The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
Amy Bushatz: You know that feeling you get when you spend even a little bit of time outside? No matter how challenging it is to get out there, spending time in nature is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz, and this is another episode of Humans Outside. Join me as we hear from fascinating outdoor minded guests and use the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to push us outside daily. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are, while we work to do the same? Let’s go.
When I feel even a little unsafe, I become sort of a hoarder. It’s something I’ve noticed about myself during big adventures outside and personal challenges inside. And while the instinct is a natural one, I’m trying to protect myself, the results are often, unhelpful. When I let even a hint of a focus on discomfort and fear during adventures, for example, I start hoarding my packed snacks for later instead of eating them, even though eating them when I’m hungry and eating them smartly is the thing that’s going to make me feel better and keep me going.
When I start to get really cold on some trail, I hesitate to put on the layers I packed. That hoarding part of me says, What if I’m more cold later and need them even more? I should save them for that. Even though putting them on now is the thing that will keep me from getting more cold later. I know it’s a little ridiculous, but it’s what happens.
And inside my house, I do the same thing, though in less obvious ways. For example, when I feel stressed and like I don’t have enough time for things, I hoard time for myself instead of smartly examining what’s going on to make me feel the way and still giving time to others, even my family. Don’t even ask my husband about how annoyed I get when he suggests I eat the snack I’m saving for a special occasion, even though we both know nothing will ever be special enough and whatever it is will spoil.
In short, I struggle with scarcity mindset. To counterbalance this, I started using a new mantra. I live in abundance. I have all that I need. But then I realized that I was acting more like the mantra was actually, I live in abundance. of caution. That’s certainly how I sometimes find myself acting, as if there is never enough and I must keep seeking more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more comfort, more safety, more supplies, just in case.
At the root of this is a natural reaction that modern society has taken and turned into a harmful loop: scarcity brain. That’s also the title of Michael Easter’s new book, which examines where the loop come from, what factors in our modern society make it happen and how we can break out of it, turning the negative of a scarcity loop into an abundance loop that can impact our health, happiness and how we move through and impact our world.
Michael joined us a few years ago to talk about his first book, The Comfort Crisis. In that episode, we talked about the benefits of getting bored in nature and his encouragement to spend less time seeking comfort still has me faithfully taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator every time it’s a reasonable option.
Today, Michael’s going to talk to us about scarcity brain, abundance loops, and how heading outside can help us break out of the negative cycles. ‘
Michael, welcome to Humans Outside.
Michael Easter: Thanks so much for having me back. I’m glad to be here again.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, so fun. Thank you for taking the time to do this and talk about something that, as I said, I admit that I have a trouble -with. So
Michael Easter: Well, to absolve you from some guilt, we all have trouble with this, hence, uh, the book. We are creatures that are programmed to sort of hoard, acquire, go for more and more and more, and a pretty simple reason for that is that in the past, everything we needed to survive was scarce and hard to find. So if you were the type of person who hoarded and craved and felt like you never had enough, you would have a survival advantage.
And we still have those genes, except we now live in a world where that doesn’t always make sense.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah yeah. Okay. So before we dive in, let’s start with imagining ourselves in your favorite outdoor space, like we’re hanging out outside having a conversation somewhere you like and enjoy. So, where are we with you today?
Michael Easter: We are in the Mojave Desert near my home. I live out on the edge of the desert by Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas. So the, to get onto the trails in Protected Land is a two minute walk to a gate, and I open that and I’m right on the trails and there’s some really, there’s this whole crazy network, that’s amazing and underutilized so I probably shouldn’t be talking about it here because that might change it but that is where we are and it’s I love it because it’s it’s very striking There’s just giant mountains and cliffs and the terrain is rugged and there’s cacti and there’s joshua trees. And i’m a big desert person because it is sort of a tough atmosphere and I do think that tough environments breed tough creatures as you can see in the desert the trees and the cacti and you know desert tortoises. And yeah, that’s pretty cool.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, are you saying that you’re at risk of hoarding your special place so other people don’t come to it?
Michael Easter: Yes, I Not even I mean, it’s not even a risk. I mean we’ve tipped into the disease like we got it full on now.
Amy Bushatz: Okay. So remind us, how did you become someone who likes to spend time outside being uncomfortable and maybe a little bored like we talked about last time? What’s your outdoor story?
Michael Easter: Yeah, that’s a great question So I grew up in Northern Utah, and as part of that, you’re just in this world that has a ton of amazing outdoor opportunities. So I would say it probably started when I was in elementary school, and my mom signed me up for one, scouts, and two, the ski bus, which is this bus that, you know, you put your kids on Saturday morning at 7 a. m., and it’s like a babysitter. They don’t get the kids go ski all day, get lessons, and then they get dropped back off at like 5 p. m. So this was a great deal for my mother. Um, but it probably
Amy Bushatz: We have such a thing here too, yes, I’m familiar.
Michael Easter: Okay So it probably started there and then I just always been into the outdoors and a lot of the reading I did revolved around books that involved outdoor stories and I just found it was a good way to, uh, I’ve always been like a pretty active person- like if I don’t move, I start to go absolutely clinically insane and there’s something about moving in the outdoors that keeps me, off the clinical list, just mildly insane. So
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. All right. I mean, I can buy that. And, and again, relatable. I was really excited to hear about your new book because I so enjoyed the first one. I think I saw an Instagram post at some point where you said you were writing it and I was like, yes. and, and, I actually think about your first book pretty often, particularly when I’m outside on a big adventure, letting myself get a little bored or just, you know, about to stick a spoonful of, a spoon into a jar of peanut butter in my house because you had a line in there about how unhelpful calories and how many of them are could be packed into a, scoop of Skippy, but I digress.
Michael Easter: Yeah, I will, I will say for our listeners now, when you find out what an actual serving of peanut butter is, it is absolutely soul crushing. It is probably about a third of what you thought it was, but yeah, we digress.
Amy Bushatz: Very depressing. Anyway, okay. So you told us just a few minutes ago, a little bit about what scarcity brain is but can you define that for us and tell us what that scarcity loop is? This is really the foundation of what we’re talking about.
Michael Easter: Yeah, so I would, I would define scarcity brain, pretty simply in saying it’s this feeling that I think everyone has in some way or another that we can never get enough of whether it’s, you know, food, stuff. information is these behaviors we all have, whether it’s, you know, continuing to eat when you feel like you’re full. Whether it’s buying more stuff online when you’ve got a house full of stuff. whether it’s the sort of mindless scrolling we do on Twitter, Instagram, news sites, whatever it might be.
And, the scarcity loop you mentioned is this, uh, three part behavior loop that I discovered in Las Vegas. And you can think about it as the absolute like killer of moderation because you know, we all know that everything is fine in moderation, but like none of us can actually moderate certain things, right?
We’re probably okay at moderating some things, but like terrible at others. And so why is that? So the way that I came upon this thing is that I live in Las Vegas and, you see weird things here, but.
Amy Bushatz: That’s true. I can confirm that that’s true.
Michael Easter: Yeah it’s a good town, good town to live in. Um, the weird, the weirdest thing though, is to me has always been the slot machines because slot machines are everywhere in this town. I mean, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, bars, the airport. And people play them around the clock. And to me, as someone who thinks about wellness and human behavior and psychology. Like, this doesn’t make any damn sense. Because everyone knows the house always wins. So, why do people get sucked into these things, playing over and over and over again, this sort of slow burn in their bank account more or less. And so I’m a journalist and when I have a question and I see something that doesn’t make sense, it’s like, OK, well, let’s let’s find out why.
Long story short, this through a variety of failed questions and then eventually finding some good people to talk to about this, I end up at this casino on the edge of town in Las Vegas. And it’s brand new, it’s cutting edge, but the, the catch and the sort of crazy thing is it’s not open to the public. It’s this laboratory that the gaming industry and sort of bunch of big tech companies have built to study human behavior. So they’ve built a real life working casino, except it’s all used to conduct research on human behavior. So they’re figuring out how basically everything that happens in a casino impacts human behavior and the decisions we make, how much we’re going to spend, what we’re going to do, X, Y, Z.
Now when I’m there, I end up talking to this guy who is a designer of slot machines. And he says, if you want to understand how a slot machine works, you need to understand this three part behavior loop that I call the “scarcity loop.” So the first part is opportunity. You have an opportunity to get something of value in slot machines. It’s going to be money. Two, you have unpredictable rewards.
So, you know, you’re going to get that thing of value at some point, but you don’t know when, you don’t know how valuable it’s going to be. So when the slot machine reels are rolling, you could end up losing your money. You could win $2, you could literally win $2 million dollars and your life could change in an instant.
And then three, quick repeatability. So you can repeat the behavior immediately. So with the slot machines, players generally play on average 16 games a minute. So that ends up being more than we blink. Now, the reason that this is important for everyone, not just people who sit at slot machines, is that this system is great at hooking humans on all sorts of other behaviors too. So once the casino industry really figured out how it works, and this was in the eighties, a lot of other companies kind of saw what was going on and were like, oh my God, people play the slot machine for hours. Like what’s up with that?
And you start seeing this scarcity loop being put in all sorts of other products and industries, everything from social media to new finance apps, to gig work economy apps, to, the rise of sports gambling apps like, dating apps. It’s all over the place. It’s even on our food system. And so the book really looks at how did this happen and how does this thing end up hooking people and pushing us into these quick repeat behaviors that can be fun in the short term, but eventually detrimental in the long run.
Amy Bushatz: So you’ve given some examples of behaviors that we have in response to inputs that we’re receiving. So, like, companies are presenting something, or somebody is inflicting the, the, scarcity loop upon us, or taking advantage of this natural reaction by presenting us with this loop. Are there any examples of times that the scarcity loop is at play without it being inflicted upon us by some sort of corporate greed?
Michael Easter: Yes, totally. And so what I will say too about, so you, you have like this lab is proof that companies are going, okay, like how can we leverage this thing to push people into more? At the same time, the reason it works is because it is very engaging. So, you know, the average person who goes and plays a slot machine in Las Vegas, they have a good time.
Yeah, they lose money, but it’s not, it’s not totally milking them at the same time. It is the underlying sort of architecture for addiction. So there’s always going to be in all these behaviors, there’s going to be a certain portion of the population that really fall into them to their detriment, right?
And I think that the problem is, is if it had just sat in slot machines, you’d have this really small portion of the population who’s doing this one thing. But because it’s kind of across the board now, there’s probably something in your life where it’s hurting you. But to, to answer your question- so to, to answer that, you kind of have to understand why do we get hooked on it in the first place?
So I ended up talking to this, psychologist at the University of Kentucky. His name is Thomas Zental. He’s amazing. He’s this old school dude. He’s like 80 something years old. He’s still in his lab every day. And he explained to me that the reason that we get hooked on this is because the same architecture of the scarcity loop would have helped us survive in the past.
So when you think of finding food, it’s the same thing. You have an opportunity to find food and survive. If you don’t, you’re gonna die, but you don’t know where the food is. So it’s unpredictable, right? So you go to point A, you can’t find it, you go to point B, there’s nothing there. You go to point C, nothing there.
And then D, bam, jackpot. Ding, ding, ding. We found food. We’re going to survive. This is the best thing that’s happened to us in the last 24 hours. And oh, by the way, we got to do that for the rest of our life. So it’s quick repeatability. It’s always searching. so that system, it’s sort of for our survival, we had to kind of get hooked on that random reward system.
But if you think about, a lot of the activities in nature that you can do, it’s that same architecture. So think about any act where you are searching for something. This could be, you know, hunting, this could be fishing. This could be deciding, like, I’m going to do birding. I’m going to do some animal watching.
I’m going to do, I’m going to forage for mushrooms because I’m, like, super foodie or whatever. It’s the same thing. It’s like you have an opportunity to see an animal, to, catch a fish, to find mushrooms, to whatever it might be. But you don’t know where they are. And when you find them, you don’t know if it’s going to be like you found like this, you see this amazing bird that no one has seen in five years or it’s like the same one you see all the time and then you’re just repeating the behavior all day. And what is happening as you’re in that system, which is naturally attractive to people, is that you’re outside, you’re covering a lot of ground, you’re in the sunshine, you’re often doing it with other people.
So you’re getting all these other things that are really important for us as a species. So a lot of the book, especially for this audience, it looks at like, okay, yeah. Here’s how this can hurt you in the modern world when it’s let, when it’s put into these things that sort of keep you inside and constrained and eventually get you to hand over your time and attention in a way that you may not necessarily want to, but here’s how you can put it in your life in a way that is actually going to enhance your life because there’s also, something about it that really forces, present moment awareness and it can be really enriching for people.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, so when you start talking about hunting and fishing and that kind of stuff, I had this moment where I I’ve remembered going fishing this past summer with my son. We went out with a guide on a river to fish for salmon, as, as one does in Alaska, but as I had never done. And um, this type of fishing is called flossing. So it’s a little bit like snagging, where you’re just snagging the fish with the hook, but you’re snagging it in their mouth. So it’s more palatable to everybody. Okay. It has quick repeatability because when the fish are running up, you might be pulling in like a big fish and having that rush of like, yes, I got it every couple of minutes and watching other people do the same.
So one of the things the guide told me while we were doing this was that the problem with this is, and the state has a limit of how many fish you can keep, but the limit may not be the limit of how many you personally need. And so if you’re a resident who’s taking fish home and filling the freezer or you’re a visitor who’s taking all the fish home and filling the freezer, that’s one thing.
But what he sees is out of state visitors come, they want to experience fishing, and then they don’t want to stop catching, even though they have no intention of taking home this meat, the fish, or of eating it all before they go. So they’re pulling in 10 reds on the cocilof in July, and then what hap, you know, what happens, right?
And I, that strikes me as an example of what you’re saying, this scarcity loop that In this example, it could be a good thing, right, that you have this exciting opportunity to feed your family, but could also be a bad thing where you’re just playing into waste.
Michael Easter: Yeah, exactly. And I mean, I will say like when you think about food, right? For pretty much all of time, it never made sense to try and limit the amount of food that you caught, or killed, or found, or whatever. Because food was always scarce and hard to find. You didn’t know when you were going to get the next meal.
So if you defaulted to more, even if some of it ended up wasting, that would give you a survival advantage. But today it’s not often, especially when we’re talking about people who are out fishing with a guide, that you’re going to run into a food shortage, but we still get pulled into that loop. So I think in that situation, I mean, I’ve, I’ve heard of some guides who will, knowing that will, find a way to donate the fish to local populations that need food. So that could be a good way to sort of use that knowing that people are probably going to overdo this thing. And, you know, as a guide, you don’t necessarily know how much of it they’re going to eat, but it’s like, you know, bring in your 10 or whatever the limit is and then be like, okay, how many are you realistically going to eat? Okay, we’re donating the other seven to this local food bank or whatever.
Amy Bushatz: Absolutely We went ice fishing. I mean, I’ve, I’ve done this myself. We went ice fishing. We taught, caught a ton of inland salmon. And I, looking at this fish, like, I am never going to eat this. I brought it home anyway. And we ended up donating it to a dog yard and they, the, you know, for mushing, and they fed the salmon to their dogs.
So it did not go to waste, but it was a moment where I also, in retrospect, was filled with just, I mean, kind of shame for being stuck in this, what I’ve now, I know as a scarcity loop and taking something that I knew, had I paused to ask the question, did not need.
Is there shame involved in this scarcity loop for other people?
Michael Easter: Well, it depends on what the behavior is. I mean, if it’s, uh, if it’s slot machine gambling, if it’s, buying more crap on Amazon Prime, if it’s, eating junk food, if I mean, name all these behaviors that we do over and over and over and we’re like, why the hell did I do that? Yeah. and it could be really, if you’ve just consumed too much and you were conscious of the fact that I’ve probably overdone it and this is going to go to waste.
I think that can give you. some guilt. And so for me, a lot of it is, thinking in the book about like, okay, how do we, how do we find behaviors that, put us into a good use of this scarcity loop? And then how do we find a way to find enough? And I think a lot of it too is, knowing that you’re going to default to more.
So one of the ways that I talk about how to, how to get out of it, there’s three basic ways to sort of halt a quick repeat behavior. You don’t want to be doing one of them is just being aware that this is that the scarcity loop is powering it because you often don’t know the underlying architecture and you might think that, oh, I’m a bad person.
It’s like, no, you’re just doing this thing that you’re that has made sense for the human brain for millions of years. It just doesn’t make sense today. And then you can go. Okay, so this isn’t necessarily my fault. But it is my problem. And so this leverages, what’s called the Hawthorne effect, that basically states that when you observe a behavior, the behavior tends to change.
Amy Bushatz: Time for a little break so I can tell you about the Humans Outside 365 Challenge. Want help building your own outdoor habit, some cool swag, and even a finisher medal? The Humans Outside 365 Challenge is a great way to get started. Get outside every day for a year with exclusive help. All you need to do is visit Humansoutside.com/challenge. Don’t get left out. Go to humanoutside.com/challenge to learn more now. Okay, back to the show.
You talk about an abundance loop.
Michael Easter: That’s, um, that’s when we’re doing the, that’s when we’re using the scarcity loop to do more of what’s good for us.
Amy Bushatz: Okay. So how does does that look?
Michael Easter: that would, Yeah, like we just said, it’s like anything you’re doing outside in nature, where you’re getting all these ancillary benefits. So I’ll give you, I’ll give you a good example of this. it’s used in technology. So video game systems basically rely on the scarcity loop, right? It’s like. you’re going to get this win or whatever this reward is at some point, but you don’t know when so you play the game, you play the game and then you’re like, oh I got it. Great. And then you keep repeating playing the game.
So, but when you think about video games, people generally play them inside, oftentimes alone, they’re not doing any sort of moving. So I talked to this guy whose name is, uh, John Hanke. He’s a great dude. He noticed this with one of his kids, his son. He’s like, he loves video games. I loved video games as a kid, but I also did a lot of outdoor stuff when I was a kid and that kept me healthy in a lot of other ways.
Kept me social, etc. So what he did is he goes, how can I create a game that can allow my son to play video games to get that same video game reward, but get him outside moving, get him outside being social, covering ground, all these things, right? So he comes up with Pokemon Go, and so the whole deal with Pokemon Go is you’ve got this phone, it’s like this digital app, but in order to find these Pokemon in the real world that are like displayed onto the actual map, you’ve got to walk a bunch of steps. You often have to team up with other people to catch these Pokemon. And the whole time you’re doing that you’re outside, you’re being social, you’re getting an exercise.
So to me, that seems like a good, a good use of it. And like some people will be, we’ll say, well, you shouldn’t use your phone at all outside. And it’s like, yeah, that’s probably optimal. But the reality is, is that telling a person who would prefer to sit inside and play video games to just go outside. And do nothing like That’s just a zero to 60. That’s never gonna happen, right? It’s a good step into the door where the person goes. Oh, I feel much better than I did just sitting at home. So maybe it was more than nature and the time with people and the exercise and so maybe next time I’m gonna try without my phone, right?
It’s like we need to walk people into behaviors that are good for them. Just telling someone who’s not motivated just like go outside and be like this extreme outdoor person like me It’s like it’s never gonna it’s never gonna work, you know.
Amy Bushatz: Right. Right. Right. So you talked about the Hawthorne effect, right, where you observe a behavior. You’ve just talked about using this as an on ramp to maybe getting outside. Of course, this is Humans Outside, so we like to talk about going outside. how else does heading into nature provide a conduit for breaking this scarcity loop?
Michael Easter: Well, I think that, when people tend to fall into the scarcity loop in a way that’s hurting them, it’s usually as an escape from something else.
So, you know, you’re bored at home, you’ve got some stress, like when people, an example is like when people get , stressed out, what do they do? They just check their cell phone, like for Instagram or Twitter or whatever it is, and it becomes this quick momentary escape.
And then you get sucked into it and, you know, 30 minutes later you’ve watched 45 different dog videos and you’re like, What the hell am I doing with my time? You know? So I think what happens is that when people start to go outside and do things that are challenging and inherently rewarding for humans and always have been, you start to see that a lot of, the underlying problems change or they, they get fixed and people fall into it less.
So a good, um, here’s an example in animals is that, the psychology researcher I mentioned, Thomas Zental, he did this experiment where he was basically able to turn these pigeons who lived in these small cages into degenerate gamblers. Like, he would give them a game where they could get predictable rewards, that got them more food, or they could play this random rewards gambling game that actually got them less food. And these pigeons would just repeatedly play the gambling game.
But what happened when he took the pigeons and put them into a environment that was more like their natural environment where they were, interacting with other pigeons, where they were having to do work, where they were, it was very much like their outdoor wild environment. And then he gave them the choice to play the two games.
They picked a better choice because they were stimulated in other ways of their life. They didn’t have to go searching for this stimulation through the gambling game. And so that’s kind of a long way of saying that I think finding some sort of greater purpose- a lot of, stimulation from other things, which I do believe the outdoors really does provide, because after all humans evolved outside, I think that that could be a good answer.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Also, there’s a lot going on outside. Like, there’s never a time where you’re outside that it’s just the one stimuli. There’s temperature. You feel it. There’s smell. You know, your five senses are engaged. There’s, there’s a lot going on there. Maybe there’s a sense of danger that’s, you know, putting you at risk of a scarcity mindset, but that is also providing the, the stimuli that you mentioned.
And so it strikes me that it’s just, I, I, you know, we say stimuli, but it’s distractions, right? It’s like other stuff going on.
Michael Easter: Yeah, exactly. I yeah, I think there’s a lot of good things happening there. And even just moving around, we know that time in nature is seems to be uniquely good for people and reducing stress, improving happiness, all these all these things that we want humans to have more of.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, yeah. So as part of your research, you spent quite a bit of time outside, and working yourself out of the scarcity loop by, you know, your own practices, or at least that’s what you documented. Books take a lot of time to write and to get published. So it’s been a while since you were in the thick of that. And I’m wondering how you still see that learning that you did for yourself impacting your own life today.
Michael Easter: Yeah, well, I mean, I think that a few things I’ve learned is one that I’ve just become more aware of why I tend to fall into some of these behaviors that fall into the scarcity loop, whether it’s buying crap online, you know, whether it’s time on social media. but also, you know, when you look at what humans needed to survive and thrive and be happy for most of the time, it wasn’t much.
Like we really didn’t need much. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that humans started thinking like, I need X item, like this is a necessity in my life. I need X thing. I need to sort of climb this social ladder. I need to, you know, have X amount of status via my, whatever Instagram or, or however you want to quantify it.
And so I think it’s really taught me that, you know, we can be very happy with. Not much with far less than I than we think, but the cultural and economic trajectory over the last 150 years, I think, has pushed us to believe that we need a lot of things, in order to thrive and survive. And so I I’m better able to notice when my sort of ancient brain is telling me like, Oh, you need to do that thing.
You need to buy that thing. You need to do X, Y, Z in order to. Feel like you’re doing enough in order to, feel like you’re accomplishing something, feel happy, whatever it might be. And so I think that, that realization can be powerful, but you, you don’t know it just because we’re kind of, you know, it’s like the fish in water that don’t know they’re in water.
It’s like, you just, you get born out into the world and it’s like, yeah, you just like. Try and do as much as you can and you buy stuff. Everyone buys stuff. Yeah, oh, I need this random car in order to feel like I have enough whatever like this is just assist That’s the waters that we’re swimming in and so I think that realizing that we are in some waters that humans have never been in For most of time and they’re a little bit strange waters I think can help give you some context around why you do what you do and also free you of some behaviors you maybe Don’t want to have
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. What are ways that you actively choose abundance now? Give me some examples. You mentioned not buying stuff online, so that’s one.
Michael Easter: Yeah putting putting time limits if I’m going to buy something like so one part of the scarcity loop is the third part is quick repeatability. So the faster you can repeat a behavior, the more likely you are to repeat it. So if you can just simply find ways to slow down behaviors that you don’t want to do, that’s a, that’s a huge benefit. So for just general advice for people who maybe buy too much, if you decide, okay, I’m not going to buy anything online. I’m only doing it in person that puts in a pause that is going to slow down your rate of buying. If you just said, okay, I’m going to put it in the cart, but then I’m going to wait X amount of days till I actually buy it.
Most times you’ll be like, I don’t know why I wanted that in the first place. You’ll be like, why is this in my cart? Why did I put this in my car?
Right? Same with food. Modern sort of ultra processed food. One of the key ways that,it leads us to eat more is that it’s really, we can eat it quickly, it doesn’t take much time to chew. It, um, just kind of goes down. And this is, I talked to a person who’s a junk food executive and he basically said, he’s like, yeah, we use the scarcity loop in order to make, junk food more appealing so people eat it faster and enjoy it more. And I think that, um, that has had some long term consequences.
But in terms of how it applies outdoors, I mean, I still, I still go hunting in the back country every year. I mean, I think that’s a great way to really get, for me anyways, to get engaged. And I do use every part of the animal that I legally can. And also realizing that, you know, one hunt is enough. I don’t, I don’t need to go hunting four times. Cause like I live in a house with two people. Like I don’t need three, four, 500 pounds of meat in my freezer. Like 100 pounds for a year is probably good, and it gives me that one time and then finding other ways as well when it’s not hunting season.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. Did, okay, when you were interviewing these people, I mean, this is a question as a journalist myself, right? When you were interviewing these, these people about this and, and having this food executive tell you that he’s leveraging this scarcity loop, did you feel like you were getting them to share some dirty little secret about how they’re manipulating Americans or, in the world? Or was it not that kind of, kind of moment?
Michael Easter: I mean it depends on who, I’ll give you an example with, um, the guy I talked to at the casino lab and his point was when it comes to gambling, he was like, look, gambling takes a ton of heat. But guess what? Like gambling is highly, highly regulated. There are certain things I can do and there’s a lot of things that I can’t do.
And the problem is that with a lot of other behaviors, especially in tech, there’s no regulation. Like they can pull all these different levers that he can’t because gambling is regulated. And, and his other point was like, there’s going to be a certain portion of the population that become… compulsive gamblers, you know, the, the research says it’s going to be 2 percent or whatever it might be.
And he’s like, and that is definitely a terrible side effect. But for most people, it’s going to be fine. Like you’re going to have some fun. you’re going to have this fun little thrill in modern life. It’s like you’re putting something on the line. That’s fun. That’s risky. But I think it’s becoming aware of when you’re doing it too often, you know, and that line is sometimes you don’t realize you’ve gone over the line until it’s too late.
And so I think it’s, it’s one of those, it’s a, it’s a big question about modern life. It’s like, do we want to regulate everything or not? Right. It’s like, should we make gambling more boring because 2 percent of people have a problem with it? Should we make junk food? Not as delicious because a certain number of people have a problem with it?
Should we make Instagram? Should we force Instagram to be like, Hey, your reels can only be so entertaining. You got to put this like artificial, like- no good reels anymore. Sorry, because certain people are getting too hooked on it? And the answer the answer societally is no -We need to figure out as individuals what is the thing that I’m falling into too much and then ask the underlying question of why because usually it’s a deeper reason I’m bored. I don’t have enough stimulation in my life. I’ve got some underlying problem with my family or whatever it might be and I’m using this as an .Escape
Amy Bushatz: Right. Right. So, speaking of being bored, your first book talked about getting and being uncomfortable. What’s the line, what’s the connection between being okay with discomfort and being uncomfortable and finding abundance and being in the abundance loop? What’s the, what’s the logical connection there, if there is one?
Michael Easter: Yeah, well, I think so. In the first book, The Comfort Crisis, I talk about how the average person today is spending more than 12 hours a day engaged with digital media, and part of that is because it’s a very easy, effortless escape from boredom. So boredom is this evolutionary discomfort that in the past basically told us whatever you’re doing with your time right now, the return on your time invested has worn thin.
So for, you know, say we’re hunting and no animals are coming through, boredom kicks on and says, go do something else. Now, in the past that something else was often productive. You know, we’d go find berries or pick potatoes, but today it often gets co- opted by devices that are hyper stimulating. So I think the real difference between.
The past and now, and I don’t know if this is answering your question, is that we have these sort of engineered outlets that are so hyper stimulating, more stimulating than anything we would have had in the past, and that can often co opt our attention and why we do what we do, and so for me, it’s realizing that, things are hyper stimulating today, and like, It’s okay to not always be blissfully entertained at any given moment, because the reality is, is if you are, you’re going to have some long term consequences for that.
So really, I think the story of improvement in the context of modern life is that you often have to choose things that are uncomfortable in the short term, but they give you long term benefits. Because the way that so much of society and technology and different systems are set up is to provide you with short term comfort, but it’s at the expense of long term benefits, long term growth, long term meaning- those sorts of things.
Amy Bushatz: And finding that, just to kind of bring this full circle, finding that short term discomfort can look like going out into nature and experiencing all of the various stimuli we talked about a little bit ago that may or may not be comfortable. In fact, it probably is going to be uncomfortable until you sort of get used to it or grow your bubble of what you find acceptable, and, then you’re going to be able to re-focus and not have to live in this scarcity mindset.
Michael Easter: Yeah, exactly. I mean, a good example of that is this concept I write about in the first book called the three day effect. And it basically found that three days in nature does just wonders for the human brain, for how we feel for attention, for creativity, for calmness, for feelings of connection, all these things.
But when they do these studies, I mean, they’re talking to the participants every single time, like every study and they’re going, the participants on day one are like, I’m uncomfortable. I don’t know if I like this in the outdoors. Day two, they’re like, okay, this isn’t, this isn’t as bad as I thought, but it’s still kind of like, I don’t know, I’m kind of cold. I’m worried about all these emails I might have at home, blah, blah, blah.
And then by day three, people tend to calm down and be like, Oh, this is actually really great. Like, I’m so glad I did this. And they learn a lot of things about themselves. And they’re able to take that back into their normal life. And the benefits seem to last at least some period of time. It’s not like they just wash away right when you get back into, you know, the built environment.
And I think that that really is, the story, it falls into that overarching architecture that’s like, things might be hard in the short term, but they give you a long term benefit, right?
And you’re glad you did them. It’s like exercise. Nobody wants to start a workout. But after the workout is done, you’re always glad you did it. Like no one ever goes, Oh, I’m so mad that I worked out.
Right. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I mean, I, I can’t think of time I have been, so there’s that. Although I will say up until mile two of any given run, I’m sort of like on the edge. Maybe that’s the, that’s the three day effect and, and as it pertains to heart rate over an hour. Yeah.
Amy Bushatz: But yeah, okay, well, thank you so much for your time. We walk ourselves out of these episodes, listen to our guests favorite outdoor moments. So just like describing a time that was impactful or memorable to you outside. so maybe you have something that relates to what we’ve been talking about today, if you would mind describing it for us.
Michael Easter: Oh, yeah, I’ll give you a recent example. So one of my, one of my best friends from childhood, he ended up, going to Utah State and getting a PhD in wildlife management. And, he works at some institute up there. And anyways, I always put in, for hunting tags in Utah. And I had pulled a tag, like, right in his backyard. So I’m like, hey, dude. And he’s like, okay, yeah, let’s go out together. And so we went hunting and it was, really hard at first because it was this crazy storm had rolled in and we were just like walking around in snow up to our waists and these mountains and there was just nothing and it sucked. But the second day it all came together. And so it really was like this really hard search and trudging and like, you know maybe we’re gonna see some mule deer, maybe not. I don’t know. And then when it came together, it was like, oh my god his is all coming together. Right? And afterwards, we’re just like hugging each other. Like, Oh my God, I can’t believe we just did that. And so it becomes really rewarding when you’re doing these sorts of, activities with someone that you’re close to.
And I think it brings people closer together. I’m, I mean, I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life. Had I decided to sit home and do more work, which was literally something I’m like, I don’t know if I can get out this year, I’ve got so much stuff to do with this book, I would have never remembered that. And I’m going to remember going out and doing that with a friend.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, that’s so great. Michael, thank you so much for joining us today on Humans Outside. Sure appreciate your time and expertise.
Michael Easter: Yeah. Thank you.
Amy Bushatz: That’s a wrap on this episode of Humans Outside. But hey, I need your help. Enjoy this show? Leave a five star rating or review or both wherever you get your podcasts. It makes me feel good, but it also helps others find the show too. Now, go get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.