City Cast

Author Michael Easter on How Your Ancient Drives Shape Your Life

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on September 26
Photo of the cover of the book "Scarcity Brain."

Michael Easter's new books comes out today. (Courtesy)

Author and UNLV journalism professor Michael Easter is an expert on self-improvement. His first book, 2021’s “The Comfort Crisis,” showed how to unlock the power of discomfort to upgrade your life. His new book, published today, is “Scarcity Brain: Fix Your Craving Mindset & Rewire Your Habits to Thrive with Enough.”

What is 'scarcity brain'?

Everyone knows everything is fine in moderation. But why are we so bad at it? Why don't we ever feel like we have enough? Most behaviors we do in excess now helped our ancient ancestors survive. But we still have our ancient brains that push us into more food, stuff, status-seeking, information binging, etc.

One big revelation from the book is that I discovered what I call the scarcity loop. It's a three-part behavior loop that evolved to help us obsessively repeat behaviors that kept us alive, like finding food. But it's now being applied to technologies that can hurt us. It was actually revived right here in Las Vegas, in the 1980s, in slot machines. But it's now what powers social media, dating apps, online gaming, sports betting, online streaming, and even our food system.

How does it play out now?

Humans evolved in a world where what we needed to survive was scarce. So we're built to crave. But we now have an abundance of everything we're built to crave. And we still keep accumulating. Anthropologists call this an "evolutionary mismatch."

For example, even a couple hundred years ago, the average American owned a handful of clothes and tools. Now the average home has 10,000-plus items and most homes are in some form of debt. Food used to be scarce — now we throw out about one-third of our food, and 40% of Americans are obese. A person in one day today takes in more information than a person 700 years ago took in during their entire life.

That has changed us, oftentimes not for the better.

What can we do about it?

In “Scarcity Brain” I identify three key ways to get out of the scarcity loop. It's the only scientific way to stop any bad habit. And this is very important. As a person who's studied physical and mental health my entire life, I've noticed that people want to develop good new habits. But the problem is that it's our bad habits that hold us back most. Fix your worst habits and your life improves instantly.

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