7 Ways a Scarcity Mindset is Hurting You

scarcity mindset

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A scarcity mindset is hurting you.

How often do you start your day with, “I didn’t get enough sleep.” This quickly turns into, “I don’t have enough time,” followed by, “If only I had more money…”

All of these statements – which many of us utter daily – are reflections of a scarcity mindset. You may have heard of the scarcity mindset before, but do you know how many ways it is negatively impacting your life?

A scarcity mindset can affect everything in our lives. It influences our decisions to our relationships to our ability to think. In doing so, it can have a significant impact on our overall happiness.

What is a scarcity mindset

A scarcity mindset makes us believe that there is never enough.

It orients our mind toward unfulfilled needs, making us focus on what we lack rather than on what we have (or could have).

Time and money are two common examples of things we feel we lack, but a scarcity mindset can encompass countless things.

If we are lonely, we focus on our lack of friends. If we are hungry, we focus on our lack of food. If we are lacking intimacy in a relationship, we focus on all the moments of distance.

Scarcity mindset

A scarcity mindset also affects how we look at ourselves.

We may fixate on how we don’t have the perfect body, or we aren’t smart enough, or we aren’t talented enough.

Perhaps you are focusing on the lack of clarity, connection, and meaning in your life. (If so, you’re in the right place… but also, stop focusing so much on what you don’t have. But also, don’t stop reading my blog. GAH damn double standards).

Scarcity’s focus on unfulfilled needs causes us to live a meaningless chase for a fictitious “more.”

Or it forces us to give up and feel despair about never attaining enough.

A scarcity mindset alters the way we perceive the world

A scarcity mindset is more than a couple of stray thoughts here or there; it actually alters the way we perceive the world.

As a result, it diminishes our cognitive abilities and drains our willpower. Studies have proven that scarcity can literally lower our IQ scores.

And a scarcity mindset affects all of us.

The reason a scarcity mindset is so pervasive is that it taps into our evolutionary roots of fear. Back in the caveman days, fear had to be our number one focus to survive.

Fear is what activated our fight or flight response. The people who responded the best to fear were the ones to make it.

Because it is so deeply ingrained in us, scarcity is a bottom-up intrusion into our brains.

This means that we don’t consciously summon or focus on it. A scarcity mindset barrels through like an uninvited bull in a flower garden (or my Aunt Bertha at a holiday gathering).

In fact, it’s affecting you right now, whether you realize it or not. The more you’re aware of its impact, the more you can combat its negative influences on your life.

7 Ways a Scarcity Mindset is Defeating You

1. You neglect good things in your life

When we’re so focused on the thing that we are missing, we fail to notice other important, more positive aspects of our life.

It’s called attentional blindness; we literally become blind to things when we put so much attention on what we lack.

Let’s say that Sherry has a wonderful boyfriend and dog named Skipper, but her house is a 1970’s nightmare of a fixer-upper that she’s been battling with for years. As more and more new homes are built around her neighborhood, she focuses even more on how old her house is and how she wishes she had a new one.

Because all she sees when she comes home are the flaws of her old house, she fails to give her attention to the happy things: her relationship, her beautiful yard, her playful puppy pal.

As a result, she neglects a lot of positive aspects of her life.

If you asked Sherry, she would tell you that she loves her boyfriend and Skipper (I mean, how could you not love Skipper with his bright eyes and bouncy ears). Sherry’s not trying to neglect them; in fact, she’s thrilled with her life.

But her brain’s focus on the house makes her neglect the happy parts without realizing it.

Gratitude is one of the most important practices when it comes to happiness. Yet, a scarcity mindset works hard to make us only focus on what we don’t have, instead of appreciating what we do have.

2. You make poor decisions

Another casualty of the scarcity mindset is our inability to think about the future. When we are so caught up with the “bad” in the present, we struggle to see anything beyond the here and now.

It’s only natural that this shortsightedness, then, leads to poor decision making.

If all my friends have a new iPhone X, scarcity is going to make me fixate on the fact that I only have an iPhone 6. When an opportunity comes around for me to upgrade to an iPhone X, I’m probably going to jump on it immediately (I need that portrait mode now!).

I’ll do this even if I have the opportunity to wait six months, save my money, and buy an iPhone 11 for a much better deal.

The logical choice would be to wait, as it would be better for me in the long run, but a scarcity mindset makes me choose a solution for the present.

A scarcity mindset affects decision-making of all kinds, but it’s most well-known for its effect on decisions around money.

In fact, studies have proven that people in poverty become trapped in making poor decisions because their brains aren’t able to afford futuristic planning.

brain bandwidth

3. Your brain doesn’t work at its full capacity

Part of the reason you make poor decisions is that a scarcity mindset can decrease your brain’s cognitive abilities.

I know what you may be thinking: Wait, so you’re saying I become stupider if I’m caught up in a scarcity mindset? To put it bluntly, yes.

Think of it this way:

Our brains have a specific capacity to perform all of the cognitive tasks we require of it to do, such as paying attention, thinking through ideas, making good decisions, and sticking to plans.

You can think of this capacity as its bandwidth. Much like a computer has a limited bandwidth to do all of its computations before it slows down, overheats, and starts making loud, angry huffing noises (no, just my old laptop?), our brains can only handle so many things at once.

When we put so much of our brainpower toward the one thing that we lack, we are cutting into that precious bandwidth.

A scarcity mindset can quite literally lower your IQ.

Think of a time in your life when you were experiencing a great deal of stress. I imagine that pressure stemmed from a situation you felt like you had to complete or get through.

Outside of the area of life that caused you to stress, did other areas of your life also suffer? I imagine they did.

More often than not, we aren’t even able to connect the dots between a scarcity mindset and our brain’s decreased function – but it’s there.

4. You feel worse about yourself

It’s no surprise that when we focus on what we lack, we tend to feel worse about ourselves. When we never have “enough” of something, it’s only natural that we believe that we are not enough.

Humans have a strong urge to compare ourselves to others. Unfortunately, we rarely compare ourselves in a way that makes us feel better.

I bet if you take a walk down a street, you mostly think, “I wish I had that,” as opposed to, “What I have is better than that.” (And the latter thought, if you do have it, is usually stemming from an overconfident place stemming from an underlying insecure place.)

Whenever we compare ourselves to others, we set unrealistic measures of happiness. We think, I’ll be happy once I am _____ enough, or My life will be great once I have enough ________.

The thing about these blanks is that there is no exact “enough,” and even if we do reach our target, we often find it doesn’t make us as happy as we thought.

Mainly because there is always someone out there who has more of that thing.

It’d be like if you’re running a race and the finish line just keeps getting further away. All you see is the finish line (blind to everything on either side of you), and all you can think about is crossing it.

In this race, you can’t win. This is a scarcity mindset propelling you forward.

The only way to combat this irresponsible chase for more is to pull yourself out of a scarcity mindset.

Scarcity mindset causes worthlessness

5. Your tolerance and patience decreases

If we’re so worked up over what we don’t have, wouldn’t you think that we’d be more tolerant and patient of others who also are lacking?

I hate to break it you (Actually I love to break it to you- learning is fun, said the teacher!), but you aren’t more patient.

Scarcity doesn’t allow much room for empathy or understanding.

This makes sense if you think of where it comes from. Back in the whole not-quite-erect-but-still-humanlike day, it wouldn’t have served our ancestors well to be empathetic.

I mean, can you imagine patiently waiting for your annoying cousin to finish their story while trying to make it over the ice bridge before it collapsed?

In the modern world, we tend to lose our compassion when scarcity is involved.

Our brain bandwidth doesn’t have space for full thinking, let alone for tolerance and patience for others.

I have a tendency to schedule out my day, to a fault. Every minute of every hour during my workday is dedicated to something intentional.

Why? Because there is never enough time – or so scarcity tells me.

When I’m working during my 55-minute free block on a specific task, I become rather short with my coworkers who want to “chit chat.” They’re merely trying to connect (and realistically only want to talk for a few minutes), but my patience is absent.

My brain is telling me that it is either them or work time, and something’s got to give.

Scarcity might not decrease your patience in this particular manner, but it probably is in some way.

Maybe you are impatient when you are rushed. Perhaps you have very little tolerance for people who don’t understand the urgency of your worries.

Whatever the reason, scarcity is probably impacting you in more ways than you realize.

6. You don’t partake in sharing and giving as much

A scarcity mindset affects specific thinking in our life, but it also affects our attitude on a global scale. The very notion of scarcity is that there isn’t enough to go around.

Therefore, we feel compelled to take what we can and not give it up to others.

Let’s say there’s only one pizza left at the party. (One pizza?! And it’s not even 10pm, are you kidding me?!). If you’re hungry, you know you’ll have the urge to grab a few slices for yourself before it’s gone.

In life, this can translate to many things, such as money, jobs, and opportunities. To give you an authentic and timely example, consider the immigration crisis. People are afraid to let refugees into our country for fear that they will take our jobs.

A scarcity mindset tricks us into thinking that everything is limited.

Due to this fear of running out, we don’t want to share something if we have it.

Interactions with people become a competition rather than a collaboration.

The thing is, there usually isn’t a scarcity of resources. In fact, a scarcity mindset is often preventing us from thinking of ways to create more for everyone. (Dude, just call the pizza place for more pizza – they deliver).

Not to mention the fact that giving to others is another source of happiness that we are neglecting.

7. You are less likely to take risks

Not only are we afraid to give up what we have to other people, but we are also scared to give up what we have for new opportunities.

The scarcity mindset makes us believe that we’ll never find another thing like what we gave up.

While thoughtless risk-taking can be dangerous, we need to get outside our comfort zones to be happy. This can entail an action as small as trying out a new store, or as large as starting a new job.

We need to move past the fear that is screaming, Don’t do it! It’ll be lost forever, and you’ll never find something as good!

This pervasive fear affects you in more ways than you would think.

Heck, I realized that scarcity was even affecting my ordering habits at my local ice cream stand. Since I rarely allowed myself the pleasure of ice cream, each time I went felt like a special event that couldn’t be wasted.

I lamented over my decision, terrified to take a risk on Tollhouse Cookie or Khalu Coffee Brownie. What happens if I didn’t like it and wasted the experience?

Nothing happened, of course. Eventually, I realized that I could make a regretful decision, and it would be okay – because there would be more ice cream trips in the future.

Scarcity gives everything an irrational sense of urgency and importance, holding us back from taking risks.

These risks, though, are sometimes exactly what we need to find greater meaning and happiness.

scarcity mindset - afraid to take risks

8. Your dedication decreases

So scarcity kills your decision-making, shrinks your brain’s ability, limits your tolerance, and hinders your risk-taking… anything else?

Of course.

A scarcity mindset also decreases your dedication and perseverance.

It prohibits you from seeing long-term results because you’re absorbed with what you’re missing in the here and now. As a result, you naturally become more attuned to immediate gratification.

You want to fill your need now, not ten weeks or ten months or even ten years from now. In fact, the thought of waiting that long just amplifies your fear of never filling your need.

The long-game becomes unbearable, and your dedication to something quickly dwindles.

Let’s say Andy wants to be making over $100,000 to live the lifestyle he’s envisioned for himself. He’s working at an entry-level position in a big company.

There’s a chance for growth, but the more Andy looks around and thinks about how much less than $100k he makes, the worse he feels. The eight years he would need to put in to make his way up to middle management isn’t going to cut it.

Instead, Andy will probably start looking for new jobs with higher salaries that he’s not qualified for, launch a Kickstarter for his “groundbreaking” knife-sales idea that deals in cryptocurrency, and buy a weekly lottery ticket because he wants money now.

Scarcity has trapped Andy into a “need it now” mindset. Unfortunately, this mindset contradicts our drive to stick something out.

In the end, hard work and dedication are usually the things that bring us the most success and happiness.

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How to Fight the Scarcity Mindset

As we evolved into the modern world, some of the foundational wiring in our brains did not. It’s like we’re using a 1998 Blackberry software in an iPhone 11 world.

However, we can work to rewire our brains and train ourselves to fight the scarcity mindset.

The opposite of a scarcity mindset is an abundance mindset: there is enough to go around, there will be more chances, and you do have enough.

You can build an abundance mindset by doing four simple things.

1. Question Where a Scarcity Mindset is Affecting You

The first step in fighting the scarcity mindset is becoming aware of how it affects you. Take stock of your life and question:

  • What do you feel is missing or lacking?
  • How often do you focus on what you don’t have?
  • Where do you feel like you’re motivated by a fear of never being or having enough?

2. Stop the Scarcity Mindset thoughts with Abundance Mantras

The next step is to shift your mindset from scarcity to one of abundance. Whenever you feel yourself saying, I need more _______, cut off this line of thinking.

I have put a stop to these thoughts by responding with mantras such as, There is enough time. I did get enough sleep. I do have enough money.

By focusing on what you do have, you’ll experience greater appreciation and gratitude. You’ll also decrease the fear and unhappiness that scarcity creates.

3. Add Slack to your Life

Another strategy to fight against the scarcity mindset is to add “slack” to your life. Instead of fixating on procuring what you lack, give yourself more freedom to combat your sense of urgency.

For example, if you feel like you never have enough time, schedule your day in a way that allows for pockets of “free time.” If you are hyper-focused on a lack of friends, begin to give more attention to the relationships in your life that you do have.

Small actions can make a big difference in your life.

4. Take Inventory of Your Bandwidth

Finally, try to take inventory of your mental bandwidth. If you could create a pie chart of your thoughts each day, what percent are you thinking about things that you don’t have?

Once you understand the breakdown of your thoughts, you can more consciously balance where you are putting your energy and mental brainpower.

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Conclusion

A scarcity mindset is affecting all of us every day. Rooted in our biological makeup, we are hardwired to focus on what we lack. As a result, we are negatively impacted in many ways.

Scarcity’s fixation on the missing makes us blind to the positive aspects of our life. It also contributes to poor decision-making, lessened cognitive ability, poor self-esteem, decreased patience, reduced sharing, increased avoidance of risk, and weakened dedication.

As a result, the scarcity mindset hinders our ability to be happy.

Becoming aware of how scarcity affects us is the first step in changing our mindset. We can also implement abundant mantras, add slack in our lives, and take inventory of our thoughts. These strategies will help us fight the scarcity mindset and develop our self-awareness.

Ultimately, it will help us find greater clarity, connection, and meaning in our lives.

How is the scarcity mindset affecting you? Choose a question below and leave a comment.

If you don’t, you’ll be missing out. You’re missing a comment right now. You need to post a comment, or else you’ll lose this opportunity forever! Don’t think about the future, just do it now, or else you’ll never be enough!

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FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS

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Comment below with answers, ideas, and more questions, or contact me to collaborate on a future post!

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EXPLORING YOURSELF

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What do you feel is missing or lacking in your life?

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In what areas of your life do you notice a scarcity mindset affecting you the most?

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How powerful do you think a scarcity mindset can be?

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EXPANDING YOUR WORLD

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In what ways does a scarcity mindset affect people in poverty?

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What role does risk-taking play in life satisfaction?

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Why do humans have a natural tendency to compare themselves to others?

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