How Scarcity Can Help Us Live Like We Mean It

Yep, Scarcity WinsAs a coach whose brain has been filled to the brim with all things positive psychology, my antennae are perked up on high alert when scarcity is used as a motivator instead of pom-pom wielding encouragement about all! sorts! of! exuberant! abundance!

Unless you’re a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool pessimist (don’t worry—there’s hope for you yet, even though you don’t want to be hopeful), most of us prefer the warmth and comfort of abundance over the blizzardy winds of scarcity.

We tend to like the idea of more a tad, well, more than less.

And yet here I am, Ms. Four Thousand Mondays, getting us to count down how many weeks until we’re horizontal in the grave. (Hi! I have 1,823 as of this week.) That sounds decidedly anti-abundant. That sounds scary-scarce.

Do I want to crack the menacing, morbid whip of memento mori (remembering we’re all absolutely going to die) to get us up and off the sofa? No, but I know I need to.

Do I want to use the cattle prod of temporal scarcity (appreciating that “limited time only” things are inherently more valuable) for us to stop the squandering? No, but I know I need to.

Phew! Psychology can helpfully explain why we suck:

Freud’s good old-fashioned pleasure principle explains that we’re more motivated to avoid pain than to seek pleasure. Pleasure sounds delicious but not being in pain wins every time when it comes to inspiring action.

In my ideal world, we’re all motivated by the Active Attainment of Amazingness, without needing the nudge of negativity to take action. But, no (*sigh*), our species is driven to avoid an ordinary life more than we’re driven to pursue an extraordinary life. Unfortunately, we most often need the right dose of discomfort to get moving in the direction of our dreams. Examples…

  • We start an exercise program not so much because we want to feel fabulous and energetic, but because our doctor raised her eyebrows at our cholesterol levels…or because our “big jeans” no longer fit and now what the hell are we going to wear other than stretchy leggings?
    A date with Mr. or Ms. Special

    No more solo spaghetti-sucking nights

  • We seek out a soul-stirring new job not so much for the invigoration of it, but because we can no longer endure our current shit-show-of-a-job.
  • We go back to school for that specialty class not so much to learn and grow, but because The Big Boss fails to promote people without that fancy certification.
  • We start an online dating profile not so much to share a plate of spaghetti with Mr./ Ms. Special, but because we no longer want to spend lonely, Chardonnay-soaked evenings alone watching other people fall in love on TV.

So sure, we can lament the way we’re wired…and we can also work with this inclination to avoid pain, right? We can unabashedly use this scarcity principle to go after the extraordinary.

Many of my former coaching clients wanted to start their own businesses but weren’t motivated enough by the potential of pleasure. They also weren’t in touch with the pain—the cost of not starting their business.

One woman wanted to launch a doggy daycare business for years, and although she fantasized about canine-filled days of working for herself, she was *comfortable enough* in her corporate day job (please agree with me that “comfortable enough” is the beginning of the end of aliveness?!). We had to get her in touch with the possible pain that sat waiting for her down the road—the disappointment of not launching the business. She imagined her life after five years, ten years, and at the end, and knew she’d in in for a world full of hurt about the path she didn’t take. (Her business has been up and running for years and she is currently wrestling with the fabulous dilemma of “to expand or not.”)

At the end of the day (or life), I don’t care if we took action on our dreams because we were motivated to avoid pain, disappointment, or anguish.

We can fathom our deathbed regrets, for example, to sprinkle that dose of “oh shit” we need to take action in our lives. We can focus on our limited lifespans and live with verve and vigor, to avoid the pain and heartache of a lackluster life we didn’t try hard enough to enjoy. In short, we will brazenly embrace the dark side…like a sneaky shortcut to the bright side.

Let’s not skid into our graves with a slew of “all talk, no action” regrets. Let’s use some good old-fashioned scarcity to pursue all the awesomeness in store for us. Time’s ticking!

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: When it comes to my upcoming book, You Only Die Once: How to Make It to the End with No Regrets it’s alllll abundance! Preorder now to avoid scarcity!

P.P.S.: Let’s Instagram together?

P.P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


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