– there’s a lot of insightful info and data that I didn’t get to include, specifically related to time scarcity.

      • Marie-Josee says 27 June 2014 at 08:13

        Thank you Kristin­ – I will.

  31. Jess says 26 June 2014 at 09:08

    “Change when you make decisions.” – Took me a couple reads to get this right… first I thought it meant to actually change at the same time you make your big decisions – but isn’t that hard, and a background reason for the post? But then I realized it means “change the timing of your big decisions”!

    On another note, I finally signed up for EZ Pass… embarrassing how long I’ve put that off!

    • Kristin Wong says 26 June 2014 at 16:10

      Haha, my bad. I should’ve worded that better!

  32. Legal Wills says 01 July 2014 at 08:16

    Interesting. Financial scarcity, I would agree, changes the choices a person makes. The thought pattern of a person on lower income is just so different compared one with higher income.

    It has been proven that customers that are better off usually tend to complain less even when thing don’t work out because their time is more valuable than money vis lower income group.

    However when it comes to eg say information, where there in an abundance of free, there is a scarcity of attention. Could it be this scarcity of attention that causes people to have less patience as well?

  33. Jama says 17 July 2014 at 10:21

    This totally puts in perspective why we should always be grateful for what we have. If we focus on what we do have and are thankful for it, our minds are being taken up with positive, instead of negative.
    It also explains why people that are more well-off, don’t tend to mingle with people that have less, because of the thought patterns, as Legal Wills says.

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