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How Overcoming a Scarcity Mindset Reduces Stress

September 22, 2022 by Amanda Reill

How Overcoming a Scarcity Mindset Reduces Stress

“People with a scarcity mentality tend to see everything in terms of win-lose. There is only so much; and if someone else has it, that means there will be less for me. 

The more principle-centered we become, the more we develop an abundance mentality, the more we are genuinely happy for the successes, well-being, achievements, recognition, and good fortune of other people. We believe their success adds to...rather than detracts from...our lives.” - Stephen Covey

How Overcoming a Scarcity Mindset Reduces Stress

Some things in life are finite. The job you’re applying for will only select one applicant. The house you put an offer on will only have one buyer. Because we understand that not even the best athletes win every game, we can tend to fear we’ll lose out on what we really want in life. That’s natural, and disappointment is an expected part of the journey. 

But sometimes we start to feel competitive about things that aren’t as limited. And it’s driving us crazy.

What is a scarcity mindset?

A scarcity mindset is the drive that motivates a kid to dive on top of all the candy that just fell out of the pinata. It’s also the drive that often has us flocking to the stores when a harsh storm is coming, to bulk up on food and supplies. Our ancestors would probably be proud — we’re trying to provide food for ourselves and our families. But this save-yourself mindset has a way of creeping into other areas of life, and it often takes on the form of jealousy and envy.

Have you ever felt a twinge in your stomach when someone shares their recent success? Ever had the thought, wouldn’t that be nice? Have you ever been bombarded with advertisements for the same kind of business you’re trying to launch and felt like there was no room at the table for you? This is scarcity-mindset at work in unnecessary places.

Some of us tend to personalize the victory of others and feel that it implies there’s less success available for us. What we are sometimes forgetting is the abundance available to us in life and the reality that no one can be better at being you than — well, you.

Who coined the term ‘scarcity mindset’?

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey first explored the idea of scarcity mentality vs. abundance mentality. He used a pie to illustrate. When we approach the world using a scarcity mindset, we tend to believe that success is doled out as if the universe is serving a pie with finite pieces.

Anyone who’s been to a large party with a small amount of dessert knows the mild panic of wondering if there will be enough for them. As an alternative to scarcity mentality, Covey suggests that we operate from a position of abundance. That is, we believe that there is enough good - or pie -  in the world for all of us.

What are the effects of a scarcity mindset?

A psychologist at Princeton University, Eldar Shafir, has extensively studied how a scarcity mindset can compromise our decision-making skills. The energy we expend through worrying takes away some of our “mental bandwidth,” says Shafir. We’re not as able to make efficient, calculated decisions.

When our decision-making skills are compromised, we likely won’t be showing up for our goals in the profound way we hope to. We may find ourselves distracted by what others are doing rather than pushing ahead for ourselves.

How do we overcome scarcity thinking?

Light casts out even the most unhelpful of our habits. Sometimes you just have to call something by its name. We shouldn’t be shocked when we find ourselves thinking or acting from a posture of scarcity — it’s natural! Acknowledge that you’re behaving from a natural human instinct.

When you find yourself comparing your journey to another person’s, consider whether a scarcity mindset might be at play. Ask yourself this question: “Do I believe this other person’s success could be infringing on my own?” Check in with what feelings you may be experiencing.

Then try flipping the script. Ask yourself, “How would I be feeling right now if I believed there was enough good in the world for me, too? How would that impact my mindset and behaviors right now?”

The best way to overcome scarcity thinking is to get your agency back. Agency means that when you act, things happen. Worry is a passive behavior, and doesn’t usually get us any further along. Be intentional in recognizing your feelings and scarcity-mindset. Take the time to process those feelings, and release them by remembering that you have plenty to offer to the world, and there are plenty in the world who need what you are offering.

Cut yourself a piece of the pie

Practicing mindfulness and regularly checking in with your thoughts and emotions is a powerful way to identify when a scarcity mindset may be taking over. There is one thing that no one can ever take away from you, and that is your personal identity. Showing up as yourself in this world is the greatest gift you can give, and a piece of the pie that belongs to you and you alone.

If you’re training to become a coach, or even just thinking about it, and your social media is flooded with advertisements from other coaches, just remember that you’re not them. You’re the only you, and you’re worthy and capable of success. Now go cut yourself a piece of that pie.

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