Beep, beep… beep, beep…
6 AM: My heart’s pounding, as my to-do list consumes my first thoughts. Presentation, budget, call the technician, plan meals!
I scarf down my bowl of cereal and get to work.
A few hours later, I finish my presentation, but it’s not “perfect”. Then, I update my budget. Ugh… How did I go over, again?
My partner asks, What’s wrong? But I brush him off, lest he think I’m needy.
Suddenly, I feel unsafe and vulnerable, like a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. Self-doubt nags at me all day.
At night, I berate myself for not getting enough done and finally shut my eyes.
Voilà, a typical day for me, years ago. The scarcity mindset—believing that there will never be enough (time, money, energy, achievements, love, etc.)—ruled my life till one day, I burned out.
The craziest part?
Society is steeped in the scarcity mindset. Though many people don’t realize it, they feel its soul-crushing effects: fear, anxiety, depression and disconnection.
But don’t let that scare you! Let’s explore our beliefs of lack and find solutions to feel more peaceful.
What exactly is a scarcity mindset?
A scarcity mindset is when we believe we’re not enough, we’re not doing enough or we don’t have enough.
It stems from fear—the ultimate fear being one of rejection and shame. Studies show that we’re wired for social connection, which is key to our health, joy and fulfillment.
Forgoing relationships or a sense of belonging to a group is like forgoing food or shelter. Consequently, many people do whatever it takes to get approval from others.
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says that our culture’s scarcity mindset leaves us feeling angry and fearful about our safety. These feelings then permeate our work, schools, families and communities, in the form of:
- Shame: using fear of ridicule to manage people, tying self-worth to achievements, blaming, insulting, perfectionism
- Comparison: constantly comparing, stifling creativity, measuring people with narrow standards
- Disengagement: avoiding taking risks and trying new things, keeping your ideas and experiences to yourself, feeling unacknowledged
Why would we do things that squelch the connection we’re all seeking?
It all comes down to fight or flight, our amygdalas’ reaction to threats. It’s a necessary, biological reaction to ensure our survival.
Unfortunately, though, our bodies can overreact to non-life-threatening stressors like family conflicts and coworkers’ criticism. Anything that could deny us of social connection alarms our inner critic.
To keep us safe, our inner critic ironically shames us, so that we conform to others’ expectations and thus gain love and acceptance. The result, though? Anxiety, depression and addiction.
Our inner critic means well, but it doesn’t accept that distancing, controlling, achieving and perfecting cannot bring us joy. That life continues after rejections.
And that being vulnerable, rather, lets us experience love and belonging.
Resisting the present moment
“Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” ―Gilda Radner
It’s no surprise that we still feel lack, even when we have more than enough to survive. Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money, writes that we’re immersed in a culture that runs on 3 toxic myths of scarcity:
- There’s not enough
- More is better
- That’s just the way it is
No matter how much money or how many successes we have, we can feel disconnected to ourselves and to the present moment. Our fears can steer our thoughts and actions.
We compare ourselves to others, then judge ourselves when we don’t line up. We worry that if we don’t be and do as we’re “supposed” to, we won’t be able to bear the shame.
With one’s back against the wall, what other solution than to conform?
The scarcity mindset can show up in myriad, tiny ways:
- You scroll through people’s exotic travel photos on social media and feel a pang of jealousy
- You pass by a lingerie ad of a supermodel and suck in your gut
- You stay quiet instead of standing up for yourself
- You work till exhaustion, rarely rest and “perfect” tasks
- You judge yourself for your child’s defaults
The common theme in all of these examples is I’m not _______ enough. Not successful enough, not pretty enough, not good enough.
Research shows that focusing too much on scarcity creates tunnel vision. We do what we can to ease the immediate pain, even though it may hurt us in the long run. We suffer from spiritual poverty.
So, how can we break away from the scarcity mindset?
How to feel more “enough”
I agree with Brown when she writes that scarcity and abundance are two sides of the same coin. Like yin and yang, one can’t exist without the other. What goes up must come down.
If I expect more of anything to make me happy, I can keep chasing forever. And I’ll feel lousy in moments of lack.
So, the opposite of scarcity isn’t abundance. Rather, it’s sufficiency. Accepting your imperfections and failures declares to the world, I’m enough!
Check out these following tips to cultivate more ease and joy.
With so many things grabbing our attention, it’s essential to manage our energy. When we make sure to get enough sleep and take breaks, we actually become more productive.
Eating healthy meals, spending time with loved ones and exercising are basic necessities that calm anxiety and nourish joy.
Set realistic goals
Focus on one or two realistic goals at a time. Pare down overwhelming goals into tiny tasks, so that you can easily complete them.
You’ll feel less pressure and more fulfilled as you go about your tasks. Need some help? Check out my Set Realistic Standards Session.
Show up as yourself
Gently reassure your inner critic that you can handle the situation. Overcome your negative thoughts. Then, dare to show up as yourself.
When you have the courage to be vulnerable again and again, you learn to trust that you’ll be okay no matter what. And that will inspire others to do the same.
Of course, there are tons of things we could be, do and have. But what if we focused on what’s here in the present? A shift in perspective towards sufficiency lets us see there are already plenty of blessings.
Negative thoughts can curb your efforts. Question the consumerist culture in which we live. Just like a muscle, gratitude builds with repetition.
Try thinking of one blessing and letting yourself enjoy the sweet feeling that arises.
“Water comes from high mountain sources.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us and sustains all life.
My gratitude is filled to the brim.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
If you feel too anxious, just stop and breathe deeply.
When our fears feed our scarcity mindset for a while, it can keep us in a constant state of fight-or-flight. That high level of adrenaline stresses the body and makes it hard to problem-solve. If we don’t relax, we might react in unhelpful ways like overworking and drinking alcohol.
Instead of projecting your fears onto the future, find refuge in your body and the present:
- Inhale through your nose, while inflating your belly for 4 counts.
- Hold your breath for 1 to 2 seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth, while deflating your belly for 5 counts. (When the exhale breath is longer than the inhale breath, you relax more.)
- Wait a few seconds, then repeat steps 1 to 4.
Deep breathing lowers heart rate, relaxes muscles and calms you down. So, don’t wait till you feel anxious to practice—any activity that encourages deep breathing like yoga, tai chi or walking will do.
The more you practice, the more relaxed you’ll feel. From that space, you can tap into your creativity and find better solutions.
You are enough
The scarcity mindset shows up everywhere, everyday. It can feel quite overwhelming.
But working my fingers to the bone, perfecting and beating myself up never got me far.
It was only when I let down my guard—and exposed myself to uncertainty—that I began to feel whole again.
Day after day, shake hands with your scarcity mindset and show up anyway.
That’s when you’ll be ablaze with life.
About the author
Annie Moussu is a mindfulness-based life coach who helps women let go of perfectionism, self-doubt and people-pleasing. Sign up for her newsletter to get blog articles twice a month.
Further reading to move past the scarcity mindset: