How to Make the Most Out of Not Having Enough: Kelly Goldsmith (Transcript)

Here is the full text of behavioral scientist Kelly Goldsmith’s talk titled “How to Make the Most Out of Not Having Enough” at TEDxNashville conference. In this talk, Dr. Kelly Goldsmith makes a surprising case for how a little scarcity can benefit us, both individually and collectively.

Kelly Goldsmith – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

So today, we are going to work together to solve a puzzle. And that puzzle is, how you can make the most out of the many times, every day, when you feel like you don’t have enough.

And the reason that this is a puzzle is because most people think of not having enough as being a bad thing. But what I want to challenge you all to think about is how we can leverage that feeling and turn it into something positive, something we can benefit from both individually and collectively.

Now, I started investigating this topic after I graduated from Yale and took a job at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern in 2009.

And one reason why I was interested in studying these feelings of not having enough was because I kept noticing that even though we all have access to so much, many people, myself included, frequently talk about their lives as if they’re experiencing scarcity.

And to illustrate how often all of us in this room are guilty of this, I’m going to describe two common types of scarcity that frequently come up in conversation.

Now, first, there is objective scarcity. What objective scarcity means is that we are actually running out of something that we need. So if your car is low on gas, or your cell phone is low on battery, that is objective scarcity.

Similarly, if you don’t have enough time, or you don’t have enough money, or you don’t have enough room in your brain to think about all the time and money you don’t have enough of. Those are forms of objective scarcity too.

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And despite the relative abundance in our society, in many ways objective scarcity is still alive and well. For example, we frequently feel like we don’t have enough time. Right?

Why is that? Well, it’s in part because technology has given us unprecedented access and opportunities, and we do not want to miss out, personally or professionally.

Has the fact that we can buy whatever we want, whenever we want, and have it delivered in two days or less caused us to buy less? No.

Has the fact that we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want, on any of our devices, without commercials, caused us to watch less? Right? No. Of course.

We also work more. It used to be that having a day job that paid the bills meant you were successful. Right? Now people feel pressured to have a side hustle.

So if you’re crafty, you need to open an Esty store. If you’re witty, you need to start a podcast. If you like to take pictures of your breakfast, you should be an Instagram influencer.

But where are these additional hours in the day supposed to come from? That’s a lot of pressure we’re putting on ourselves. And a lack of time is just one type of objective scarcity that many of us deal with today.

Now, in addition, there is a second form of scarcity that I’m guessing will also feel familiar after I describe it. And it’s called subjective scarcity.

Now, subjective scarcity is what happens when what we have is actually fine, but we still feel like we don’t have enough.

What causes subjective scarcity is things like social comparison. Who we compare ourselves to has a huge influence on if we believe what we have is enough.

We can also compare ourselves to the standards or expectations that others have for us, or even the goals that we have for ourselves. And any time we come up lacking, we’re going to experience a sense of subjective scarcity, even if, in actuality, what we have is totally fine.

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Now, the reason I believe subjective scarcity is worth understanding is because today, for lots of us, subjective scarcity is increasing. I consider Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram to be the four horsemen of the subjective scarcity apocalypse.

I mean, these platforms give us 24/7 access into all of the lives of all of those Joneses we are so desperate to keep up with. It’s embarrassing to say it, but the deficits in my own life that I have been forced to recognize as a function of these social media platforms are pretty staggering.

This past holiday season, for example, my elf on the shelf placement, which I thought was fine, seemed like garbage when compared to some of my friends, who took the time to make elaborate scenes with tiny cups of milk, and tiny homemade sugar cookies, and even the perfect tiny, little elf-sized napkin.

And our family trips to exotic cities like Cincinnati, Ohio, well, they seemed great, until I realized that this actual friend of mine paid to take her kid on a private yacht around the Mediterranean. This kid is not even two!

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