Friday, April 11, 2014

Scarcity: Avoid the squeeze by building slack

We all remember our mom telling us to “Eat your vegetables!  Don’t you know there are starving kids in Africa?”  I always thought that scarcity was a far away problem.  I was wrong.  While hunger and poverty are scarcity of food and money, being too busy is a scarcity of time.  Having too much stuff is a scarcity of order.  Loneliness is a scarcity of sociability.  Obesity, drug addiction, violence are manifestations of the scarcity we live in. 

'Eat Me' Cake or 'Drink me' Potion

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice finds a bottle of potion with a tag that reads "Drink Me".  She drinks the potion and becomes too small to reach the key she left on the table. She then finds a small cake with a tag that reads "Eat Me".  She takes a bite and becomes so large her head hits the ceiling and she starts to cry.

We all are afraid of being too small, and so we've been convinced to eat the cake.  Now we are so large, it is making us miserable.   In "The Power of Vulnerability", Brene Brown writes "We're not rich enough, good enough, safe enough, certain enough, perfect enough, extraordinary enough".  The result is that we have got ourselves into a scarcity trap.

Scarcity Trap

We require mental bandwidth: time and energy to think, plan and decide.  When we make decisions that result in scarcity such as using our time or money unwisely, we can end in this trap.  We then focus on immediate, urgent demands and ignore more important decisions ("Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much", by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir).   

Slack and avoiding the Squeeze

In the book Scarcity there's an example of packing a suitcase.  If your suitcase is too small, you need to spend a lot of time (bandwidth) packing it just right and thinking about what to pack or leave home.  If your suitcase is large, you can throw in whatever you want.  You have "slack".   Slack is what frees up people to not have to spend time worrying about the little things.  Wealthy people have financial slack.  

The problem is that we tend to try and "squeeze" as much out of life as possible.  In "Antifragile: things that gain from disorder", Nassim Taleb writes about the high cost of "squeeze".  Being 15 minutes early to the airport (slack) costs 15 minutes.  Being 15 minutes late to the airport (squeeze) costs time, money, stress.  Squeeze occurs when people have no choice but to do something, do it right away, regardless of the cost.  We need the "potion" with the tag "drink me" to shrink our life and create slack.

Here are some things I've been trying to do to increase slack in my life:
  • Don't stay up late trying to get that one, last thing done (squeeze).  Instead go to bed early (slack).
  • Instead of worrying whether the payment due today is going to bounce (squeeze), keep a large balance in your checking account (slack) .
  • Instead of waiting to the last minute to get ready, hurrying, worrying that you'll hit traffic, and arriving stressed out (squeeze), leave early with enough time to account for traffic (slack) 
  • When you push yourself, you'll feel tension in your shoulders, back, face, or wherever (squeeze).  This is the time to take a break and think about if you really have to push yourself so hard and strategize about how to avoid this pressure in the future (slack).
  • If you're doing something that you can do alone (checking your Facebook, email, text messages, etc.) (squeeze), drop it when you have a chance to interact with real people (slack).  
Do you have any more suggestions?

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