Vows, Choice, and SCARCITY: is scarcity ruining your life?
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” (poet, Thich Nhat Hanh)
People can come up with a million reasons why its hard to be a vegetarian, a vegan, a raw foodist….. or even HEALTHY. But there’s one thing all these excuses or rationalizations have in common: fear of missing out.
Of course this fear may be more justified in certain cases. For example, someone who proclaims that if they were to become a frito-pop-corn vegetarian they would BE MISSING OUT on certain nutrients…. would probably be right. But, let’s consider the person who wants to quit smoking and is thinking about taking that next drag…. they’re missing out on the satisfaction of another cigarette — perhaps even the possibility that this next cigarette will be the best smoke they’ve ever had, calming them, soothing them, stimulating their minds, bringing them to a great epiphany, delivering absolute enlightenment – and, better yet, making them look so irresistibly sexy that, literally, the people surrounding them and the next passerby will find them so cool and attractive that those people will have to get down on their knees right there and proclaim their undying affection.
Just ask any vegetarian and they will tell you: going out to eat CAN BE HARD! There aren’t always vegetarian options… and what’s worse, if there are, they’re usually boring or unappetizing… and to add insult to injury, everyone around you has a great big grin on their face as they fork that next piece of chicken curry, or filet, or lamb kabob into their mouths, excitedly sharing across the table.
The thought becomes: I’M MISSING OUT ON THE FUN! Or worse, I’m depriving myself of a FULL, QUALITY LIFE (oh the irony…)
And sometimes there definitely is a tradeoff – but for people people with integrity, people who are successful in every part of their lives, who live FULFILLED lives: (in the words of my teacher Guru Prem) they do not trade values for benefits. That means, though it would feel really good to fool around with that person giving you the eye at the other end of the bar tonight because your wife or husband is out of town on business and won’t be back for a week…. since you value your commitments, since you value your honesty, your faithfulness, your fidelity, your INTEGRITY — you will not forfeit this for the pleasure (the benefit) of a one night stand with someone who you probably don’t care about and who you DEFINITELY won’t stay with.
Enlarged, the question is easy. But we can’t always see it this way. We don’t always see clearly — 9 times out of 10, if we did, we would probably realize that we had been wasting our time even thinking there was a problem to begin with — however, for this case, the issue really is a conflict of values.
I know you’re thinking: DUH! THAT’S OBVIOUS! Bear with me. This is the insidious part. You see, the two values in conflict are your desire to remain true to an abstraction and your desire for something immediate, tangible, and gratifying. Without the proper view, which option do you think is going to win…. everytime?
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who were trying to make some sort of healthy transition in their life — we’ll say for the sake of this example, becoming a vegetarian, since that’s an easy one to talk about — who, 5 minutes after talking about how important it is for them to make this change, are off engaging in the SAME EXACT behavior that had frustrated them so much that they just had to tell me they wanted to change in the first place. Confused? Yeah.
Why do we do this? Why do we make a vow to turn our lives around — and, consider, these vows aren’t about things WE DON’T WANT, they’re about things WE DO WANT. It’s not like we’re saying to ourselves: we want to make this change because we want our lives to be HARDER. NOT AT ALL! We’re doing these things because we want a greater sense of joy, purpose, more intense, fecund pleasure, LASTING HAPPINESS — so with that in mind, how does it make ANY SENSE WHATSOEVER that we could make this vow, which is suppose to give us DOUBLE–TRIPLE–QUADRUPLE the amount of pleasure than the old behavior, and yet, 5 minutes later, go on to do the very thing that was stopping us from reaching this higher place of fulfillment.
I want you to think: SCARCITY. Why am I reaching over for that doughnut when I just told myself that I was not going to eat any more sugar? Scarcity. Why am I overbearing my lover and feel psychologically anguished about their attachment to me? Scarcity. Why am I ordering another beer when I said that I would stop drinking? Scarcity. Why am I reaching for yet ANOTHER doughnut? Scarcity.
We want things we can’t have. My partner Courtney was telling me about someone she interviewed in her wishbook. He said that his wish was that people would stop coveting — would stop wanting what they couldn’t have. This is an element of scarcity… the grass is greener not because it is a deeper, more brilliant shade of green, but, quite simply, because there is never enough grass.
Diets, restrictions, vows — and the like — can add a false sense of scarcity to our life. Ever feel like you’ve never been so tempted as RIGHT after you’ve made that commitment? Sure, it could be your reticular activating system but that thing in question wouldn’t be TEMPTING to you if you had no sense of scarcity. I mean, if you knew — I mean REALLY KNEW — that you could put off whatever it is that was tempting you and get just as much pleasure and joy out of it later, then you could resist it. However, if you REALLY thought that you had to have it NOW then that thing would definitely be a temptation. There is DEFINITELY a sense of URGENCY in scarcity: I gotta have this NOW!
In the coming days, let’s try to be aware of this scarcity in our lives. If we can, let’s acknowledge that our fear of scarcity that is motivating us to make unhealthy decisions is really just a false apprehension of things: there is no scarcity — if you can have that chicken wing now you can have it later — if you can go out with your friends to that concert today you can go out with another group of friends to another concert tomorrow (maybe the same band is even playing two days in a row… or they’ll be back in a month) — if you can have that cigarette now you can have it in an hour.
By acknowledging this, we allow choice back into our lives. We are not frantically reacting to a false sense of urgency telling us that we have to do things NOW — that we’ll NEVER get another opportunity.
And supposing that it were true — that the present moment is all you really have — I mean, a falling bullet could kill you any minute — and this REALLY was urgent… well then I can promise you one thing: your diet, your vow, your commitment is not going to last very long. One thing is for sure, resolution is strong but temptations are many. If there is any weakness in your resolve, temptations will slowly erode away the facade of your conviction… it will break… and you’ll be sitting there thinking to yourself: GOD, WHY AM I SO WEAK! Or I’m such a screw-up, I can never commit to anything!
You’re not weak. Your not a screw up. And, it’s true: you CAN’T commit to anything — if by committing to it you’ve artificially inflated the appeal of all the alternatives and thereby restricted your ability to gracefully choose to stay aligned with your values.
Here’s what you can do. The next time you’re faced with a temptation — ask yourself: am I acting out of abundance or scarcity? If your only reason for desiring the temptation is that you think that you can’t have it, or you think that you won’t be able to have it later, or you think that you need it NOW and not in 5 minutes time, or you think that by denying yourself you’ll be making a crater in your life’s fulfillment, ask yourself the more important question: do I really believe this? Or are these thoughts/feelings motivated by fear?.. by scarcity?
Once you have the answer — and it turns out that you were reacting to a false sense of scarcity in your life, DON’T STOP THERE! your work isn’t over. You see, recognizing this alone is not enough for you to actually reintroduce free choice into your life — or to neutralize the inflated aspects of a temptation. You also need to recognize that you choose to act from ABUNDANCE — or choice — and not from scarcity.
Really, what I’m saying is that you need to recognize that you choose to act from power and not from weakness. What does this mean? It means it is weak to believe that everything you do you must do IMMEDIATELY — that nothing can be delayed — or postponed — even a MINUTE. It is weak to believe that if you don’t indulge NOW you’ll be missing out FOREVER! It simply isn’t true…
whenever I think this way I just imagine my brain being hijacked by a big, fearful, festering rat twittering its ugly whiskers. Thinking this way allows me to connect with my power, my ability to say YES to my intentions and my aims, because it exposes scarcity thinking for the disgusting habit it is: the base thinking of a dirty rodent. We know we shouldn’t hoard—and we can value not being excessive or greedy or coveting—but sometimes the benefits inspired by scarcity can be so overwhelming to our rat-brains that it can seem like we’re storing up and preparing for a pleasureless winter every day, every moment.
On the other hand, acting from abundance is acting from power. It feels good to indulge — but maybe sometimes when you indulge you’re not really INDULGING, you’re giving into scarcity. That is, you’re FORFEITING your POWER. How could this EVER feel good?! Maybe that’s why sometimes when you forego a certain temptation you can feel AMAZING about yourself: because you just flaunted your power — you stretched it and activated it. Acting from power means bringing your actions in alignment with your values — regardless of the opportunities.
If you’re worried about missing a good opportunity, just think about the scroungey, mangily rat — they worry about missing a good opportunity. So if you want to continue acting like a weak, frail rat you can continue forfeiting your power for a momentary benefit. However, if you want to establish your power and honor it, you can commit first to acting only from abundance and NEVER from scarcity — never allowing scarcity to hijack the appeal of any one of your options, leading you to prefer something that you would never prefer if you were thinking clearly.
Of course, however, that rat is still a part of me, as it is a part of all of us. Our choice emerges when we don’t have to give into its low, self-defeating impulses. Sometimes the temptation will be too great for that rat to stay hemmed in without taking a nibble of that cheese. Rats are clever animals. They know how to escape. Luckily, however, we can be much more clever. Just pick it up. Put it back. And reaffirm your vows.
To repeat: scarcity motivates us to react towards what we perceive we may be MISSING OUT ON. Carpe Diem. The trick is to break this spell of urgency – this trick our mind is playing on us – that we MUST ACT NOW or we’ll be missing out on the pleasure, the joy, the fun, the experience we could have by giving in to this temptation.
So far in this article I’ve focused on dissolving this crippling sense of scarcity. This is important because without dissolving it we can become helpless to the hoarding rat-like urge it creates in us. Similarly, however, we can focus on strengthening our empowering sense of abundance. This is achieved by honoring our commitment to ourselves not to act from scarcity (whether or not we dissolve it). In other words, instead of thinking to ourselves “what am I missing out on by depriving myself of this experience”… we ask ourselves “what am I gaining by committing to the action that is in line with my values?” While doing this before we have adequately dealt with the sense of scarcity may be recipe for failure, keeping this technique in mind (focusing on the positive; what you stand to gain) is immensely valuable.
Also, remember what your values are. If you value eating ice cream over your health…. Well then, you’re trading no values for benefits by having another scoop or banana split. However, if you want to be healthy… maybe you are.
Here’s the 2-step (+1) breakdown:
1: BEFORE YOU ACT: ask if this action is motivated out of a sense of scarcity (you can elect friends to ask you this question as well)
2: REMEMBER: You choose to act from abundance (power) ALWAYS and not scarcity (weakness).
3: IF ALL ELSE FAILS: convince yourself that you can postpone the behavior/temptation and, at least, break the spell of urgency.