scarcity mindset woman flipping hair

From career to weight loss, a scarcity mindset might be holding you back

Name a self-improvement book and I’ve probably read it. I consumed blogs, journal entries, and books telling me how to lose more weight, feel better, get ahead in my career, but a funny thing happened. Well, to be more exact, nothing happened. Sure my salary grew a little and I lost a couple pounds, but I still felt stagnant. I still hit plateaus. And, more than anything, I wondered how I had problems in so many parts of my life when I was trying so hard. It’s taken me years to realize that it all came down to a scarcity mindset.

What is a scarcity mindset?

More people than ever are talking about the idea of a scarcity mindset. You’ll see it pop up in some psychology publications and even books about crystal healing. No matter which you gravitate towards, it seems like scarcity mindset is real and really an issue for many of us.

Scarcity mindset, as it sounds, is looking our lives as if we don’t have enough. Enough what? You name it. It could be time, responsibility at work, even attention from your friends. Sometimes that’s very powerful. When you’re on a deadline at work, time scarcity can help you push through and resist potential distractions. But it might actually be what’s holding you back if you feel like you’re stagnant in some area of your life.

How scarcity mindset might be holding you back

Essentially, scarcity orients your thinking. Feeling like you don’t have enough can make you focus on what you don’t have. We experience this every day in small ways. When you’re hungry, you know how much more appealing all food, any food seems to you. It’s easy to dwell on all the things you can’t do or can’t buy when you have no money.

I started realizing that many of my problems boiled down to a scarcity mindset. I was framing my situation in a way that was unhelpful. In some cases, this scarcity mindset even prompted some bad habits that kept holding me back. Here are some of the ways it might be affecting your life and what you can do about it now to finally get ahead.

When you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off

Traditional dieting sets you up for the scarcity mindset. We think of “dieting” all too often as making short-term changes in order to lose weight instead of sustainable lifestyle adjustments. Even worse, we reframe foods in terms of “good” and “bad” and focus on taking away the “bad.” Of course it’s going to be hard to lose weight and keep it off if we set ourselves up to feel like we’re giving things up.

scarcity mindset woman smiling

Matthew Hamilton

Here’s the thing about dieting: there’s only one thing that works, and it looks different on everybody. You have to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight. How you do that should be whatever doesn’t put you in the scarcity mindset. Do you need to have chocolate daily? Eat it. Does finding low-calorie substitutes for your favorite foods work for you? Great, do that. Always choose the method that makes you feel like you have an abundance of options. If you don’t, research new recipes that work on your plan. Experiment with foods you’ve never tried before. Try another plan for a week and see how it goes. You break the scarcity mindset when you find abundance, and that will take some experimentation.

When you feel inadequate next to others

It really doesn’t matter if it boils down to popularity, looks, or talent. There is no lack of potential friends, ability, or beauty in the world. Just because another woman is beautiful doesn’t mean you aren’t. She might have more friends than you, but you can make more friends. You can even make her one of your friends.

Sure, this one gets a little more complicated. I struggled with comparing myself to other women at the gym. But it’s because I was comparing my chapter two to someone else’s chapter ten. And even if they managed to build muscle and lean down quickly, that didn’t mean I couldn’t get lean too. You can learn a skill, hone a talent, and make more money. More importantly, you can both have friends and talents and money.

When you say there isn’t enough time

A time crunch can be a benefit, but only if you view it correctly. In a practical sense, limited time gives you the opportunity to rank priorities in your life. You can stop spending time, a precious resource, on things that don’t matter much to you at the end of the day. But you need to step out of the race against the clock to figure that out. If you don’t, you spend your time on lower priorities and get stuck in the scarcity mindset.

That applies to everything from work to self-care. There is time for your biggest priorities, but you have to figure them out and stop devoting hours to things that don’t matter. Even worse, you might begrudge your friends their self-care time because you feel like you don’t have time for your own. It’s been suggested before, but I use this tip, so I’ll repeat it. Instead of saying you don’t have time for something, try saying it’s not a priority. See how it feels. And if those things truly are priorities, do some shifting in your schedule.

Ditching the scarcity mindset

It takes time to correct patterns, especially in our thinking. But try to notice when you feel deprived in some way. Shut off the emotions for a second and zoom out on the situation. Try to examine in from another angle. If you’re too close to the situation or your feeling get in the way, that’s normal. Seek out someone else that you trust to help you see it in another way. That could be your most zen friend or a therapist, whoever makes you feel comfortable. Just keep practicing reframing the situation and soon enough you’ll find abundance where you once saw scarcity.

Duncan Shaffer

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