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The principle of scarcity

The principle of scarcity is simple. We tend to place the highest value on things that are rare. Gold, diamonds, vacations, winning the lottery—you get the idea.

We tend to see far less value in things that are more common or are readily available, but that may actually be substantially more valuable, especially in accumulation.

When held out objectively for us to analyze, we would say they’re of high value. But when it comes down to day-to-day living, we “act” like we don’t value these things as much—things like sleep, food, our bodies, our environment, the air, our government, exercise, our churches, relationships, time, our families (parents, children, spouses, siblings). You get the idea.

These are things that are monumentally more important than some of the things that we dedicate far more time to, or through our actions seem to ascribe far more value to.

In our efforts to achieve greatness, to accomplish goals, to push ourselves to be better (all of which are of great value), we must be very careful to not forget the value of the things right in front of us. Often a more sound appreciation of what we have is a faster path to happiness than trying to acquire something more.

And when you can do both, then you’ve reached a state of perpetual living that is truly worth living for.

Additionally, the principle of scarcity can be reverse engineered. Remember, the idea of Life Engineering is not to just understand the principles that govern our world, lives, and behavior, but to know how to appropriately employ them at the right moment to achieve a worthy objective.

The value of understanding the principle of scarcity is knowing how to use it to increase people’s perception of value in things that are important.

Remember the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder”? Scarcity. It’s because sometimes relationships really do benefit from from a little “time off.”

Have you ever had a friend that felt like they could call you at any time, talk for as long as they’d like, and sometimes take an excruciatingly long time getting to the point? Try introducing scarcity into the system. Don’t be available sometimes, and when you are, let them know you’d love to talk and have 15 minutes free right now before you have to go. You’ll find that they not only get to the point, but they suddenly appreciate those 15 minutes because they know free time must be scarce for you right now. Interestingly, you both come away happier.

A while back there was a psychological experiment at Harvard University where they had two photography classes. In each class, students were required to take pictures of campus. They’d then submit three of them, which would be blown up into gorgeous, huge photographs, all paid for by the school. Both classes were told that they could keep one of their finished photos, but that the other two would be sent away. One class was told that they had as much time as they wanted to decide which one to keep, and if they changed their mind, they could swap at any time. The other class was told they had to decide immediately and could not change their mind.

Interestingly, when polled afterward, the latter class, the one with fewer options, expressed far more enjoyment in the class than the first group. Fewer choices led to more happiness.

Leaders will find their teams naturally respect them more, value their input more, and look up to them more if they’re perhaps a little less available (not unavailable, at least not for too long).

The key is if you find something that people should appreciate, but they don’t, try taking it away (at least for a while), or make it harder to come by. You’ll find their appreciation for whatever it is will skyrocket, because of the law of scarcity.

Have you ever talked to someone who just found out they have cancer, and only have a few months to live? I did last week, and it broke my heart. Never does the principle of scarcity become more clear than when suddenly the thing you thought was most prevalent—time—is gone. How dramatically that tends to change your perception of what is valuable.

Life engineering is about finding value. Sometimes we have to create it; but sometimes we just have to open our eyes.

-Rusty

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