Understanding Scarcity: Why Simply Having More Time is Not Enough

To be free from a scarcity trap, it is not enough to have more resources… It is as important to have enough slack… for handling the big shocks that may come one’s way at any moment.

Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir

Most people that stress comes from being time-poor, but merely having more time is not enough.

Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir are two professors, co-founders of ideas42, and the authors of Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives. They posit that having less than what you need can create a mindset leading to inadvertent choices that further entrap you.

The two traps of scarcity

There are two ways in which the scarcity mindset becomes the scarcity trap:

The first is tunneling: a negative type of focusing that causes you to …

focus single-mindedly on managing the scarcity at hand… and neglect other, possibly more important, things… The tunnel magnifies the costs–less time for your project now–and minimizes the benefits–those distant long-term health benefits that appear less urgent… Tunneling operates by changing what comes to mind.

The second is the bandwidth tax. Just as background programs eat up processing speed on our digital devices…

scarcity does something similar to our mental processor… Scarcity directly reduces bandwidth–not a person’s inherent capacity but how much of that capacity is currently available for use.

Why more time is not enough

Drs. Mullainathan and Shafir describe the scarcity trap as “a situation where a person’s behavior contributes to her scarcity.” More specifically, people respond to scarcity by juggling:

the constant move from one pressing task to the next…a logical consequence of tunneling… When you juggle, you tunnel on the balls that are about to drop, and you neglect those balls high in the air. When those balls “suddenly” descend, they are news to the tunneled juggler, a shock if you will.

The go on to say…

To be free from a scarcity trap, it is not enough to have more resources than desires on average. It is as important to have enough slack (or some other mechanism) for handling that big shocks that may come one’s way at any moment.

Therefore, simply having more time is not enough to mitigate the stress and juggling when we are time-poor. And, it’s not about how capable we are because our capabilities are taxed. We can’t help but make short-sighted choices because there is too much coming at us all at once.

What we need is slack, more cushion, or some wiggle room.

Knitting notes

I fell in love with some yarn at my LYS (local yarn shop) that was soft and cool to the touch. I found free a pattern for a vest that might also work as a sleeveless top. It’s turning out to be the perfect spring project!

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