Does Abundance Atrophy the Spirit?

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A happy childhood has spoiled many a promising life.
–Robertson Davies

 

Procrastination may be one of the deadliest killers of countless visions, dreams, and projects.

I’ve been hanging out with my friend Miranda the past few days here in Maui. One thing I’ve noticed is that the fact of my departure the next week has really motivated us to check out as much as we can. We’ve talked about this a few times: If you weren’t leaving so soon we would probably put this totally awesome adventure off.

It’s funny because I think of how often I can put things off where I live just because I believe I can do them any time.

Here’s some great irony. In the last post I made a point about how scarcity can motivate us to make inappropriate choices… many of which we can later regret: “WHY DID I JUST DO THAT WHEN IT CONTRADICTS ALL OF MY VALUES?!” One of the ways to counteract this is to introduce abundance into your life and focus on that.

So, in this context: Scarcity = DO IT NOW. Abundance = IT CAN WAIT. Scarcity means: I can’t resist temptation. Abundance means: I can resist it.

Now it seems like I’m saying something else… abundance can be a bad thing! WHAT?! Let me explain. I used the metaphor of a rat to describe how we are motivated by fear of scarcity – and maybe a good image for abundance is fat walrus chilling on the rocks. Scarcity drives us like a rodent, abundance relaxes us like a walrus. Get it?

 

 

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A perfect example of this can be seen at my very own alma mater USC. In my time there, I noticed 2 very different classes of people. The first were there on their parents’ dime—or I should say platinum. They were spoiled rotten—and because of this, didn’t take their work or their lives seriously. In fact, the only work they probably ever did in their life was cleaning out a cached bong bowl or finding Micah Z. to write essays for them. The other class were working their way through school. They often came from struggling families. They worked 2 jobs to pay off their loans. They consistently scored A’s on all of their exams. They were always sweet, sincere, open.

What separated them? A will to work? Yes… but why did the first class have no desire to expend any effort while the second class did? Sure, you could say “how they were raised”… but I think it’s deeper than that. The first class lived in abundance: they had literally no concern about their future wellbeing. Their financial and emotional security was pretty much guaranteed. Would you work either if you felt so sure of this? The other class, however, did not have any such security. They understood that their lives depended upon their work… doing well would mean the difference between struggling and living a life of luxury. Spoiled children already have everything, so they are not motivated to push forward. On the other hand, underprivileged kids do NOT already have what they want – so they MUST push forward in order to get it.

 

The real trick here is putting ABUNDANCE AND SCARCITY TO WORK FOR US… like spicy and sweet in cooking. Too much spicy? Add some sweet. Too sweet? Add some spicy. We’re going for the perfect balance – and, more importantly, that perfect flavor we had in mind.

 

This means: we can use the power of abundance to eliminate the charge of our temptations – the things in life that tempt us to move away from our values for fleeting benefits. And we can use the power of scarcity to motivate us to ACT NOW on issues of great importance, especially when we get stuck in the mode of procrastination, torpor, or inertia.

 

It’s funny because when Alex Bica and I returned from our road trip in spring, he kept saying to me: “god, I feel like I’m still going – because I know I’m about to leave again I’m cramming in everything that I want to do. “

Meanwhile, at the time, I was back and school, letting abundance do its thing: “yeah I COULD do that now, but why? I’ll do it later. I don’t need to do that NOW – it will be there tomorrow… and the next day… and the next month.”

Maybe I was right, however, as I’m on vacation again, letting scarcity do its work, I am strongly reminded of how important it is to bring this energy into our lives – to feel excited about doing things RIGHT NOW, and not waiting to do them later.

This morning I got up at 7 AM to go swimming with Dolphins after going to bed around 4 AM. If I were home I know I would have said to myself: “ahhh, fuck it. I’ll go next week when I’m more rested.” But since I’m on vacation, I instead thought to myself: “THIS IS MY ONE CHANCE TO SEE DOLPHINS! I’M NOT GOING TO BE HERE VERY MUCH LONGER (in fact I’ll still be here for a little over a week)!! I NEED TO DO THIS RIGHT NOW!!! “

The power of scarcity got me right out of bed. Miranda called me and said that we weren’t actually leaving for another 30 minutes and my first impulse was to go back to sleep…. No way. I was too pumped by then.

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You can make scarcity work for you. It needn’t be your enemy – just as abundance cannot be your panacea (what’s the quickest route to laziness again???). Learn to control that energy and your life will improve because of it.

Also, be careful. You’re playing with fire. In the last post I described how easily scarcity can work against you—motivating you to make unhealthy choices. Be discerning. Don’t get too caught up in this energy and allow yourself to utilize it unconsciously to inflate the appeal of the things you’re trying to resist.

 

One final note, after meeting with Angel today, it would be interesting to understand these energies in terms of santosha (abundance creating the feeling of contentment… or the feeling of contentment creating abundance) and aparigraha (the feeling of scarcity creating the need to horde/act…).

 

Here’s an exercise for the day:

1) Think of one thing that you’ve been putting off – maybe for a while. Or, it could just be something that you want to do and want to make sure you are motivated.

2) Now, imagine that you had no more time left to do that thing, either because you’re about to leave for a permanent vacation or you’re committed publicly to a deadline which 1000s of people you respect are holding you accountable to.

Really focus on the feeling that you HAVE TO DO IT NOW – OR ELSE(!!!!) . Make these consequences VIVID for yourself: that if you don’t do this NOW, RIGHT NOW, you’ll be missing out on the opportunity for some of the greatest joy or pleasure IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. Or, maybe, if you don’t get this done RIGHT NOW you’re going to look like a total foolish failure in front of people who you want to — NEED to — win the respect of.

The more intensely you can convince yourself of this, the more fire you’ll have under your butt to get you to take action. Also, if it’s a case of competing alternatives, then however you amplify the scarcity of your options will greatly determine what you do next (just think, you’re hanging out with your friends discussing what to do next. You’re debating between going to a show or going hiking or going clubbing – all of which seem like extraordinary options to you. Then someone says that the show is a ONE TIME ONLY event in the history of the entire planet…. Now, regardless of what you thought about going to that show, didn’t it just become a whole lot more compelling?)

3) NOW GO GO GO GO GO GO GO – DO IT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!!!!!!!

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