The Scarcity Brain: How To Rewire Your Habits to Thrive with Enough | Michael Easter X Rich Roll

Added: Feb 19, 2024

In this podcast episode, Michael Easter, a professor, investigative journalist, behavior change expert, and author of The Comfort Crisis, discusses the impact of comfort and scarcity on human behavior. Easter shares his personal journey of overcoming alcohol addiction and the role of discomfort in personal growth and transformation.

Key takeaways


Embrace discomfort and challenges in order to foster personal growth and resilience.


Reflect on the cycle of addiction, seek help, and prioritize sobriety to achieve lasting recovery.


Apply behavioral psychology principles to modify addictive behaviors, such as slowing down consumption or changing associated rewards.


Consider reevaluating your relationship with technology and opt for minimal stimulation by default.


Reinsert boredom into your life to allow for reflection, creativity, and personal growth.

Personal Journey

Easter shares his family history of alcohol addiction, with his father going to rehab and his mother getting sober. He discusses his own struggles with alcohol and the moment he realized he needed to get sober. He highlights the importance of seeking help and finding support through programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Comfort Crisis

Easter delves into the concept of the comfort crisis, explaining how humans are wired to seek the next easiest and most comfortable thing due to our evolutionary history. He discusses how modern society has become increasingly comfortable, leading to a loss of the challenges that kept us healthy and happy. Easter emphasizes the need to embrace discomfort and challenges in order to thrive in today's world.

Scarcity Brain

He introduces the concept of scarcity brain, which suggests that humans value things that require effort and hard work to obtain. He discusses how scarcity can lead to a greater appreciation for rewards and a deeper sense of satisfaction. He shares examples of how scarcity can influence behavior and decision-making, highlighting the importance of creating opportunities for challenge and growth.

Addiction and Empathy

Easter and the host discuss the evolving understanding of addiction and the role of compassion in supporting individuals struggling with substance abuse. They explore how societal messaging and cultural norms can contribute to addictive behaviors, and the importance of empathy in addressing addiction as a spectrum that affects everyone to some degree.

Seeking Hardship

Easter reflects on the trend of seeking out challenges and hardships, such as ultramarathons, as a way to counterbalance the comfort and convenience of modern life. He discusses the psychological benefits of enduring difficult experiences and the value of pushing oneself outside of their comfort zone to foster personal growth and resilience.

Prevalence Induced Concept Change

Easter explains the concept of prevalence-induced concept change, where as society improves and problems are solved, individuals tend to redefine what constitutes a problem. He discusses how this phenomenon can lead to trivializing issues and seeking out new problems, even when there are no real challenges present. He emphasizes the need to maintain perspective and gratitude in the face of abundance and comfort.

Evolutionary Mismatch

Easter and Rich Roll explore the evolutionary mismatch between our innate tendencies and the modern world. They discuss how our brains are wired to seek out problems and challenges, even when they are no longer necessary for survival. Easter highlights the importance of finding ways to engage with discomfort and adversity in order to maintain a sense of purpose and fulfillment in life.

Introduction to the Scarcity Loop

Easter explains that the scarcity loop is a three-part behavior loop that drives people to engage in repetitive behaviors despite knowing the negative consequences. The loop consists of opportunity, unpredictable rewards, and quick repeatability. He uses the example of slot machines to illustrate how this system works, with players having the opportunity to win, experiencing unpredictable rewards, and being able to repeat the behavior quickly.

Application of the Scarcity Loop

Easter delves into how the scarcity loop is utilized in various industries, such as gambling, social media, and consumerism. He highlights how companies use this system to keep consumers engaged and coming back for more. For example, social media platforms use unpredictable rewards and quick repeatability to keep users scrolling and interacting with content.

Impact of the Scarcity Loop on Addiction

The discussion then shifts to addiction, with Easter exploring how the scarcity loop plays a role in substance abuse. He shares insights from his research on addiction in Iraq, where the availability of a drug called Captagon led to a rise in addiction among the population. The drug provided an opportunity for individuals to escape psychic pain, offered unpredictable rewards, and allowed for quick repeatability, leading to addiction.

Personal Experience with Addiction

Easter opens up about his own struggles with addiction and how he used substances to cope with various challenges in his life. He reflects on the cycle of addiction, where the substance initially provides relief but eventually leads to long-term problems. He also discusses the shame and guilt that often accompany relapses and the importance of seeking help and support in recovery.

Journey to Sobriety

Both Easter and Rich Roll share their experiences with sobriety, highlighting the ups and downs of the journey. They discuss the importance of having tools and support systems in place to maintain sobriety and navigate the challenges that arise. Easter emphasizes the need to prioritize sobriety and make it a central focus in one's life to achieve lasting recovery.

Adventure Journalism and Addiction

Easter explains that his desire for intense experiences and exploration of the edges led him to risky situations, including traveling to extreme places like Iraq. He acknowledges that his addiction to alcohol stemmed from a need for excitement and stimulation, which he now channels into safer activities. Easter emphasizes the importance of awareness and moderation in dealing with addictive behaviors, highlighting the need to understand the underlying mechanisms of addiction and find alternative ways to fulfill those needs.

Managing Scarcity Loops

Easter gives examples of how behavioral psychology principles can be applied to modify addictive behaviors, such as slowing down the rate of consumption or changing the rewards associated with a behavior. Easter also emphasizes the importance of finding positive sources of stimulation to counteract the negative effects of addictive behaviors.

Regulating Technology

Roll raises the question of whether technology should be regulated to mitigate its negative impact on addictive behaviors. Easter suggests that while regulation may be necessary for certain demographics, such as teens who are more vulnerable to the effects of technology, it becomes more complex when considering adults. He acknowledges the challenges of regulating technology and the fine line between personal liberty and societal well-being. Easter proposes a shift towards opt-in choices for engaging with technology, where the default setting is minimal stimulation and users have to actively choose to engage with more stimulating content.

The Death of Boredom

Easter explores the concept of boredom and its evolutionary purpose as a signal that the current activity is no longer fulfilling. He reflects on his experience in the Arctic, where he was forced to confront boredom without the distractions of technology. He highlights the benefits of boredom, such as reduced stress, increased creativity, and introspection. He emphasizes the importance of reinserting boredom into our lives to allow for reflection and creativity, which are essential for personal growth and innovation.

Human Insatiability and Addition

Easter shares a story about an engineering researcher who discovered that humans have a tendency towards addition rather than subtraction when solving problems. He explains how this proclivity for adding more resources or solutions can lead to inefficiency and excess. Easter discusses the societal implications of this tendency, pointing out how our culture values accumulation and innovation over simplicity and subtraction. He emphasizes the importance of questioning our default response to problems and considering subtraction as a viable solution.

The Paradox of More

Roll and Easter discuss the paradox of more in modern society, where the solution to problems is often seen as adding more rather than subtracting. They highlight the unsustainable nature of our consumption patterns and the need to shift towards a mindset of minimalism and simplicity. Easter reflects on his own experience of trying to declutter his home by buying more storage solutions, realizing the irony of the situation. He emphasizes the importance of reevaluating our approach to problem-solving and considering subtraction as a viable alternative to constant addition.

The Nomadic Woman

Easter shares the story of Laura Zera, a nomadic woman in her 30s who chose to live a minimalist lifestyle, traveling the world with just a backpack of essential items. Zera's experiences living off the grid and embracing simplicity have taught her the value of minimalism and the importance of living in harmony with nature. Her approach to life serves as a reminder of the benefits of reducing material possessions and focusing on experiences and relationships.

Optimism and Change

Despite the challenges posed by the comfort crisis and technology, Easter remains optimistic about humanity's capacity for change. He believes that by embracing discomfort, seeking challenge, and fostering connections with nature and others, individuals can overcome the negative effects of excessive comfort and find greater fulfillment. He encourages listeners to reflect on their habits and behaviors, identify the benefits they derive from them, and make conscious choices to create positive change in their lives.


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