Tired of constantly craving what you don’t have instead of being satisfied with what you do? Scarcity Brain author Michael Easter is here to help!
What We Discuss with Michael Easter:
- What is the scarcity brain that helped humans evolve to run the planet, and how does it work against us in the context of the modern world?
- How the scarcity loop operates like a “serial killer” of motivation to push us into repeat behaviors that can be fun in the short term, but have the potential to harm us in the long term.
- What causes us to manufacture the scarcity loops that can ruin our lives with minimal prompting — and what can pigeons teach us about how the scarcity brain processes gambling?
- How we can break these scarcity loops when they’re so entrenched in every aspect of our behavior.
- How scarcity loops can be gamed for positive benefit.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
Our innate human drive to accumulate resources and constantly seek more was advantageous in ancient times when food was scarce and we often had to endure days between dinners. However, in today’s era of abundance — where global supply chains ensure that virtually no one with sufficient means goes hungry — this ‘scarcity mindset’ often compels us to pursue more instead of appreciating what we already possess.
On this episode, we’re joined by Michael Easter, a contributing editor at Men’s Health magazine, a columnist for Outside magazine, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the author of The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self. His latest book, Scarcity Brain: Fix Your Craving Mindset and Rewire Your Habits to Thrive with Enough, gives us insight into why we never feel comfortable with having enough, what we can do to break the patterns that have us perpetually seeking more, and how we can even hack these tendencies for our benefit. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Missed our conversation with Daniel Pink in which we discussed the psychology, biology, and economics behind scheduling for optimal effect (including sleep) — and why your ideal time to get something done may widely differ from someone else’s? Catch up with episode 63: Daniel Pink | When Is the Best Time to Get Things Done?
Thanks, Michael Easter!
If you enjoyed this session with Michael Easter, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Scarcity Brain: Fix Your Craving Mindset and Rewire Your Habits to Thrive with Enough by Michael Easter | Amazon
- The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort To Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self by Michael Easter | Amazon
- Michael Easter | Website
- Michael Easter | Twitter
- Michael Easter | Instagram
- Michael Easter | Men’s Health
- Michael Easter | Outside
- Caroline Rose | Captagon and the New Age of Narco-Diplomacy | Jordan Harbinger
- American Policemen and Their Moustaches | HeadStuff
- How to Break Bad Habit Loops with Scarcity Brain Author Michael Easter | Random House
- Why Does the House Always Win? A Look at Casino Profitability | Investopedia
- Bright Lights: What One Woman’s 25-Year Gambling Addiction Really Cost | The Guardian
- High Recreational Gamblers Show Increased Stimulatory Effects of an Acute Laboratory Gambling Challenge | Journal of Gambling Studies
- Netflix Does Not Care if You Hate the Auto-Play Trailer Feature | Thrillist
- Why Shopping App Temu Could Be Cause for Consumer Concern | The Week
- G.I.s’ Drug Use in Vietnam Soared — With Their Commanders’ Help | History
- Do Pigeons Gamble? I Wouldn’t Bet Against It | Current Directions in Psychological Science
- Hawthorne Effect: How It Works and Is It Real? | Investopedia
- Food, Big Data, and Decision-Making: A Scoping Review | Journal of Urban Health
- Most Food in America is Hyper-Palatable and ‘Difficult to Stop Eating,’ Scientists Say | Newsweek
- Physical and Situational Inequality on Airplanes Predicts Air Rage | PNAS
- The White Lotus | HBO
- Find Your Buddy! | Pokémon GO
- Pokémon Go Makes People Walk 2,000 More Steps | Time
- Jason J. McCarthy | Instagram
- What is Rucking? | GORUCK
- JHS in Times Square | Instagram
- The Science Behind What Tinder Is Doing to Your Brain | Psychology Today
- Backcountry Survivalist Laura Zerra’s Fitness Resilience Advice | Men’s Health
- Why You Should Stop Reading the News | Michael Easter
- The One Thing All Great Learners Know by Michael Easter | Forge
- The Reinforcing Natures of Hyper-Palatable Foods: Behavioral Evidence for Their Reinforcing Properties and the Role of the US Food Industry in Promoting Their Availability | Current Addiction Reports
- Media’s Role in Broadcasting Acute Stress Following the Boston Marathon Bombings | PNAS
- Think “More Boredom” Not “Less Phone” by Michael Easter | Medium
902: Michael Easter | Rewiring Your Scarcity Brain in a World of Excess
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Michael Easter: Everyone knows that everything is fine in moderation. So then the question is, well, why do we all suck so bad at it? Why can't we get enough? And what are the things that we seem to not be able to get enough of, and why?
[00:00:18] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker through long-form conversations with a variety of amazing folks from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, and performers, even the occasional former cult member, Fortune 500 CEO, legendary Hollywood filmmaker, or hostage negotiator.
[00:00:48] And if you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show — and of course, I always appreciate it when you do that — our episode starter packs are a great place to begin. These are collections of our favorite episodes on persuasion, negotiation, psychology, geopolitics, disinformation, cyber warfare, crime and cults, and more. That will help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or you can search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:11] Today, we're exploring our scarcity brain. The evolved patterns of thought that we as humans initially developed to help keep us fed and safe during the trying times of early humanity. This scarcity brain is responsible for humans making it as far as we have so far, but it's also maladaptive for modern times. We eat too much, we hoard possessions, we get sucked into our devices and social media, we get addicted to drugs, we get addicted to gambling, status, even information. My guest Michael Easter and I dive into why this happens to us and what we can do about it.
[00:01:44] Oh, and folks, I talk a lot during this episode, more than usual, I acknowledge that. There was a lot to cover, I wanted to move the show along, so I did a lot of summarizing and the show closes longer than usual because there's a lot of really good stuff in it, in my opinion. Or, maybe I just had too much damn caffeine, shout out to Cometeer coffee, I suppose. So if you're one of those people who thinks, "Oh, man, Jordan talks too much during the episodes," you shouldn't listen to this one because it's going to piss you off and I have no sympathy for you because now you've been warned and this show is called The Jordan Harbinger Show so hey, sometimes you get what's on the label.
[00:02:13] Now, here we go with Michael Easter.
[00:02:17] You've done some exciting and dangerous stuff, man. I wasn't really expecting this because I thought, okay, research is comfort or something like that. It's just some sort of like science guy that sits around and looks at studies. But here the book opens with you investigating Captagon in Iraq. And I didn't even know what Captagon was until a few months ago. I did a whole show about it, episode 864. And yeah, I don't know if I'd be comfortable going to Syria and Iraq and being like, "Can you take me to the drug dealers in the Middle East? I want to investigate the drugs. Take me to the criminals." "You mean the government?" "No, the other criminals." I don't know if I'd be comfortable with that.
[00:02:50] Michael Easter: That's my thing. I mean, I'm an investigative journalist, but part of what I do has always been, I firmly believe that to understand a story, to understand all the mechanics of it, to get the information that you need to really tell a story. You have to go in person and sometimes I get to go to the nice, shiny, comfortable labs where they bring me coffee and it's, you know, at Harvard or whatever, but some days you find yourself in Iraq in a prison looking at cells of drug dealers and terrorists. But ultimately, I think that going there makes you get a better story, makes the story more interesting, and gets you better information to really understand it. I think we live in a world where it's very easy to sit behind a screen and report as a journalist and I don't think that that's always good.
[00:03:31] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, look, I agree. As a guy who sits behind a screen and, and has interviews, I completely agree that there's something to be said for going and seeing things in person.
[00:03:39] What is prison like in Iraq? I mean, if you're a drug dealer and you're in prison in Iraq, I'd imagine the US prison system is pretty bad. I don't know. I mean, what the Iraqi prison system can't be, can't be better.
[00:03:50] Michael Easter: A lot of concrete, a lot of bars, not much else. Yeah, not great living conditions. There's a lot of people. So when I was there, it was the sort of drug outpost on this edge of town. And they had, I think there's eight cells total and they were packed, but then there was this one separate cell for the head honchos, right? The scariest people. They had drug dealers, some leaders of terror organizations. And they had their own special cells. So I guess the worse you are, the better conditions you get, because they had a little more room.
[00:04:17] Jordan Harbinger: Huh.
[00:04:17] Michael Easter: But yeah, it wasn't a good scene. But it's funny though, because the actual police were really funny guys. I mean, they hear that there's this American in there. So they come out and they're like kind of looking at me and like, "What's this dude doing?" You know?
[00:04:31] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:04:31] Michael Easter: But it's like, they don't engage me. And they all chain smoke like crazy. There's two qualities of Iraqi police. They chain smoke and they've got the greatest mustaches that you have ever seen in the world.
[00:04:40] Jordan Harbinger: The bigger the mustache, the better cop you are maybe in that area of the world.
[00:04:44] Michael Easter: Yeah. So they're just sitting there, just all kind of standing around me, having their conversations, just shooting the sh*t, laughing, chain smoking. Touching their mustaches, they occasionally look over at me like, aah, you know? Yeah, it was an interesting time.
[00:04:55] Jordan Harbinger: What is it with cops and mustaches? If you're a police officer, tell me what's going on with the mustache thing. I mean, highway patrol guys in the US is famous for the mustaches. It's always just seems like a very cop thing. You even have this trend where it's like, what's with the cop's stashe? And apparently, it's also the same in the Middle East. And even look at like old sheriffs and they've got the Yosemite Sam mustache in the photo.
[00:05:14] Michael Easter: Yeah, you want to hear something crazy? I did a ride along with Las Vegas police recently because I live in Vegas. And cops were always able to have mustaches, but they couldn't have beards. So I think it was, "I want facial hair, but I can't have a beard. So I'll have the mustache." But recently, the Las Vegas police started allowing police to have a beard, and it is the best thing they've ever done for police mental health. Literally, the lady, the person who I talked to who was kind of running up a mental health program, she's like, "Literally, this is the best thing we've ever done is just let these dudes have beards."
[00:05:46] Jordan Harbinger: How can a beard help you with your mental health?
[00:05:48] Michael Easter: It's allowing them to have some freedom. The more constrained a human being feels. I think the worse off they are. So it's like this little win where you've wanted this thing and you're like, "Damn, I have this job that won't let me have this beard. That's something I've always wanted." And then you get that little win. And it's enough to just move the ball like, "Yeah, all right, I'm feeling better."
[00:06:07] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:06:07] Michael Easter: Now, they'll probably normalize, but—
[00:06:09] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:06:09] Michael Easter: —for now they're happy.
[00:06:10] Jordan Harbinger: I like it. It's like being able to undo the top button of your shirt for the first time.
[00:06:14] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[00:06:14] Jordan Harbinger: At the end of a long day, undo that tie. You got that ZZ Top beard as a cop. Yeah, all right, fine. I guess I can understand the little wins. Look, if that's all it takes to help people get past certain mental health barriers, then beard's for everybody, I guess.
[00:06:27] Let's talk about scarcity brain. Well, first of all, tell us what this is and how you got interested in it. Because I think we've all sort of felt this at a subconscious level, if we're not aware of what it is. And I've never heard anybody talk about it before.
[00:06:39] Michael Easter: Yeah. So my book is called scarcity brain. And what it looks at is that everyone knows that everything is fine in moderation.
[00:06:47] So then the question is, well, why do we all suck so bad at it, right? Why do we seem to never be able to find enough? People keep eating when they're full. We often find ourselves shopping when we already own a ton of stuff. We scroll through social media or keep binging news when we know it's not necessarily improving our mental health.
[00:07:03] So the book looks at that. It looks at why can't we get enough? And what are the things that we seem to not be able to get enough of? And why?
[00:07:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it seems like the scarcity mindset is responsible for loads of unhealthy behavior from overeating. That's kind of the most obvious one. And then binge watching television. Well, I guess it's not new. You used to just watch whatever came on TV, now you can watch what you want for as long as you want, which is probably worse, because you're no longer stuck watching something you hate just because you're watching TV, you're watching something you like, so you can almost lie to yourself and be like, "But I'm enjoying this," even though you're falling asleep. And it's been 13 hours of Game of Thrones and you're watching it 2x or whatever. So how did this evolve though to keep us alive? Surely this wiring comes from somewhere and it's probably neck and neck with addiction.
[00:07:49] Michael Easter: Yeah, so when you think about how humans evolved, everything we needed to survive in the past, it was all scarce and it was all hard to find, right? So everything from food, to possessions, to information, even influence and status, the number of people we could influence. All hard to find, all scarce. And we lived like that for basically two and a half million years, all of time.
[00:08:10] And it wasn't until very recently in the grand scheme of time that we started to get a abundance of all these things that were sort of built to crave, right? So in the past, it always made sense to eat more food than you needed. If you had the opportunity to hoard items, to try and get as much information as you can to just keep seeking information, all that would give you a survival advantage. And then our environments flip and now we have an abundance of all this stuff and we're still compelled to just consume and consume all this stuff.
[00:08:38] So think about food, you know, we throw out about a third of our food today.
[00:08:42] Jordan Harbinger: That's gross. In the United States, I mean.
[00:08:44] Michael Easter: In the United States, yeah. I think at least half of countries have an obesity rate over 20. You know, we used to own a handful of items. You'd have some tools. You'd have maybe three outfits. You'd have some shoes that you repaired all the time. Furniture passed down. Now, the average house has 10,000 items.
[00:09:01] Think about information. This is a crazy stat I learned while researching this book is that the average person today in a single day sees more information than a person 700 years ago would have encountered in their entire life.
[00:09:13] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So in one day?
[00:09:14] Michael Easter: One day.
[00:09:14] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:09:14] Michael Easter: That's crazy.
[00:09:14] Jordan Harbinger: That is crazy.
[00:09:15] Michael Easter: This is a result of progress. Don't get me wrong. But at the same time, we haven't quite, you know, we still have these ancient brains that are telling us more helps you survive. You need more. You need more. We came up in scarcity. We don't live in it anymore. And so the anthropologists would call this an evolutionary mismatch.
[00:09:31] Jordan Harbinger: Obviously, this problem is just going to get worse, right? Because it's getting easier to get more and more information. You're going to want to consume that even more if it's interesting to you. If I'm remembering back when I was a kid, I'd watch TV, the cartoons would end and I'd be like, okay, what now? Go outside and play. Now, you can watch cartoons 24/7, and not just cartoons, the one you like the most, every episode, all 400 of them, every day, at any time that you want. And the same thing's going to happen with information, it's very easy.
[00:10:00] I mean, before, even when I was growing up, getting an interesting book, you'd have to hear about it from a friend, and then you'd have to go to the bookstore if the library didn't have it and the copy was out, or whatever it was. Now, you can just download 75 books that are on some listicle that you googled, and you're busy for the next year and a half reading those books.
[00:10:19] And same thing with shopping. I mean, I remember It was so exciting to go to the mall when I was a teenager. You'd see all this new stuff. You'd find out about new stuff. It was cool if you saw new clothes the day they came out or the week, whatever the month they came out and you could get them and teenage girls would go and buy new stuff. They came. Now, you literally just get an alert on your phone. Every time you're scrolling through about new stuff that you can buy. That probably doesn't even exist yet. And as soon as you click buy, they're going to make a run of those after a day of sales and ship it out. It's going to be garbage. So you have that with info, you have it with shopping.
[00:10:53] I can imagine that there's probably other categories too that I'm just not thinking of.
[00:10:56] Michael Easter: Yeah, status. I mean, think of in the past, humans probably came up in groups of about 150 people max. And now we can go online and influence a million people with a single tweet, right? And it all gets quantified and gamified. I mean, think of amount of people that you encounter in your life as well. But it's just, we have a lot of status games that have kind of been put on steroids as well.
[00:11:17] And it's funny you brought up the cartoons because I would argue the other thing about the cartoons that you and I probably watched as a kid. If you watch those cartoons versus the cartoons today, the cartoons today are like crystal meth of cartoons, dude. Compared to like there's everything is a lot faster, a lot more stimulating and that's because you have so much of it that it's all in competition with itself.
[00:11:39] And so if you're in competition for attention, what do you have to do? You got to be faster. You got to be louder. You got to be more stimulating, right? So as we ramp that up, I think that that has effects on focus on effectively what people will pay attention to. Not always in a good way.
[00:11:56] Jordan Harbinger: I definitely agree with that. I watch stuff that my kids are watching on the iPad and they're really young and some of it is fine, right? It's Miss Rachel teaching them how to talk or sing. There's cartoons that I recognize some that I don't, plenty of that I don't. I don't know if you have little kids, but there's this whole genre of videos that are done by, like, and I'm not picking on them because of their nationality, but I'm thinking of one specific channel. It's like this Russian family that I think lives in California, and they don't really just speak any English. In fact, they don't really talk at all. They just make noises, and there's sound effects, and there's like these dumb kind of stock animation things that they get from some software that they lay over the video. And it's really dumb, quick cuts to everything and they're always running everywhere and screaming and yelling and jumping and my kids, they really like it. For me, I watch it and I feel uncomfortably overstimulated and I'm like, I can't put my finger on it, but this is bad for my kids, especially because every video they're buying like boatloads of plastic balls to fill up their whole house from the computer and I'm like, this is just mindless consumer wasteful crap and they're not even talking.
[00:12:59] So my kids learning absolutely nothing other than having this like jarring scene change every 12 seconds or two seconds in the video and I don't want them to grow up wanting to be stimulated like that because reality is just going to disappoint them.
[00:13:13] Michael Easter: Yeah, totally. One thing that I talk about in the book that I think is a really important turn in how we live and what grabs our attention is this behavior loop that I call the scarcity loop. And you can think about this as the sort of serial killer of moderation. I can give you the long story about how I found it, but long story short is that, you know, I live in Vegas. And when you live in Vegas, you obviously see a lot of strange things. It's a strange town built on excess.
[00:13:39] The strangest things to me though, have always been the slot machines. And that's because they're everywhere like casinos, obviously, but also the gas stations, the restaurants, the bars, the grocery stores. And people play them around the clock. And to me, as someone who thinks about and writes about human behavior and especially bad habits, because bad habits are what really bring people down, I'm going, what the hell is up with this? Like, this doesn't make sense. Everyone knows the house always wins, but these things just suck people into this behavior that hurts them in the long run.
[00:14:07] So in studying this and investigating this, I ended up at this casino on the edge of town in Vegas, and it's brand new cutting edge. But the public isn't welcome. You know, every other casino wants to get you in the door. This one, no one's welcome. And it is a casino laboratory. So it is funded by the gambling industry and a bunch of companies that are in sort of big tech. And they've created a human behavior laboratory in essence, trying to figure out how everything that happens in a casino alters humans, future decisions and behavior.
[00:14:38] And while I'm there, I meet with a slot machine designer who unpacks this scarcity loop, that serial killer of moderation. And he basically said, if you want to get a human to repeat a behavior. Often to their detriment, the thing has got to have three parts. Okay, so it's got to have opportunity. It's got to have unpredictable rewards and it's got to have quick repeatability.
[00:14:59] So opportunity means this behavior can get us something of value. In the case of a slot machine, it's money. Second, unpredictable rewards. We know we'll get the thing of value sometime, but we don't know when and we don't know how big it's going to be. So with any slot machine game, you could lose. You can win some quarters. You could win a life changing amount of money, right? You have no idea. And then, quick repeatability, you can immediately repeat the behavior.
[00:15:22] So with the slot machine, you can play again and again and again. So the average player, I think, plays 16 games a minute, which is more than we blink. Now that is what makes the slot machine work, right? You hit the thing, you got an opportunity to win money. You're like, am I going to win this time? Nope. Play again this time. Nope. Oh, one, a few quarters. Oh, one, $10. Like people will just get sucked into this.
[00:15:42] Now, what becomes important about this scarcity loop and why it's not just the gambling companies who are vested in this place is that this same behavior loop can get people to repeat a lot of other behaviors, too. So you start to look at the landscape of how we spend our time and attention now. And you start to see this thing everywhere. So this is what makes social media work, right? This is what makes dating apps work. It's in shopping, right? It's in sports betting. It's in being put into stock betting apps. In all those cases, you have an opportunity to get something of value. You don't know when you're going to get it. And if you just re keep repeating the behavior, you'll get a new surprise.
[00:16:20] Jordan Harbinger: The slot machine stuff was crazy. And it was also super depressing to read about because it's obviously super addictive. I think you, you mentioned some anecdote where you walked into like a 7-Eleven and a guy's on the slot machine, which is a lame environment to gamble in, first of all. I mean, it's like, just a gross, like, convenience store where, when I go in a place like that, I'm like, all right, touch as few things as possible, grab your drink or whatever, and get out of here, or you're slurpy, or whatever.
[00:16:45] And like, this dude's sitting there for hours, and I guess he had a pizza delivered? Which means, look, I've been here for so long that I'm actually hungry. I think you asked the clerk, like, is that normal? Yeah, this guy's a regular. He just basically lives at this 7-Eleven. This is like his machine or video poker slot thing, and he just plays it all day and all night. It's so gross to think about, because I think we can all sort of imagine ourselves in that guy's shoes, and we're just like, this is an unhappy place, where this guy's ordering junk food, and he spends the majority of his week inside a 7-Eleven losing money.
[00:17:15] Michael Easter: Totally. I agree. I will say, however. I spoke to a psychologist who goes, "When I see people on their cell phones, I see my rats in the cage, playing the gambling game—"
[00:17:25] Jordan Harbinger: I'm sure.
[00:17:25] Michael Easter: "—that I created." I mean, it's very much the architecture is the exact same. So if you take social media, it's that you have an opportunity to get sort of status points. So you post—
[00:17:34] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:17:35] Michael Easter: —and then you wait to say, "Did I get just a couple of likes? And like that didn't feel great." Or, "Did my post go viral? And oh my God, this is the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me." And to know that to know how many likes you're getting, you got to check and recheck that thing all day.
[00:17:46] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:46] Michael Easter: I mean, it's the exact same mechanics of a slot machine. And in fact, Silicon Valley looks to Las Vegas for a lot of these mechanics that gets put into apps.
[00:17:57] Jordan Harbinger: It doesn't surprise me at all. I mean, the lab that you visited invents games for behavior control and modification, and that stuff's fascinating, but of course, with great power comes great responsibility and usually casinos and corporations, they're not thinking like, "How do we responsibly wield this power?" Right? They're just like, "How do we use this to make as much money as possible?"
[00:18:15] I've said this on the show before, but I have just opted out of social media. I use Instagram to post stories that don't get likes, or if they do, I don't even know how to check them. And I get messages from show fans, but I maybe once every year or every two years, I'll post something that's like a big milestone. And I don't like it because I do check the comments because, you know, I moderate those or I check the likes on there and it's not worth me hiring someone to run it because I post once every two years. So I ended up doing it myself or asking my wife to do it. And it's just stupid. I don't like it.
[00:18:47] And unfortunately, or fortunately, if you opt out and you stop doing it, the algorithm's like, "Well, fine, we're not going to promote your crap to anybody." So then it's sort of the snowball stops rolling down the hill and you can take a break from it. But it's hard initially because you feel like you're missing something, right? You're missing that opportunity that people have from the slot machine. When I was a kid, slot machines had the lever. Now you just have the button and you don't even have to pull the lever. You're not even getting the exercise of yanking on that thing.
[00:19:13] And I would assume that's because, well, one, it's digital, a lot of it, but two, they don't want you to go, "Man, my arm is literally in pain. Maybe I should stop playing this machine." They just want you to not even think about it at all.
[00:19:25] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[00:19:25] Jordan Harbinger: Take the friction.
[00:19:26] Michael Easter: When they removed the handles from slot machines, the rate of play went up in insane amount.
[00:19:31] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:19:32] Michael Easter: So now the average person is playing, I think around 900 games in an hour.
[00:19:37] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[00:19:37] Michael Easter: Before that, it was below 500. So it basically doubled the amount of play because you know, you just hit that button. Bam, bam, bam. So basically as a rule, the faster that you can repeat a behavior, the more you can repeat The more likely you are to repeat it. So this is why social media has so much speed. And in terms of think of YouTube and autoplay, it's like, we're giving you three seconds to get you into that next video.
[00:20:00] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:20:01] Michael Easter: When you think of Netflix, the guy who created the Netflix, autoplay feature, the developer, that was the number one feature they've ever created to get people to spend more time watching Netflix because it simply makes the choice for you and pushes you right into the next one. There's no decision. It's faster.
[00:20:18] Jordan Harbinger: That's the whole YouTube to radical white power extremist holocaust denial pipeline, right? That you watch something about a car and then it's like, how about a crash with a Lamborghini too? And you're like, all right, fine. And then it's like, how about a whole club of people that are driving Lamborghinis recklessly? Okay. How about that same club of people doing illegal stuff with Lamborghinis? All right, fine. How about stealing Lamborghinis? Fine. How about stealing other things? Fine. And then it's just like down this rabbit hole you go until you wake up 12 hours later or your computer's still playing and it's like, did you know that Jews live underground and they're secretly lizard people? And you're like, I was just here, I came for the Lamborghini videos, man. And now your entire explore page is all like stuff that they're going to delete soon and send you to bit shoot because it's going to get banned and they know it. It's just bizarre—
[00:21:09] Michael Easter: Yeah
[00:21:09] Jordan Harbinger: —how that happens.
[00:21:10] Michael Easter: That sounds like an extreme example, but that's actually kind of what happens.
[00:21:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:21:15] Michael Easter: Yeah. Because human attention gravitates naturally to things that maybe imply danger, that imply drama, that imply kind of like chaos. And the reason for that is pretty simple. It's that in the past, as we were evolving in these sort of rough and tumble dangerous environments. If you were the human who paid attention to the dangerous stuff and the chaotic stuff—
[00:21:35] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:21:35] Michael Easter: —that increased your chances of survival.
[00:21:37] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:21:37] Michael Easter: I mean, let's take two people. Let's take the person who pays attention to danger and the person who likes to just look at positive things and we're walking through a field and the positive person's going, "Oh my God, that's such a beautiful flower." And the danger person's going, "That's a freaking lion," and runs away.
[00:21:51] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:21:51] Michael Easter: Who do you think is going to survive? Right? So that gets passed down to us.
[00:21:54] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, those people are breaded on the gene pool. Look at the beautiful bush and it's shaking. How bizarre. Isn't nature wonderful? Those people got to eat.
[00:22:00] Michael Easter: Yeah, totally.
[00:22:01] Jordan Harbinger: I thought it fascinating that the whole thing, the whole idea that there's no clocks in casinos is just a myth. You mentioned, well, there's no clocks at Target or at CVS either. And I'm like, oh, you got me on that one. That's true. I don't know. I have a clock on my phone. So I never, I never looking around the building for a clock anywhere.
[00:22:18] Michael Easter: Yeah. So once, once I got interested in figuring out why do people play slot machines, The first thing I did is I called up some researchers who are sort of anti-gambling researchers. And I asked him, "Why do people play slot machines?"
[00:22:31] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:22:31] Michael Easter: And it was, yeah oh, well, casinos don't have clocks. The other one they told me is that casinos try to not use any right angles at all, because right angles activate the decision making part of your brain and will slow down rational decisions. The other one was slot machines only play in the key of C, which is supposed to be pleasing to us and it relaxes our wallet. So I'm like, okay, that's kind of interesting. And then, I go to a casino and one, there's right angles everywhere. Like the screen is a square for God's sakes. And then I call up a slot machine, audio composer, which is a real job you can have in Las Vegas.
[00:23:04] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:23:05] Michael Easter: And this guy goes, "Key of C only?" He's like, "Where the hell did you hear that?" Like, no, it's like, "I'm using every key." And then the clocks thing, of course, it's like, yeah, casinos don't have clocks, but Costco doesn't target. Doesn't it's not normal for a business. Just hang clocks everywhere. So my problem was that I was talking to people who wanted us to stop gambling. And I need to talk to people who wanted us all to start gambling, right? You got to follow the money as a journalist. And that's what ultimately led me to that casino laboratory.
[00:23:32] Jordan Harbinger: What about that whole, that whole, like, they pump oxygen into the air to keep you, like, that sounds like nonsense too then, eh?
[00:23:39] Michael Easter: Yeah, that would actually be like a legit fire hazard.
[00:23:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I always wondered. I'm like, wait a minute, people are smoking in here and they're like, let's make fire more easily spread and easily started. That just made no sense to me.
[00:23:51] Michael Easter: Yeah. So full stop, why we gamble is so we can enter that scarcity loop that I talked about before. It's really engaging to humans on a core level. And the reason for that is because it used to help us survive in the past.
[00:24:06] So if you think about hunter gatherers, You need to find food every day. You need to find or kill food every day, but you don't know where food is. Right? So you go to point a, there's nothing there. You go to point B, there's nothing there. You go to point C, nothing there. Point D, oh, bingo. We just found—
[00:24:22] Jordan Harbinger: Berries.
[00:24:22] Michael Easter: —berries, a massive berry bush. This is jackpot. This is the best. It's the exact same architecture, that random rewards game.
[00:24:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's the Ellen DeGeneres slot machine popping up with her face or whatever.
[00:24:33] Michael Easter: Yes, exactly.
[00:24:34] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting.
[00:24:35] Michael Easter: And so our brains seem to have kind of evolved to be captivated by that three part system that I mentioned. So that's why people gamble, because it allows us to escape into that, have some level of risk in our life, but in a sort of safe way. And also we know exactly whether or not we won when we gambled. Whereas with a lot of the big things we do in life, you know, there's a lot of uncertainty around, did I do the right or wrong thing? You know, am I saying the right things to this person? Am I doing the right thing at work? And with slot machines, you know exactly whether you won or lost. I mean, that's how all games are. Games are fun because. They let us sort of escape from everyday life, and they tell you exactly whether or not you won or lost.
[00:25:10] Jordan Harbinger: I don't go to casinos very often, but of course, once every two or three years, I'll go to Vegas for something, and I walk through a casino, and I'm like, that whole thing with the Ellen slot machines, I'm like, huh, so she just has a popular daytime talk show, and they're like, hey, this is going to resonate with a certain segment of America, a certain age group, maybe people in the middle of America, they're going to go, "Oh, I recognize that person. I'm going to go play that one." And like a popular movie will come. I bet, I bet if, and I have no idea if this is true, I bet if you walk into a casino, you'll find whatever a Taylor Swift slot machine or something like that, or just whoever's trending. And people will be like, "I'm going to sit at that thing for 40 hours straight and just put quarters or dollars or whatever into it."
[00:25:52] You know, they just re-skin some game that they've had for 20 years. And they're like, all right, instead of Ellen's face, now it's going to be Taylor Swift's face. And instead of the couch that she has, it's going to be like a microphone or something. They just make, they just have somebody just making these graphics and grabbing the sound and recomposing the soundtrack. And suddenly, it's a new machine with a new game. It's so interesting.
[00:26:15] Michael Easter: This didn't make it into the book, uh, but I did talk to a guy who's the CEO of one of the biggest slot machine companies. And they had just signed a massive, massive deal with the NFL to do an NFL theme slot machine. And his whole thing is. Well, if you're like unsure about slot machines, but you love the NFL, I know you'll probably sit down and play this NFL slot machine, at least for a while.
[00:26:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:26:36] Michael Easter: And once you start playing, you're probably going to have fun. You're probably going to get sucked into this loop of gaming and you're probably going to give me some of your money. You know, the house always wins in the longterm. So I think the margins at casinos are about seven percent. So you do the math. The longer you play, the more you lose.
[00:26:53] Jordan Harbinger: It does make perfect sense, right? Some guy walks in and he's like, I don't really. know what I'm looking for, but my wife really wanted to come here with her friends. Oh, look, Buffalo Bill's NFL slot machine. I guess I'll just sit here for a few hours while they're shopping. And then, it's suddenly the dudes in the machine, he's in the matrix now.
[00:27:08] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[00:27:09] Jordan Harbinger: He's not coming home till two o'clock in the morning.
[00:27:11] Michael Easter: Exactly.
[00:27:12] Jordan Harbinger: The shopping scarcity loops are scary, right? And during COVID, this is when I noticed it, I don't know if it was going on a long time before that, but we had the scarcity itch. Now, you can scratch it almost immediately with Amazon Prime, same day delivery where I live. I'm like, wait, this is better than me waiting for my wife to get home so I can grab the car, go to the store and buy the thing. I just click on this. And by the time I'm done checking my email and farting around at work, this is on my porch. So dangerous. So you have the itch, you can scratch it right away.
[00:27:45] And also at the same time, a lot of these tech companies have figured out how to trigger that scarcity itch repeatedly so that we keep coming back for more, whether it's like Instagram ads and Robin Hood did it with stocks, mobile games. There's a new one. What is it called? I wouldn't let them sponsor this show because of this —Temu. Have you heard ofTemu?
[00:28:03] Michael Easter: Oh, yes. I've heard ofTemu.
[00:28:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's sort of gamified shopping. And I was like, absolutely not. I don't even want to install this to value and to vet it. Just don't give me their money. I don't want anything to do with this.
[00:28:13] Michael Easter: Yeah. So Temu is fascinating because they literally took what happens in a casino. And applied it to shopping and then also added more scarcity cues and more urgency cues. So scarcity and urgency are the two things that will sell a product more than anything else. So you go on to Temu and the first thing you're hit with is a big roulette wheel. And you spin the roulette wheel to find out your extra discount. And then, once you get past that, they're like, okay, you got your discount. And then it's like every product has there are X amount left. It's always a low number and there's only X amount more time you can have to buy it. Right?
[00:28:48] So this is the extreme end of that, but you also see that on Amazon with lightning deals, you also see it in a lot of the collaborations that are happening among brands now. So it's like, we only have X number of units, kind of like you mentioned where you buy it and then they, and then they make it. And I think it's really that speed that has increased the amount of stuff that we buy.
[00:29:09] So to your point, in the past, even, you know, 10, 15 years ago, if you were bored and you're like, Oh, maybe I could go shopping, you would still have to go there in person.
[00:29:19] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:29:19] Michael Easter: That takes effort. That's going to take a lot of time. There's only a limited number of things.
[00:29:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, you got to walk from store to store too. It takes forever. And you're like, I'm tired, man. I've gone to 15 different shops with my mom. Get me out of here. I'm dead.
[00:29:32] Michael Easter: Exactly. But now it's like, okay. I mean, you could just be on your phone reading the Atlantic or something. You're like, I'm trying to improve my life by reading this smart stuff.
[00:29:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:29:41] Michael Easter: But there's still going to be an ad for some product. And then, you click it and then you find yourself looking for another product and another and another, and you enter this like loop of searching, right? This is the unpredictable rewards. You're like, what am I going to find? That's going to kind of scratch that itch. And then when you find it, bingo, jackpot, you can buy it immediately and you can have it on the way.
[00:29:59] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Michael Easter. We'll be right back.
[00:30:04] This episode is sponsored in part by Grammarly. Let's talk writing. Whether it's crafting the perfect script for this show or penning emails, good writing takes work and that is why we use Grammarly. Even this ad, yeah, spruced up with Grammarly's magic. Grammarly Go is their AI-powered tool that's a game changer. It adapts to your personal style. It helps with everything from grammar to rephrasing for clarity. You'll find your sentences becoming more concise, your language more effective. It's like having a writing coach that understands you, making everything you write sound like a better version of you. Email's bogging you down, grammarly Go will help you tackle that inbox by summarizing emails and suggesting replies. It's got the versatility to help you in any scenario. Crafting social media captions? Check. Witty dating app replies? You bet. Polishing resumes for your job search? Absolutely. And here's the Grand Slam. It's free. It's actually free. In the world of writing, it's a tool you just can't pass up. Try it and elevate your writing game.
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[00:31:06] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by ZipRecruiter. Quick shout out to those of you in the hiring trenches, small business owners building teams, HR directors filling positions nationwide, you've got one of the hardest gigs around. But what if I were to tell you that there's something that can make your whole hiring process faster and easier? It's ZipRecruiter, and right now you can try it for free at ziprecruiter.com/jordan. Post your job, it'll get distributed to over a hundred job sites. Then it scans through thousands of resumes, picking out the MVPs that align with your needs. It's like having your own talent scout. Their smart tech identifies the best matches and funnels them straight to you. One click later, you can invite them to apply. You're no longer sifting through haystacks for needles. ZipRecruiter serves you the needles on a silver platter. With over 3.8 million businesses using their platform, whether you're a small startup or a massive operation, you're in good company.
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[00:32:10] Jordan Harbinger: If you're wondering how I managed to book all these great authors, thinkers, and creators every single week, it is because of my network, the circle of those I know, like, and trust around me. And I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. This course is about improving your relationship building skills. It's not cringey. It's down to earth. It's very accessible and non awkward. That's kind of the key here. Just practical exercises that are going to make you a better connector, a better colleague, a better friend, and a better peer. And it only takes a few minutes a day. Many of the guests on this show subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong. Once again at jordanharbinger.com/course, and it is free.
[00:32:47] Now, back to Michael Easter.
[00:32:49] My Chinese teacher, I take Chinese lessons and China's really at the cutting edge of this stuff. They're so good at gamified commerce and I don't know if it's just because the society is sort of perpetually online, which it seems like we are too. I don't really know. They're just very good at this. My Chinese teachers, they told me years ago, I mean, before TikTok even existed, they were like, "Yeah, there's these influencers. And they go online and they tell you about a product they like and you can buy it in the live stream."
[00:33:17] And I was like, "Wait a minute, people are selling things in live streams?" And now in 2023, people are like, "Yo, Jordan, obviously." This is probably 2016 or earlier. They were like, "Yeah, there's these people that make millions of dollars, selling clothes or medicine or whatever it is on a live stream." And it's just like home shopping network. Only it's, I could do this in my pajamas from home. And there's millions of people globally doing this and you can sell whatever you want. It's totally unregulated.
[00:33:43] And some of the biggest sellers in China. I can't remember the exact numbers, but it was like this person made 50 million over the biggest shopping holiday in China. And you're like, wait a minute, Chinese numbers are weird. So I'm like, let me write this down and make sure it's not five million and I just heard wrong. No, they sold 50 million worth of goods in like this 24-hour or 48-hour, whatever, like basically the equivalent of Black Friday in China. And you're like, this person is just sitting in a studio being like, "Check out this iPhone case." Pfft. Millions of people are buying this. It's crazy and it's all gamified just like this.
[00:34:20] Michael Easter: Yeah, I talked to a psychologist who, who's studied a lot of people who compulsively shop number of people who qualify as compulsive shoppers. It might be as high as 16 percent of the population in the US. But when I interviewed him, they all talked about it much like gambling. It's like, I think I'm going to get something out there. It's going to like improve my life. And then, I go out online or I go to stores and I'm searching. And it's so exciting as I search, because I don't know what I'm going to find. And I don't know how good it's going to be. And then when I find it, bam. I got it and like, I feel good and then I immediately want to do that again. It's not about the actual item. It's about the search, right?
[00:34:55] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned something in the book that it's about the search. It was, I think, drug addiction. It was like part of getting illegal drugs was finding the drugs, the score and not knowing what type of drugs you're going to get and how much and how high you're going to get. And drugs dispensed medically where it's like, "This is the exact amount. Here's where you get it. Here's the place you get it. Here's how much it costs." It's predictable and it's not as exciting to the brain, which that's scary because getting drugs off the street and not knowing exactly what's in your body, like that's the dangerous part, the most dangerous part of drugs. If you're getting medical fentanyl in small amounts and they're like, we're weaning you off this, you're like, okay. If you might die taking it because you bought it from a new guy who you've never met before and you might get murdered or just take too much. That's really scary and unfortunately, that's sort of also part of the addiction, which I had never thought about.
[00:35:49] Michael Easter: Yeah, I think it reinforces addiction, so there is absolutely the scarcity loop in that because you've If you're a drug addict, my opinion is that drug addiction is more of a symptom than anything else. So people do drugs for a good reason because it enhances their life, even if it's just in the short term, right? If you have a problem with a drug and you're going through withdrawals, if you take that drug, your problems go away, right? But you've got to find that thing.
[00:36:15] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:36:15] Michael Easter: And finding illegal drugs is always something of a game. And you've got to find out where they are. You're going to call this person, that person, they don't have it. We're going to go to this part of town. When you find it, you don't know how much it's going to cost. You don't know how much the person is going to have. You don't know how strong it's going to be. It's very much like this random sort of random rewards game. And then once you take it, you immediately go back into that search.
[00:36:36] And to what you mentioned, yeah, once drugs start to be medically dosed and predictably given addiction rates drop and people will even not get as high from them. So this is a crazy thing is that people who do methadone have to do methadone to get off of heroin. They start to not even really get high from methadone because they're getting the exact same dose from the exact same place at the exact same time. It becomes predictable and the brain can kind of predict that and it's not as exciting.
[00:37:04] Jordan Harbinger: That's really scary because that shows you that it's not just the substance, right? It's the whole context around the substance and that's really extra depressing.
[00:37:14] You note in the book that about 25 percent of soldiers in the Vietnam War, US soldiers, were using heroin and they, I guess, needed a clean urine test to return home. But, which by the way, what does that mean? If you didn't have one of those, did they just strand you in Vietnam? Like, "Sorry, you live in the jungle now." Is that what happened to those people?
[00:37:31] Michael Easter: They had to retake it. But the thing is, it didn't even become a problem because once that rule came down and they called it quite cheekily, Operation Golden Flow was put in by Nixon, and the vast majority of soldiers, like nearly all of them, passed the pee test, right? So they had clean urine. Now, the important part is that once they got home, only five percent of those who were using drugs relapsed. And they all tended to be people who had used drugs before the war.
[00:38:01] This is an important case study in how we think about addiction and how a lot of that is changing in the sense that we've traditionally thought in the US over the last, basically since until about 1995, we've thought that addiction is a brain disease, one that you can't get out of. If that were necessarily true, these addicts in Vietnam would not have been able to stop, right, because their brain is effectively broken. What it suggests, rather, is that, as I kind of alluded to before, using drugs is a symptom of something.
[00:38:36] For most people who use drugs, it's for a good reason. It relieves you of your problems. It comforts you from problems. It solves something. It solves boredom, even, right? And so for these GIs, they're in a war zone. Like, that's extremely stressful. That is absolute hell. And what could solve that in that moment is using a substance that allowed them to escape. But once they got back to the US, they don't need to do that anymore. Because they're out of hell, right? Their problem is solved by simply a change in the environment. And I think that becomes kind of an important lesson for how we should be thinking about drug use and treating it in the future.
[00:39:08] Jordan Harbinger: It actually makes perfect sense. So the people who were using drugs when they got home, they were using drugs before the war to escape whatever they had back home. So when they left Vietnam, they just came back to that, ostensibly back to that crappy situation that had them using drugs before the war, so they just kept using heroin.
[00:39:22] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[00:39:23] Jordan Harbinger: The idea that it's a disease, I'm obviously no expert on addiction, but it always struck me as way to feel helpless if you have a disease. It's so hard to struggle against a disease versus just like a really terrible affliction that's part of a really bad context, habit, set of incentives, whatever you want to call it. It just seems like you're, you're saying, "Well, I'm never going to get over this but I can keep it at bay by going to meetings," and I'm not trying to sh*te on people getting clean, but it just seems like it's a harder, it's a harder frame to work from that you have this disability as opposed to like something else that's more, that you could control.
[00:39:59] Michael Easter: Yeah. So my opinion on that is I am 100 percent down with whatever helps a person who is in the grips of addiction get sober.
[00:40:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:40:08] Michael Easter: And I do think that for some people viewing it as a disease has helped people get sober. But when you also look at research and surveys on groups of addicts who relapse, the number one reason for relapse was believing that addiction was a disease. Because the problem is that there's no cure for addiction. You can't take a pill and be over with it. You can't go to chemotherapy and start to fight it. And so that tends to sort of take the wind out of a lot of people's sails.
[00:40:37] So I think the message of, of my book is that is addiction a choice? I don't know. Who cares? I think it's likely that it is a summation of repeated choices made across a person's life that makes a future choice harder to make. At the same time, you're going to have to take action in order to fix a problem like addiction. So even if we accept that addiction is a brain disease, we have to be honest and say it's not a brain disease like Alzheimer's is, right? If I take a person with Alzheimer's and I go, I can help you with this, you need to go into a church basement and you need to talk to other peoples with Alzheimer's, and that'll help you, that'll fix your Alzheimer's, you'll start to remember things. That would never work.
[00:41:18] And that is also would be a cruel thing to say, but we do do that with addiction. That's what courts do, which suggests that there is some level of agency that other diseases do not have.
[00:41:29] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. Again, I am no expert, so I don't want to get angry emails from people who are like, "You don't know what you're talking about," because I agree. I don't know what I'm talking about. It just always struck me in that way. Maybe I should just keep those opinions to myself.
[00:41:41] You explain in the book that our idle minds manufacture scarcity loops and that I think is fascinating. Why do we do this? How does this work in the brain?
[00:41:50] Michael Easter: Why do we manufacture scarcity loops? I think that we tend to fall into them when we are bored, when there is kind of something missing from our lives. So I'll give you a good case study and it, it involves pigeons. But I think it's a good analogy for humans. So I talked to this guy, his name is Thomas Zentall. And he's like this old school, super cool psychologist, behaviorist psychologist. He's like 80-something years old. And this guy can pretty easily turn pigeons into degenerate gamblers in like one minute.
[00:42:23] It gives these pigeons a choice of two games. The first game, every other pack, they get a predictable amount of food. The second game, every fifth pack, they get more food, but it's unpredictable. Okay. So in the first game, they might get 15 units. In the second game, they get 20 units. And what he found is that 97 percent of pigeons will play the slot machine gambling game.
[00:42:44] Now, the thing is, is that these pigeons, they live in these kind of small cages that are very unnatural and unlike their natural environment. And what he's found is that when he puts these pigeons in this giant cage, that is supposed to look exactly like they would live in the wild, and they live this kind of wild stimulating life where they're having to like build their own nests where they're interacting with other pigeons where they're having to get their own food. They're having to really work and struggle and they're just stimulated in other ways. And then he gives them the choice of playing the predictable game or the slot machine game.
[00:43:15] They all choose the smart game, the predictable game. So it changes them. It allows them to make sort of better decisions. And from there, he, then goes, you know, I honestly think that humans today are unlike my pigeons that kind of have lives that are very different than the lives that we evolved to have, because if you think about humans in the past, life was hard. We had to work for our food. We were outside. We were really tied socially with other people. Our survival depended on trusting other people and working towards this one common goal of survival and now life has changed in a lot of ways, and we don't get as much of that sort of stimulation that thrust you into the moment where there's really consequences.
[00:43:59] And when that happens, this guy pointed out, you tend to see rates of drug use rise, rates of gambling rise. Like, we look for stimulation from somewhere else, and we're naturally attracted to this scarcity loop, and we tend to fall into it.
[00:44:11] Jordan Harbinger: So how do we break some of these loops? I know making a big change coming home from Vietnam is probably a good big change, and is that just leaving the stressful situation that wanted, caused us to want to do drugs, or is it also just the context change of, hey, I don't live in the jungle, I now live in Albuquerque, where I'm from? And it's just such a wildly different environment context that I just don't have the same, I don't know, cues around me to shoot heroin.
[00:44:35] Michael Easter: Well, changing an environment will usually change your behavior. That's pretty well established in psychology. But I think when you think about getting out of a behavior that falls into a scarcity loop and you know, there's a lot of them, we've fired off a bunch, but there's a lot of them.
[00:44:50] There's basically three ways. The first way is just by becoming aware of it. Behavior will tend to change. So this is something that's called the Hawthorne effect. And it basically says that when a behavior is observed, it changes. So this is something that messes up a lot of studies and science, but you can use it to your advantage just by being—
[00:45:08] Jordan Harbinger: Huh.
[00:45:09] Michael Easter: Like the reason that I have scrolled Twitter for the last half an hour, because this is my ancient brain falling into this game that used to keep me alive, this search and search and search and looking for something good, right? That's why you're there. And I think that just realizing that you can start to go, okay, I'm normal for doing this at the same time. This is problematic. So I got to find something else to do the second way. Is that you can remove or alter Any one of the three parts of the scarcity loop. So you can change what the opportunity is.
[00:45:40] For example, let's take social media, because we were talking about it before. When people go on social media, what tends to happen is that they fall into the likes, the comments, the retweets, whatever it is, this gamified system. But you could decide, like, "I don't have to use. That gamified system. I could use this to just only keep in touch with family and friends and use the messaging service. I could only follow people from college if I just want to keep in touch with my college friends, like, right? So there's a lot of different ways that you can use these tools. And then, with unpredictable rewards, making those predictable or changing what the unpredictable reward is, can help with behavior.
[00:46:21] So I'll give you an example, with food. So one of the reasons that people tend to overeat junk food, and I'm going to quote a guy who's from the food industry here, as he said, if you want to make a food really popular, it's got to have three things. It's got to have value. It's got to have variety and it's got to have velocity.
[00:46:37] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:46:38] Michael Easter: That's just another way of talking about the scarcity loop. So when you think of variety. There's a reason that there's a ton of different flavors of junk food and why junk food is so hyper stimulating. And then, with a velocity, you can eat junk food way faster than you could normal food, right? If you tried to sit down and have 500 calories of broccoli, you'd maybe get to like a hundred calories before you were like, "God, get me, nah, I'm done." Not so with Doritos, you could eat like 2000 calories and sitting. With unpredictable rewards, simply by eating the same thing regularly that usually tends to reduce how much people eat. That's why we eat more at a buffet. So when people go to a buffet, there's a million different options. It's kind of like unpredictable, like, "Oh, this could be good. This could be good." We tend to eat more.
[00:47:20] And then with slowing a behavior down with the unpredictable rewards. Number three is that if you take the example of shopping, you could do something as simple as saying, "Okay. I'm done buying stuff online that I know is available in stores near me," because that inserts a pause, a slowness, or you could say, "Okay, I'm going to put like a three-day holding period on any online purchase. I want to make." Because usually just having that time to just be away from the quickness of the act, people will realize, "I actually don't really need that."
[00:47:51] The book goes over a bunch of different ways that you can mess up the three parts and in turn learn to behave better.
[00:47:57] Jordan Harbinger: I love looking at where else these sort of gamification scoring systems distract us. Video games, obviously mobile gaming, that kind of stuff is basically gambling adjacent. My wife has Peloton. And there's these leaderboards and she's kind of like, "Oh, I hit the leaderboard today. That's never happened." And then the next day she's like, "I'm going to see if I can beat my — oh, somebody knocked me off. Well, I don't know. I kind of want to get back." And I'm like, oh, this is a healthy way to stay on the leaderboard. Although I think if you're like tied for number one and you're skipping meals or like skipping work meetings so you can do more Peloton. There's obviously a diminishing return at some point where possibly this is a little bit unhealthy.
[00:48:34] I would imagine that the number one people in the world at anything, especially like a video game, you ever see those, those gamers where it's like, ah, number one in the world for Halo. And I'm like, how much do you play this game? And it's like 14 hours a day, seven days a week. It's not, it can't be fun anymore. There's no way.
[00:48:48] Michael Easter: Yeah. And they just live on Rockstar Energy drinks and Doritos basically.
[00:48:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Looking to find these, I guess, scarcity loops in action in our regular life is kind of a good takeaway for the show. Find out where these are. Is it Tinder for you, or is it, are you a news junkie in a way that's sort of weirdly unhealthy, and yes, it, that's what Reddit is for a lot of us, social media in certain cases.
[00:49:12] Status though, this is a scarcity loop that I didn't really think about, you touched on it at the top of the show. I read this book on a plane and as I was reading this book on a plane, people were boarding through our first class business class section, and you were right as that was happening. You're like, "By the way, more air rage happens when people board through the first class section." And I was like, oh, good to know. I'm going to keep an eye on all y'all back there. What's happening here? This status, people hate admitting that we care about this. Like, I hate the fact that I care at all about status. It feels like a really sort of like crappy, unproductive vice that is pathetic. Actually, it makes me feel pathetic.
[00:49:53] Michael Easter: You are not alone. So actually, research on status took a long time to take off because For scientists, by studying status, it was a sort of self-admission that, "Oh, like I actually kind of care about this and want to know about this."
[00:50:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:07] Michael Easter: So, the worst thing that you can do for your status is saying that you care about your status. But at the same time, every single person cares about their status. I don't care who you are.
[00:50:16] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:50:16] Michael Easter: And there's a good evolutionary reason for that. In the past, the people who had more status were more likely to survive. You tended to get more food. You got out of crappy menial work. You didn't get put in the front lines of a war, all these different things. So we care about status because it helped us survive. And still today, status is one of the main determinants of our physical health. You might think, Oh, well, it's just because people who have a lot more money in status can afford better hospitals. It's like, no, because this holds in countries that have universal healthcare, where the healthcare is all the same.
[00:50:48] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:50:48] Michael Easter: To your point about the first class section, that's one of my favorite studies is that planes that have where the passengers in a coach have to walk past the first class cabin on their way to their seats, have an eight fold higher rate of air rage incidents because they get this status cue on the way that they're like, "Oh, I'm walking past the first class passengers into my second class seat," right?
[00:51:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, like, "Ooh, these seats look nice and big and I bet they have really good food and they're drinking champagne. Wow. I'm supposed to fit in that right now?"
[00:51:18] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[00:51:18] Jordan Harbinger: And there's a fat dude next to me or like a screaming child," and it's terrible. And you don't even have to be fat. I take it back. You have to be a normal sized person to overflow out of an economy seat. I'm 165 pounds and I'm like, how am I going to sit in this? For eight hours.
[00:51:34] Michael Easter: Yeah. And so I do think you've started to see status, which is something we all want. Change in the sense that it's not quantified and gamified in things like social media followers, likes. You can quantify it in all sorts of different ways depending on who you are. It could be salary. Like some people get really obsessed with salary because that's the thing that like allows them to be sort of better than their neighbor whose salary they know is lower or whatever.
[00:51:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:51:58] Michael Easter: And I think the reality is that we all get status in different ways and recognizing when you've sort of fallen into a loop around status. It's oftentimes divorced from reality because there's so many different ways to quantify—
[00:52:12] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:52:12] Michael Easter: —and think about status. It's like, I was talking to a guy who was like a wealth manager. And he was talking about how, you know, like there's so many people who they just don't work as hard as me. They don't make as money as me, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, he's chest puffing. I'm like, well, dude, did it ever occur to you that like, maybe they're not measuring their life on their income.
[00:52:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:52:29] Michael Easter: Maybe they're measuring it on their relationships or how many hours they volunteer. And they're looking at you going, "Look at this dip sh*t, chasing that income number," right?
[00:52:37] Jordan Harbinger: Huh. Your kids still talk to you? You're clearly not in the office enough, pal. Look at my Bentley.
[00:52:42] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[00:52:43] Jordan Harbinger: I used to work on Wall Street and that was very real. I mean, not people actually saying how your kids still talk to you, but more like, where do your kids go to school? And it's like, do you make enough money to send your kids to this overly, this ridiculously expensive private school where you also kind of need to like, bootlick the administration to get an interview to go there and it's all like, "What firm do you work at? Oh, you're not at Goldman. Oh, your kids can't go to school with my kids." It's like that kind of, it's weird. People make up new crap to measure status by.
[00:53:11] You're right, if you talk to a teenager, it's like, "Oh, this person has 14 million followers on TikTok." And you're like, "I really can't, there's no words to tell you how little I give a sh*t about that." Right? And then, you tell this person, "Look at their house. It's in Nantucket." And the teenager's like, "Yeah, I don't, I don't care at all. I don't even know where that is. That sounds boring. You're going to go to a house and just sit there? How's the Internet?" You know, they just don't care. And it's all these little different circles.
[00:53:39] Funny story about flying. I flew to Australia and people were boarding through the first class cabin. And my wife and I, we splurged on these really nice seats because I was going to speak. And it's like for 20-hour flight or something to Australia and the flight attendant comes by and he's introducing himself and he's got this cool accent. He's like, "Will you be joining us for breakfast? Would you like some champagne?" And as he's talking he's sort of blocking the aisle and this guy walks in for general boarding and he's got a massive duffel bag and he's shrugging to keep it up on his shoulder because carrying it with his arm is probably exhausted or it's hitting the seats.
[00:54:13] And he goes, "Excuse me." He's trying to get through and the flight attendant looks at him and goes, "Excuse me," and just keeps talking. And we're like, "You can let that poor guy go." And he's like, "He'll be fine. So will you be joining us for breakfast?" And I was like, is this a show for us somehow? Because I feel uncomfortable that this guy is just grunting and groaning. It's literally sweating, trying to board the plane. And Jen and I, we still kind of laugh about this, not at the poor guy. It felt so incredibly awkward to be the cause of this.
[00:54:43] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[00:54:43] Jordan Harbinger: But I also think, there's definitely people we know that would love to be the cause of this. Because it makes them feel so important. And that's the pathetic part. Because you're like, imagine wanting to be above somebody so bad that you deliberately, you pay extra to get the privilege of watching people sort of like struggle in front of you.
[00:55:02] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[00:55:03] Jordan Harbinger: It's like the Hunger Games.
[00:55:04] Michael Easter: Season one of White Lotus with the guy who gets obsessed over getting the slightly bigger room is like a perfect example, I think.
[00:55:11] Jordan Harbinger: I haven't seen this. Everyone's telling me to watch White Lotus. I got to watch this.
[00:55:14] Michael Easter: Yeah, there you go. But I will say too, we were talking about scarcity loops and how do you get out of them. And I think your point about Peloton is a good one and that you can also flip them to do something that is beneficial for you. So for example, most things, activities that you can do in nature have the scarcity loop. It evolved from nature, right? Us finding food, us finding animals to hunt. And still today acts like hunting or fishing or foraging for mushrooms people get really into.
[00:55:44] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:55:44] Michael Easter: You could like take up birding. Even I talked to the guy who invented the game Pokemon Go. His name is John Hanke.
[00:55:51] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
[00:55:52] Michael Easter: And he goes, look, I had a kid who loved video games, but he did not go outside. He didn't exercise. He didn't hang out with other kids. And so I invented Pokemon Go because the whole point of that is like, you're going to get a play your video game, but you have to go outside. You have to walk a ton of steps. And if you want to beat this big Pokemon monster, you got to meet up with a bunch of friends in order to do it. So it's almost like this guy has used the scarcity loop to help people do more of the things that are good for them. And so to me finding ways to do that can be the ultimate life hack because you're getting all these things that are good for you that you otherwise may not do in a vacuum.
[00:56:26] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:56:27] Michael Easter: In a way that is super highly engaging and tends to lead people to repeat behaviors and stick with them longer.
[00:56:36] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Michael Easter. We'll be right back.
[00:56:40] This episode is sponsored in part by BetterHelp. You know those nights where your brain turns into a 24/7 news ticker of worries just when you're trying to get some shut eye? I have been in that insomnia inducing loop too, and it's more often than I'd probably like to admit. And let me tell you, it's no fun. You all know that. Enter BetterHelp. It's not a frickin chat room. It's legit on-demand therapy right from your device. What I love is that BetterHelp connects you with a licensed therapist who can help unravel that jumble of thoughts in your head. It's like having a mental defrag button, for you, fellow computer nerds out there. Do we even defrag anymore? The best part, it's totally affordable and flexible to your schedule, making it easier than ever to get the emotional tune up we all need sometimes. So think of it like a mental pit stop in the race of life. So if you're done with counting anxieties instead of sheep, give BetterHelp a go.
[00:57:25] Jen Harbinger: Get a break from your thoughts with BetterHelp. Visit betterhelp.com/jordan to get 10 percent off your first month. That's better-H-E-L-P.com/jordan.
[00:57:34] This episode is also sponsored by McDonald's, the cornerstone of American culture. Most people don't know that one in eight people in the US have worked at a McDonald's. We're talking about an exclusive club here, like a secret society, except instead of secret handshakes, they've mastered the secret of perfect fries. Imagine their shared experience of lighting up a kid's day with a Happy Meal. My 80-year-old dad still goes for the Happy Meals. I mean, he's kind of come full circle, actually. Not sure if it's for the toy or the nostalgia. He does torture us with the toys. You want this? No. You want this? No. You want this? No. But you can bet he's loving it. I think he just loves torturing us with the toys. And if you've ever thrown a McDonald's birthday party, you know the level of epic joy it can bring to the room. And there's a lot of cool things McDonald's does as an employer that people might not even know about. I didn't even know about any of this stuff actually until they gave me the copy. English Under the Arches program that helps employees sharpen their English skills. Need a high school diploma, they've got the Career Online High School. Looking to go to college, check out their Archways to Opportunity. They even have success coaches to help you map out your future. I think that's brilliant, especially for people in a position like this. I mean, we need all the coaching we can get when we're at that level, or any level for that matter. So next time you're munching on those iconic fries or a Big Mac, remember that Mickey D's isn't just feeding people, it's fueling opportunities. McDonald's is now serving much more than orders.
[00:58:47] If you like this episode of the show, I invite you to do what other smart and considerate listeners do, which is take a moment and support our amazing sponsors. All of the deals, discount codes, and ways to support the show are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. And you can always search for any sponsor using the AI chatbot on the website as well, jordanharbinger.com/ai. Thank you for supporting those who support the show.
[00:59:08] Now for the rest of my conversation with Michael Easter.
[00:59:12] Pokemon Go was such a phenomenon, man. I went to New York with my wife when this was sort of first out and we saw this massive gaggle of people screaming and running across the street and I thought, oh, Elton John is here or something like, I don't know, Tom Cruise is walking down the road and somehow people found out. And we asked a guy, we're like, "What is that?" And he's like, "Oh, really rare Pokemon just popped up over there," and so everyone got the notification or whatever at the same time and they ran across a busy street Fifth Avenue In New York, it wasn't a red light. I mean they just ran in front of actual cars and buses to go get this Pokemon, but there were hundreds of people doing that. And I thought, this is so massively disruptive, and people could die doing this, very easily die doing this. That was disturbing. I thought if this is a trend that we see more of, we're in, humanity is in trouble.
[01:00:04] Michael Easter: That app, I believe, has been downloaded more than a billion times. I mean, it's popular in the sense that, like, McDonald's is popular. It's crazy.
[01:00:11] Jordan Harbinger: I'm surprised people still play it, actually. I thought it was like a fad.
[01:00:14] Michael Easter: Yeah, I will say, I have a friend whose name is Jason McCarthy, and he owns a company called GoRuck, which is a kind of fitness company.
[01:00:22] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[01:00:22] Michael Easter: He's the most skeptical person about tech ever, and I'm the same way, and, you know, Jason and I were talking about this, and he goes, "You know, like we can laugh at it, but people have walked something like 15 billion miles playing Pokemon Go." He goes, "That's like 15 billion more miles than any other video game out there." Right?
[01:00:40] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:00:40] Michael Easter: So like there are worse things in my opinion.
[01:00:43] Jordan Harbinger: He's the GoRuck guy, right? And I rock it. And so, of course, he loves walking. It's like, now try playing Pokemon with a backpack, with a 50-pound weight in it.
[01:00:49] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[01:00:50] Jordan Harbinger: That's actually what I mean, without the Pokemon, I walk around with the GoRuck with the weight plates in it. That guy's got my money.
[01:00:55] Michael Easter: Right on.
[01:00:56] Jordan Harbinger: I recently went to Times Square. I feel like I'm telling way too many stories in this. People are going to email me, like, you talk too much during this episode. Sorry, folks.
[01:01:02] Michael Easter: I like stories.
[01:01:03] Jordan Harbinger: I went to Times Square to do my company, or the company I'm part of, PodcastOne, had an IPO. And they put The Jordan Harbinger Show on this huge NASDAQ billboard. And I posted that on Instagram. In reality, I kind of felt nothing other than some novelty, like, oh, that's kind of cool. I'm on a Time Square billboard. Like, I guess check that off the bucket list, but I was more concerned about what I was going to eat for breakfast, but Instagram, what kind of nuts over it. And that felt way better than the actual billboard felt, which is weird because it was ultimately pointless. It doesn't matter how many people sent me congratulations or hit like. That doesn't really do anything, but the billboard itself felt way less impactful than the reaction in an app.
[01:01:44] Michael Easter: That goes back to gamification. So, as I mentioned before, it's, games work because they give you a very clear score about how good you've done at this thing. One of the problems with gamifying everyday behaviors, I'll explain this, is that with a normal game, like Monopoly, like football, that is screened off from everyday life, right?
[01:02:04] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:02:04] Michael Easter: That is this escape, this diversion, like we're doing this for fun. It's not part of everyday life. We don't take it seriously, right? We realize we're getting these kind of silly points for these sort of fake wins, whatever. But when you start to gamify normal life. You start to really value and react to and abide by silly points for things that maybe aren't silly. So a good example of this would be something like grades and it tends to change your behavior and what you value. Okay, so you start to value the points. Rather than the original goal of the activity.
[01:02:39] So I'm a professor at UNLV. Now, what is the point of going to college?
[01:02:44] Jordan Harbinger: To get a piece of paper so you can get hired.
[01:02:45] Michael Easter: Yeah. Get a piece of paper to learn some skills. It'll be useful to your employer to also learn how to be—
[01:02:50] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, secondary.
[01:02:51] Michael Easter: —to learn how to be a good human, to learn how to talk to people. Like there's a lot of things you get from college. But when I talk about the class, what are my students obsessed about? They're obsessed about grades.
[01:03:01] Jordan Harbinger: Grades. Yeah.
[01:03:02] Michael Easter: Because it's very clear. Did I do the right thing? And did I get, did I get the material? But what tends to happen is that the students who obsess about grades are not usually the best students. The ones who are the best students are usually free thinking. They're maybe busy during other times of day, they have a job, right? So they're really gritty hustlers who are having to do this work on top of things. But then what happens is because this person has the 4.0, which is very clear. And this person has the 3.5. What do you think, who do you think gets recruited?
[01:03:29] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:03:29] Michael Easter: Who gets recruited is the 4.0 student, even though they may not have been the better student that you actually want to hire. So a lot of times gamification can mislabel things and lead us to focus on a very clear outcome that is maybe not why we're doing the activity in the first place.
[01:03:46] Jordan Harbinger: You're not wrong. Probably, the wealthiest guy coming out of my law school owns a food company and he stopped showing up for classes because he was like, "I got better things to do," because he was in the gym during that hour and he's like, "You got to work out in the morning." And he just stopped going to one of our core, like 1L, I think it was contracts, he just didn't go. It's like, you can't just not go.
[01:04:06] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[01:04:07] Jordan Harbinger: Getting a low grade in this means you're not going to get it. He's like, "I just don't care. I got better things to do." And I thought, you are literally insane. And here, here he is.
[01:04:14] Michael Easter: He is.
[01:04:14] Jordan Harbinger: Probably going to be like make a few hundred million bucks when he sells his food company. Where was all this status when I was in my 20s trying to meet women? That's what I want to know. That's what I like, did I age out of this because I'm emotionally healthy? We all know plenty of Hollywood rich dudes that never age out of this. And here's looking at you, 70-year-old man with 24-year-old girlfriend in Bentley convertible.
[01:04:34] Michael Easter: Totally.
[01:04:34] Jordan Harbinger: Right, so I don't know if it's age.
[01:04:36] Michael Easter: We also missed Tinder, which I think was probably a good thing. Tinder is like the, the scarcity loop on steroids and sex and companionship. It's swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe. "Oh my God, I matched with someone. This is amazing." And the way that companies that leverage the loot make money is that, you know, in the case of Tinder, you can apparently pay for something called boosts, which ends up getting you in front of more potential mates and which leads to more matches.
[01:05:02] So when you pay for this, you have this good outcome, the unpredictable rewards go up, you get more hits on the jackpot or whatever. And so you pay again and that's how they make money. Same with Candy Crush. Candy Crush will just walk you through levels with these unpredictable, you know, outcomes of what's going to happen, what you're going to be able to use. And then eventually you'll get really hooked on it and then you'll get to a level where you're just never going to get the things you need to pass that level. So you'll pay five dollars to move past it, right?
[01:05:30] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, interesting.
[01:05:30] Michael Easter: It's like hook and charge, basically.
[01:05:32] Jordan Harbinger: I shouldn't admit this. I'm on like level 1300 on Candy Crush because I play it while I listen to audio books on airplanes and it's been, I don't know, a decade or whatever since that came out and I still have it.
[01:05:44] Michael Easter: That's amazing.
[01:05:44] Jordan Harbinger: And I haven't paid a red cent. So suck it, Candy Crush.
[01:05:49] Michael Easter: There you go.
[01:05:49] Jordan Harbinger: I have hundreds of those little booster things saved in the bottom. Probably, they didn't see me coming.
[01:05:54] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[01:05:54] Jordan Harbinger: I got infinite patience.
[01:05:55] Michael Easter: My wife gets really into one called Matchington Mansion, and she's the same way. She's like on level one billion.
[01:06:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:06:01] Michael Easter: She's like, "I'm never paying these people ever."
[01:06:03] Jordan Harbinger: Never. No, but I'm sure I think it tries to make me watch ads, but there's no Internet on the plane. So it's, it just gives up and keeps letting me play at some point.
[01:06:10] Michael Easter: There you go.
[01:06:11] Jordan Harbinger: There's a lot to be discussed here with food, things in the 1970s, changing the types of processed food. I'm going to talk about that in the show close. Stuff hoarding has gotten easier. Consumption's gotten easier. We touched on that. I'm going to cover that in the show close as well.
[01:06:24] But you wrote in the book, I want to touch on this one thing with stuff because humans think they are solving problems by buying things. What do you mean by that?
[01:06:32] Michael Easter: So our tendency as a species is to add, and that goes back to what we talked about in the beginning that for all of time, if you could get more possessions, more tools, you probably have a better survival outcome. Now, when we face problems today. You tend to find that people will add things right in terms of stuff. We might buy this very specific tool to solve this problem, but when researchers will give people tests where it's like, hey, you can solve this problem with this bot item. Or here's like this random stuff you probably have at home try fixing the problem. You tend to find that people will fix it more efficiently with things they have lying around the house, more or less.
[01:07:08] Jordan Harbinger: Well, that's quite fascinating. And I should, that probably even comes from our, our primate brain of like using a tool to open a nut and get food. It just, it's really interesting to draw these lines all the way back into our evolution.
[01:07:20] Michael Easter: Yeah. And I think the important part too, is that people tend to get more rewards when they come up with a creative way to solve a problem. You pull people and they'll be like, "Oh yeah, that was super cool because I solved it in this unique way. I didn't go out and like buy this very specific tool to solve it."
[01:07:35] Like I spent some time with this woman whose name Laura Zerra. She's super awesome. She kind of lived out on the road for a really long time. She was going to be a doctor and was just like, "Nah, I just want to travel the world," and she had like no money and not a lot of possessions. And anytime she would encounter a problem. She was like, "I got to figure this out and I don't have a ton of money." And when she would solve that problem with what she had, she was like, "It was just like such a rewarding feeling that I, myself, figured out the solution to this thing that otherwise I just would have, you know, paid someone to fix for me or went out and bought this special thing," and that tends to lead to more internal rewards and meaning.
[01:08:10] Jordan Harbinger: Information is another thing that I never really thought about as being a gamified scarcity loop. Why is it that we crave information? Surely, there's an evolutionary advantage here to knowing more having more information.
[01:08:23] Michael Easter: Yeah, having more information that you could predict potential dangers that were coming our brains are kind of machines that want to know the future want to predict certainty And in the past, it was rather simple, right? You're just trying to survive. And today we have this brunt of information coming at us from all different pipelines. So I've got like Twitter is just this endless feed of takes and information. News is 24/7 and it is increasingly negative as well. So 90 percent of news is negative because that tends to sell more. We get information through podcasts or TV through on and on and on and on. And I think one of the issues you find, especially when you start searching the Internet. Is that not all the information out there is great, right?
[01:09:09] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[01:09:09] Michael Easter: A lot of our information, I think, something like 50 percent of our information is user generated, where it just kind of comes from a person who's got to take, and I think that that can often lead us astray because we are creatures who really want information. You give us a question, we're going to Google it. We got a thought in our head. We're going to Google it. But the problem is now is that there's so many answers to so many different questions that it can become very confusing living in the world. It's like how do you know what's true and not true? Like if you go on Twitter and you know, two people who have different political views could Google the same thing and see totally different results.
[01:09:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:09:43] Michael Easter: And I think that becomes confusing and overwhelming. And so in the book, one of the lessons that I give is that it seems to be that putting in a little more work for your information can lead to better outcomes. So for example, there was a study where they had people look up answer to a question online. Then, they had the other group look up an answer to a question via books like in a library. So the online group, they obviously found it very fast. What they were looking for. The book group, they had to go find the book. They had to open to the right page. They had to read it. Then, they had to report back.
[01:10:15] So it took longer. But by sort of leaning on that slower information, they tended to remember the information and they were better able to reproduce it. They better understood what the meaning of it was too. So I think it's not that you can look up everything in a book ever. It's not that you can go directly to the source or read every single study, but I think when there is something you really want to learn about, it does make sense to try and go to the source. And not rely on, you know, the first thing that pops up in your random newsfeed or whatever.
[01:10:45] Jordan Harbinger: It actually makes perfect sense why that happens. One, it takes longer. So there's more of like the time for you to absorb something. But I would imagine if you look something up in a book, it's like, oh, all right, we found the book. Let's find the chapter with this. You read the whole chapter. So you get all this background, all this context, all these examples, or if you Google it. You might not even have to click on the website. Google just says, this is this, and it's like three sentences. And all of that other stuff is missing because it was able to find it so quickly. AI will probably change that, right? It will say, "Here's what this is, but here's all these other things that you probably should know if you're looking this up right now.
[01:11:19] Michael Easter: Yeah, we hope.
[01:11:20] Jordan Harbinger: We hope.
[01:11:21] Michael Easter: Yeah, we hope. We definitely hope that'll happen. The other thing that I think is interesting, and this is just at like a very basic level, we're creatures that want information. And I think that in a lot of ways, this has almost changed the experiences we have in the real world. So if you think about like, let's say you and I are like, okay, we're going to hang out. Let's go to dinner and watch a movie. Where are we going to dinner? We're going to go on Yelp, right?
[01:11:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:11:44] Michael Easter: What movie are we going to watch? Well, sh*t, we've got to go on Rotten Tomatoes.
[01:11:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:11:47] Michael Easter: And I think we all know that Yelp often leads us astray because people rate restaurants for all different things. Rotten Tomatoes often leads us astray as well, right? There's plenty of movies that have terrible ratings that I absolutely loved plenty of movies that were like the tomato that, you know, I was like, oh, this is trash. But I think what it does too, is it almost mediates what we should expect, right? So an experience that we go have in the real world isn't totally new and unknown. We've queued ourself for exactly what to expect. We know what we're going to order before we go into the restaurant. We have all, we've seen what it looks like inside. And I think that there is something really fun and life giving about going into these experiences cold without Googling everything beforehand. So, you know, what to expect.
[01:12:33] Like I'll tell you, my wife and I have started to just in Vegas will be like, let's go to that restaurant. We'll be driving. Let's go to that one. We're not going to look it up. It looks like it might be interesting. We're going to go in and we're going to see how it is. And I will tell you sometimes We're like, "Oh yeah, this, this is not a good restaurant."
[01:12:49] Jordan Harbinger: Should have looked at the reviews.
[01:12:50] Michael Easter: Should have looked at the reviews. But sometimes it's like, oh my God, we just found this freaking gem and the reviews are totally off on it. You know, it's like, it's kind of in the middle. This place is amazing.
[01:13:01] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:13:01] Michael Easter: And it's so much more fun to do that than to like, okay, I did an hour of Googling and I did this. Okay, here's this review it got, and here's what I'm ordering. And you're knowing what to like, you don't get as much reward from that.
[01:13:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. My favorite of those negative Yelp reviews where the owner replies, "You tried to walk out on the bill. What are you talking about? The service is bad. My server chased you into the parking lot where you tried to run her over with your car because your party of nine tried to get away without paying."
[01:13:29] Michael Easter: Exactly.
[01:13:29] Jordan Harbinger: The information overload you write in the book is about, it's a tipping point. Where more information doesn't do us any good and actually leads to worse, not better decisions. Is that kind of what you're hinting at with the Yelp thing?
[01:13:41] Michael Easter: Yeah. At a certain point when you know nothing, searching for information online is going to help you hopefully come to an understanding, assuming the source is decent. But if you just keep piling on and piling on and piling on information, you eventually hit a point where you're not going to make a better decision. You might actually make a worse decision. And if anything, you're just wasting a ton of time. So I think a good takeaway there is that most everyday decisions try and make them within 60 seconds. Like, do a little bit of looking. Okay, great. I kind of got a sense of this. Make a decision.
[01:14:11] It's like, you know, I have an uncle who, every time he buys a car, it's like this three month odyssey of research and whatever and blah blah. It's like, dude, all cars are basically the same. They're all going to get you from point A to point B. They're all generally reliable now. Pick the one that you like to look at and the color you like best.
[01:14:27] Jordan Harbinger: When I was an attorney, they'd be like, research this, spend no more than an hour. And they're usually talking about client billing time. But there's also this sort of hidden gem takeaway of this, which is after the first hour, hour and a half, you're in the 95th percentile on knowing about like satellite streaming rights, globally. The other three hours you spend maybe don't even get you a whole percent further along, but you spent a ton more time. You've built a ton more. You've wasted more of your workday doing this. The unfortunate reality is for a lot of, for information generally, we just don't know when we've hit that tipping point. So you kind of have to say, I'm going to research cars for an hour. I'm going to look at a few articles from trusted publications that list the top 10 and I'm going to pick one of those 10 based on aesthetics and or whatever else because they're all basically the same.
[01:15:16] Michael Easter: Yeah.
[01:15:16] Jordan Harbinger: They're the top 10 cars of the year.
[01:15:17] Michael Easter: Exactly. And for me, it's interesting. An important moment for me as a journalist is I was working at Esquire way back in the day and I had been asked to figure out how much money the Pope makes. And so what I did is I kind of Googled around, like how much money does the Pope make? And I think I even called the historian or something, this guy and he was kind of like, "Yeah, I think it's this much or whatever." And I send in the research report to my editor and we get this email, meet me in the conference room in five minutes." So we go in there and he's sitting at the end of the table and he's like a very Esquire dude. He's like, you know, the tie is loose, the button's down cause it's five. He's got like a scotch. So we sit down and we're just like, you know what? And he goes, he just goes, "Guys, no, no. If you want to know how much money the Pope makes, you call the f*cking Vatican." And it's like, oh, so for me as someone who needs to get the right information, I've remembered that forever, right?
[01:16:09] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:16:09] Michael Easter: If there's really something that I need to know, I got to call the f*cking Vatican metaphorically, right? Go right to the source. Like if I want to know something about you, I'm going to ask you. If I want to know something about this thing, like, let's try and get them on the horn. Now, for my everyday decisions though, that's impossible. That would drive me crazy. Right? So it's, I got to figure out when is the right time to put in a little more effort and when is the time where you go, just get to that, to your point, the 95 percent and then move on because we're going to spend hours and hours on this 5 percent that is going to be meaningless in the grand scheme of our lives.
[01:16:39] Jordan Harbinger: I feel like that's, it's called the f*cking Vatican is the tagline for the episode. Michael Easter, thank you so much.
[01:16:44] For those of you watching on YouTube, definitely check out the show close. I'm going to cover food stuff and information along with some more practicals.
[01:16:51] Thank you very much, man. This is really interesting. I have so many more notes here. My show close is going to be like 10, 15 minutes long, which it seldom is.
[01:16:59] Michael Easter: Awesome.
[01:17:00] Jordan Harbinger: So I really appreciate your time.
[01:17:01] Michael Easter: Yeah, I love it. I can't wait to hear the show close. I really appreciate you having me on. It was a fun conversation.
[01:17:08] Jordan Harbinger: Got a preview trailer of our interview with Dan Pink on why some of us are morning people and some of us are evening people, and why science says we're more racist in the afternoon. So stay tuned for that after the close of the show.
[01:17:20] Dan Pink: People were more likely to get parole early in the day and immediately after the judge had her break. If you came before the judge's break, you had a 10 percent chance. If you came right after the judge's break, you had about a 70 percent chance. They had two groups of jurors. Every group had the same set of facts. One person had a defendant named Robert Garner. The other person had a defendant named Roberto Garcia. But on the same set of facts. Then they had another group that deliberated in the afternoon. Same deal. When jurors deliberated in the morning, they rendered the same verdict for Garner and Garcia. Because it's the same set of facts. But when they deliberated in the afternoon, .They were more likely to exonerate Garner and convict Garcia. Racial bias increases during that time.
[01:18:03] I would love to be the kind of badass who gets up at four o'clock in the morning, works out, reads three newspapers in three different languages, and is like at the office at 6:15 before the cleaning crew. But you know what? That's not me. So the idea that everybody can just get up earlier, that's easier said than done. It's not very sustainable.
[01:18:21] Jordan Harbinger: I know there's a ton of fellow entrepreneurs and just regular folks out there that have trouble getting up early and think, oh, I'm lazy.
[01:18:29] Dan Pink: About 15 percent of us are very strong morning people, larks. About 20 percent of us are very strong evening people, owls. Two thirds of us are in between. We are in some ways walking time pieces. We have time and timing, literally imbued in our physiology.
[01:18:48] Jordan Harbinger: For more with Dan Pink, including how to match your schedule to your body's peak times for rest, recovery, and optimal focus, check out episode 63 here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:19:00] Okay, I've got a lot for the show close because this book was, quite frankly, loaded with information.
[01:19:05] It is crazy to me, now, house slots do 85 percent of the gambling volume in some places, and before 1980, they just barely existed. They were just kind of an afterthought. I think they were almost like a novelty thing, and now, it's just, you know, kind of notice that, look, I was born in 1980, so what do I know about before that? But I certainly know now, when you go to Vegas, there's just a ton of these things, and they're all branded, and they have a zillion different buttons, and they light up, and they're noisy, I mean, it's really just like, the whole casino is that, and then there's some tables.
[01:19:35] Food is probably the easiest example of something in excess, something that we have a scarcity brain on that we can't control. In the 1970s processed food went into overdrive. There's a lot of reasons for that, but there were a lot of new options, a lot of marketing, a lot more processed food. Fast food exploded in a way that hadn't sort of existed before. And as you know, if you're American, you don't need this explained to you. I mean, you see this everywhere. And if you know Americans in America, you know, we are the probably the fattest country or one of the fattest countries around and we just have so much access to cheap calories, and low quality food. And our brains tell us to eat more and more and more and more of it, and our hunger hormones and metabolism are all out of whack in large part, I think, due to the fact that we are eating like this.
[01:20:20] Another thing that I thought was fascinating and makes complete sense is that bad news triggers starvation hormones and stress eating. Think about it. Bad news could mean lean times are coming, so you better fatten up. So a lot of people stress eat. This is probably evolved and not some sort of weird bad habit or some sort of strange syndrome that people have who stress eat. It's probably a normal behavior except now we get so much bad news so often because of negativity bias and news channels 24/7 trying to suck us in and the Internet. We have this reaction a lot of the time. Whereas normally we'd probably get certain kinds of bad news once a year, maybe a couple of times a year, maybe not even that often in early humanity. Now, we get it like 10 times a day or 10 times an hour, depending on how much news you're consuming. Yikes.
[01:21:07] As for stuff and shopping, we consume and we buy so much more now than we ever have before. We have conspicuous consumption, which is the status game all over again where people will buy something that they don't need or don't even necessarily want in order to increase their status. We shop a lot, we get a dopamine hit from buying things off of Amazon or from a store. And when we are full of food, we feel full, right? I don't want to eat anymore. We don't have that same mechanism for hoarding things and storage units are one of the fastest growing industries, especially here in the United States. You ever see those people with the 1-800 pack rat boxes in their driveway and you think, oh, they're moving. And then three years later, those damn boxes are still in their driveway. They're just hoarding crap to the point where their garage is probably full, because their house is already full, and now they've got a storage unit in their driveway. I mean, it's actually insane. And the example I'm giving is from my own neighborhood. I've got people who I thought were moving, and it just turns out they have a ton of crap. These two boxes are full, they're dusty, they haven't opened these things in a while. They're just full of crap that doesn't fit in the garage.
[01:22:12] Guess what else doesn't fit in the garage? The car. Also, we're producing and manufacturing things a lot faster and easier than ever before. But have people always hoarded? Is this something new because we manufacture more, we have more media? If this is an evolved mindset, surely lots of old castles had larders full of stuff they were never going to use. I'm going to come in and guess here that we've always had the instinct to hoard, but we never, until maybe recently, as a society, have had the ability, probably, to hoard. And I think it's just now there's more to hoard, it's being encouraged more, and we are on a media diet that just mainlines information to our brains and gets us to buy stuff.
[01:22:51] And speaking of information, we also hoard information. They did a study that showed that people who watch negative news on television about the Boston Marathon bombing a few years ago, we're much more likely to have PTSD than people who are actually in the marathon during the bombing. So think about that. That is wild how toxic our information environment is. that it can actually cause a disorder, PTSD. Think about this, the coverage of the event was more likely to cause PTSD than the actual event. How often does that actually happen? I bet that happens all the time.
[01:23:24] September 11th I think they also studied. People who were at the event, first responders excluded, people who were near the event had far less PTSD than those who were watching it on television in terms of the instances. This is not a general rule. But it does show you how toxic our information environment actually is. And hoarding information, being a news junkie, about current events and breaking stuff can really be bad for us.
[01:23:49] Michael also wrote about the concept of the online brain. What is this? I suppose I have to be guilty of this since I'm always online researching things. But the Internet has damaged our minds. It has damaged our ability to focus. No surprise there. Have you ever met somebody who's on TikTok all the time? And our memory slash databank is degraded because we have the world's knowledge at our fingertips. I'm a little bit skeptical that that particular issue is really a problem. It reminds me of when I was younger and teachers were saying, kids can't do math because you're not going to always have a calculator in their pocket, which is the reason my old math teachers told me I needed to be able to do this stuff on paper or use the Dewey Decimal System and the card catalog because I'm not always going to be able to search for things on the computer. And I remember being young and being like, of course, I will. Computers are going to be everywhere. How do we not know this? And well, here we are.
[01:24:38] Socrates famously complained about books being written because people wouldn't memorize as many things verbatim. Not sure how many of us see that as an actual problem these days. But of course, also, the Internet has caused and does continue to cause social interaction issues. I don't think I need to argue too hard in favor of this one. This one seems like the big one to me. Esther Perel and I chatted about this. You'll hear that in an upcoming episode. People will have even less tolerance for actual humans once AI comes into play. We see that lowered tolerance in online discussions, and I think we've all met people who live online and just somehow can't get along in real life. It's very odd, and that is probably going to get worse, unfortunately.
[01:25:18] Last but not least, instead of trying to disprove a hypothesis using science, people can look online at the infinite ocean of information for ideas and information that confirm their existing hypotheses. That's why we see a rise in things like flat earthers. Or people who think that Jews are reptiles and live underground or that the earth is hollow or the moon landing was fake because you can always find very small pockets of information that will confirm whatever belief you already have and our brains are just not evolved to deal with that.
[01:25:48] And I've mentioned in other episodes that I used to think people who believe conspiracy theories were kind of dumb but now I just think it's an actual information parsing issue. A critical thinking issue, of course, but it's not that you're a complete moron if you believe something that's wrong, it's because you can easily find an information ecosystem that confirms some random fringe idea and then it looks like it's correct. And you actually have to do a lot of work to disprove that. It's very difficult for a lot of people to do that.
[01:26:15] And I definitely want to do more with Michael Easter in the future, and maybe I'll pop a Xanax beforehand so I'm not so amped up next time. But, I hope you all enjoyed that despite my motor mouth and all things Michael Easter will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com or ask the AI chatbot on the website. Transcripts in the show notes, advertisers, deals, discount codes, ways to support the show, all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support the show.
[01:26:40] We've also got our newsletter. Every week, the team and I dig into an older episode of the show and dissect the lessons from it. So if you are a fan of the show, you want a recap of important highlights and takeaways, or you just want to know what to listen to next, the newsletter is a great place to do that. Jordanharbinger.com/news is where you can find it. Don't forget about Six-Minute Networking also on the website at jordanharbinger.com/course. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:27:06] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogerty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. So if you know somebody who is interested in psychology, how the Internet has ruined our brains, humanity, and how we've evolved, definitely share this episode with them. In the meantime, I hope you apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you learn, and we'll see you next time.
[01:27:39] This episode is sponsored in part by the Conspirituality podcast. We're living in a world absolutely saturated with information, some real, a lot total nonsense. But there are folks out there doing the hard work to cut through the noise, like the folks on the Conspirituality podcast. This is not a casual chat. You've got a journalist who knows the ins and outs of fact-checking, a cult researcher who's going down rabbit holes you didn't even know existed, a philosophical skeptic to keep everybody in check, They're taking on everything from RFK Jr.'s anti-vaxx talking points, which I mentioned on the show and many of you had strong feelings about that, to the downright murky ideology followed by Yevgeny Prigozhin and members of the Wagner Group, the guy who just died in a very mysterious plane crash over in Russia. And they're not just throwing opinions at you, they're providing insights that make you go, "Huh, okay, I've never thought about it that way." And the best part is they're guided by one principle we should all get behind, which is good, proven science, you know, like Skeptical Sunday, for example. Tons of interesting episodes like the one about the wellness industry or the episode on EMF at 5G and chemtrails. It is similar to Skeptical Sunday in a different format. From exploring cults to analyzing our cultural and political landscape, the Conspirituality podcast will help you stay informed against misinformation and resist fear tactics. Find Conspirituality on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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