In their book ‘Scarcity: Why having too little means so much’, Sendil Mullaianathan and Eldar Shafi define scarcity as “having less than you feel you need”. Not surprisingly their research indicates that the experience of scarcity produces a sense of tunnel vision resulting in reduced capacity for thinking and problem solving.
This scarcity mentality can be applied to pretty much anything: money, work, time, love, sleep, talents, friends, opportunities, options, inspiration and even peace of mind. Sometimes this translates to a belief that there isn’t enough to go around, for example with money, love, friends, and opportunities. Other times scarcity thinking is just a zero-sum game we play with ourselves, for example in relation to time, inspiration and peace of mind.
When we operate from scarcity it impacts our ability to be generous and open – both with others and ourselves.
Our sense of scarcity is a very personal thing. For one person, scarcity can mean having one of something in the cupboard and only one in reserve, whether that’s a can of tomatoes, a dress or less than half a tank of gas in the car. For another, having one in reserve is their definition of abundance. We can also experience scarcity in one area of our life and not in others.
If you happened to see My Ripenist Resolve 2016 you could have deduced that I experience scarcity in relation to time. I’m not sure at what point this kicked in but I seem to have always had the sense that there is not enough – both in the present moment and in life in general. This means more often than not I am slightly anxious about whether I can ‘afford’ the time I’m spending on an activity, or with someone, given my priorities and the length of my To Do List. Equally, because I feel time is scarce it bothers me when something I’m working on seems to be taking longer than I expected – even if that activity is one I deem valuable.
There are several ways we can spot where scarcity beliefs have taken hold in our lives:
- we have a sense of low-grade anxiety in relation to that area of our lives
- we believe that there is not, and will never be, enough of XXX
- we notice ourselves being stingy with ourselves, our knowledge and our compassion
- we default to being suspicious rather than trusting first
- we think small and are pessimistic and fearful about what our future in this aspect of our lives will be like
- we believe and act as if we are entitled
- we feel jenvy in relation to others
Fortunately for most of us our sense of scarcity is more a belief than a reality. This is good news as beliefs can be changed. While we could spend hours dissecting how our beliefs about scarcity and abundance came to be, it is much more useful to consider how we can address them. Here are a few strategies I have found helpful:
- Be clear about the areas of your life scarcity beliefs operate
For most of us scarcity thinking is not all pervasive. It tends to show up in certain areas of our lives, and not in others. For example, you might notice that you have scarcity beliefs around money but not love and friendship.
- Notice the specific situations where scarcity shows up
Dig a little deeper so you can get really clear about the particular situations in which scarcity plays out. For example, if scarcity shows up in relation to money for you – is it an overarching belief that you don’t, or won’t, have enough for retirement or is it in relation to something more specific e.g. I don’t have sufficient spare to give to charity?
- Do a reality check to see if what you are thinking is really true
I recommend sitting quietly and formulating the question you need to answer. From the example above, the question might be: Do I really not have sufficient spare change to give to charity? This may necessitate deferring to your budget (or creating one!) and some real honesty about your values and priorities.
- Consider how your belief fits with your identify
Usually in step 3 we realise that our scarcity belief is erroneous. For example, we may not have a huge amount we feel we can spare, but we could make a donation of the coins in our purse next time we are approached for money for charity. Equally we could decide that our priority is to support the financial needs of those closest to us and so we choose not to give to charity. The important question is: Do I want to be the kind of person who gives to charity?
- Take action!
Regardless of your answers to the questions you’ve asked yourself thus far, there is a good chance action will be required. This might be establishing a budget so you know what money is available, creating a plan to save more for retirement or deciding you are the kind of person who gives to charity and ensuring you always have change available for this purpose or even give in others ways by offering your time.
Scarcity beliefs are hard pressed to survive and prosper when we shine the harsh light of reality on them and then take informed action in the face of them.
Where does scarcity-thinking show up for you? Have you been successful in addressing it? Please share your comments below.