Jumping for joy
Illustration: Guy Billout
Shortly after World War II, executives at Japan's Toyota Motor Company made a decision from which, I believe, we all can benefit. They decided to make cars the way they'd make, say, sushi. Unlike most manufacturers, which bought and stored massive stockpiles of supplies, Toyota began ordering just enough parts to keep their lines moving, just when those parts were needed. This made them spectacularly productive, and turned the phrase "just in time" into business legend.

I know of the Toyota case because in my former life as an academic, I taught international business management. My students and I had some rousing discussions about just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing, as well as its alternative, which is known as just-in-case (JIC) inventory. These students were the first people who hired me as a life coach (perhaps because I could never resist applying business theory to everyday life). When we discussed JIT versus JIC management as a lifestyle strategy, we concluded that Toyota's business innovation could positively impact all of our lives. If you feel overburdened, overstressed, and anxious, I'm betting the same is true for you.

Why Just-in-Case Is Just Crazy


Most people live with a just-in-case mind-set because for most of human history, it made sense. The primary fact of life for just-in-case processes is: "Everything good is scarce!" By contrast, just-in-time systems rely on the assumption "Everything good is readily available." Well, until quite recently, the former claim was true for most humans—it's still true for many. But most magazine readers like you live in settings where basic necessities, like food, clothing, and other humans, are plentiful.

Living in an abundant environment but operating on the assumption that good things are scarce leads to a host of dysfunctions that can be summed up in one word: excess. Most of us are living in some kind of excess; we work too much, eat too much, rack up debt buying too much stuff. Yet, driven by the unconscious, just-in-case assumption that "everything good is scarce," we just keep doing and accumulating more. We've all seen some of the unfortunate results, and I've found that most fall into the following four categories: 

Starving off the Fat of the Land
For years I noticed that my clients who lived in a mind-set of scarcity had trouble controlling their weight, even though they dieted assiduously. I also read studies showing that poor women—particularly those who periodically starved themselves to feed their children—were particularly plagued by obesity. Researchers hypothesize that when the body knows it may be starved, whether by poverty or by dieting, it activates automatic just-in-case mechanisms that store fat on the body to get through the next "famine." Ironically, this biological just-in-case mechanism puts fat on precisely the people with the discipline to starve themselves.

Stuff Tsunamis

Just-in-case thinking triggers primal, unconscious impulses to hoard good stuff, fat supplies being just one example. Combine JIC attitudes with a superabundant culture, and things can go wildly off kilter. There have been several cases like the one in Shelton, Washington, where a woman recently suffocated under a pile of her own possessions. To recover her body, police reported having to "climb over [clutter] on their hands and knees. In some areas, their heads were touching the ceiling while they were standing on top of piles of debris."

Money Madness

My wealthiest clients have taught me that having lots of money doesn't quiet scarcity-based, JIC anxiety. This point was reinforced for me when I heard about the suicide of the German billionaire who lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the recent financial crisis. Now, this poor guy wasn't literally a poor guy. He still had a personal fortune. But to a just-in-case thinker who's used to billions, it wasn't enough to keep him from throwing himself in front of a train.

Love's Labor's Lost

Just-in-case thinking destroys relationships faster than—and sometimes with the assistance of—a speeding bullet. Along with the impulse to hoard objects, it also triggers excessive attempts to control our supply of love—that is, other people. So anxious lovers have their partners followed. Parents micromanage children. People-pleasers try to manipulate everyone into liking them. This behavior isn't love; it's a fear-based outcome of believing love is scarce. If you've ever been on the receiving end of such anxious machinations, you know they make you want to run, not bond.

Next: Why Just-in-Time Just Makes Sense

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