One mindset that I see making life hard for a lot of people around me is what some have called a “scarcity mindset”. This is the feeling that we don’t have enough – not enough of something specific, and often not enough in general in our lives. It is the polar opposite of the so-called “abundance” or “prosperity mindset”.
Every feeling has an associated activation that, if we allow it, comes out in behaviour. The scarcity mindset activates us to seek out and accrue more.
An obvious example of a scarcity mindset, when it’s acted upon in an out-of-control manner, is hoarding. When we hoard there is an underlying feeling of not enough now, or that we will lose things and very soon have not enough. Many of the southern Asian and Graeco-Latin based cultures (West Europe, Australia, North America) that I’ve encountered involve a lot of people suffering from hoarding.
Runaway hoarding offers the most striking example of the scarcity mindset, but this mindset can manifest in less obvious ways. One might extend “scarcity” into matters of personal skill. If you feel like you’re lacking in ability to perform, you might get carried away trying to build a repertoire of skills and information that don’t actually help you. For example, you may spend hours, days, watching YouTube tutorials, getting more and more information, without actually putting it to use to improve your situation.
One more thing is, our mind doesn’t always know what our mind is up to. The feeling of not enough in one specific part of our life can drive us to do some behaviour that actually has nothing to do with fixing that feeling. So feeling, for example, socially rejected (not enough meaningful social contact) can in fact activate us to make up for it by collecting an inordinate number of empty jam jars (that we “might need one day”).
This particular mindset is one of the most fundamental, I believe. It is rooted in our basic biology. You can see an analogue in our appetite for calories. It can sometimes seem like no matter how many calories we’ve consumed, we’d happily take in more. This is even at the cellular level – our fat cells very flexibly expand and increase in number when lipids come in, but won’t decrease if fat is dramatically cut from our diet.
It does this for a very good reason – for almost all our history as a biological organism, it was a challenge to find enough calories. We’ve evolved to take on all the food available to us now, because we don’t know when we next find a good meal – in an hour? 2 days from now? In 2 weeks?
To wrestle with a scarcity mindset is to denounce almost 4 billion years of biological encoding. Impossible! (Quick tip: in a battle of biological needs versus willpower or intention, always bet on biology).
And scarcity mindset is something you’re likely seeing everywhere around you. Remember before any pandemic, ads would often start with “Times are hard…” or “In these difficult times…”. A nudge to get you feeling like there’s not enough, just in case you were a bit too happy with your lot.
Have you ever gone out and bought something or some service, any quick fix solution, and it felt really good at first before quickly leaving you as unfulfilled and hurt as before? Then you’ve probably just added to your scarcity mindset. It’s the equivalent of stuffing your fat cells with calories to improve your health and chance of survival. It actually would help if you really are impoverished and malnourished, but in the developed world, and if you have the luxury of reading this now, I can assure you that more is not what you need.
But that’s not to say we’re helpless.
In the field of coaching there’s a lot of jargon that doesn’t say much to most people. One term I’ve come across many times, but which is hardly ever explained, is “abundance mindset”. If you’ve heard that before and thought “that sounds nice” and then immediately forgotten about it, don’t worry. This article will have helped cement the concept into memory as something meaningful.
In short, the abundance mindset is the opposite of the scarcity mindset. It is to feel like you have all that you need. You don’t need to add to it; in fact, getting more might even make your life more difficult. It is finding value in what you already have, and recognising the richness we have within ourselves. This may be in appreciation of the material things we have access to, or gratitude in what good friends we have, or being mindful of our strength in character.
To switch the mindset – from the constant fear and pressure of scarcity, to the calm contentment of abundance – is not necessarily easy. But it is something anyone and everyone is capable of.
This switch isn’t necessarily what solves your problems (and, please be wary of any life coach that reduces the total of your suffering to this one fix). But from what I’ve observed in many, many people around me, replacing the scarcity mindset with an abundance mindset can certainly add a lot to your life.