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Why We Can’t Get Enough

by Beth on March 26th, 2024

Most of us know what we should do and what we shouldn’t do to be happier and healthier. Yet knowing is a lot easier than doing. Despite being aware that certain behaviors aren’t good for us, we keep doing them. We struggle to make short-term sacrifices that would reap benefits in the long run. Why? Because we aren’t wired that way.

In his book, Scarcity Brain, Michael Easter describes how our brains developed in times of scarcity, where survival depended on taking as much as we could get when we were lucky enough to find it. Unfortunately, a scarcity mindset is maladapted to our current world of abundance. This evolutionary mismatch affects many of our behaviors ranging from overeating to excessive phone use to overspending.

The scarcity loop is a three-part habit cycle: 1) opportunity is the chance to gain something of value, 2) unpredictable rewards entails the suspense of knowing you’ll probably get a reward, but you don’t know when or what it will be, and 3) quick repeatability means the behavior can be repeated rapidly which reinforces the loop. Casino slot machines are a perfect example of the scarcity loop in action.

Our brains developed this behavior cycle when food was scarce. Those who survived were motivated to repeat a behavior over and over until they found a bush with berries or an animal to chase down. With an abundance of food, the scarcity loop causes us to overeat. In addition to food, humans crave information, things, and influence. That’s why the scarcity loop also drives us to scroll through social media, buy products online that have a limited-time discount, and swipe-swipe-swipe on dating apps.

Recognizing how the scarcity loop affects your behavior is the first step in trying to tame it. Being mindful can help you notice when you’re caught in the cycle. You can stop the loop by removing the opportunity, removing the reward, or slowing the repetition.

Removing junk food from my house means I don’t have the opportunity to eat it. Cooking my meals and eating whole foods makes repetition much slower than grabbing take-out or a bag of chips. Keeping my phone in another room removes the opportunity to check it constantly. You can also leverage the scarcity loop to do things that are good for you. Having healthy food in your home increases the opportunity to eat it. Taking different routes when you run can make the experience more unpredictable.

The next time you reach for one more cookie or click on next episode, pause to remind your scarcity brain that you may already have enough.

From → Mindset, Well-being

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