Self-Awareness: When Is The Scarcity Mindset Pulling You From Happiness?

    Kara McDuffee October 25, 2021

    Have you ever felt like you’re not enough of something? Or perhaps, that you don’t have enough of something?

    I’ll answer for you: you have. I know because it’s not merely a universal feeling we all have; it’s the way our human brains are wired. In fact, you probably experience both of these sentiments daily–even if you don’t realize that you do.

    If I reflect on my day, the examples begin to pile up. When I woke up, I worried I didn’t get enough sleep. Between meetings, I felt like there wasn’t enough time to get all the work done that I needed to. And when pursuing content by other creators, I couldn’t help but think, I’ll never be as good as them. Fear began to creep in at every turn.

    Now, try to imagine all of these singular thoughts as one all-encompassing mindset.

    Because that’s precisely what they are.

    What is the scarcity mindset?

    You may have heard of the term “scarcity.” It pops up in posts about abundance and, sometimes, quotes about happiness. Despite its less-than-appealing sound, it’s something you must learn more about on your self-love journey. Without properly understanding it, you can’t fully recognize the role it plays in your life and the patterns it keeps you stuck in.

    A scarcity mindset, in its simplest form, is the belief that there is never enough. It makes our mind focus on what we lack rather than what we have (or what we could have). Some common examples might include feeling like you don’t have enough time, money, or friends.

    The scarcity mindset also makes us feel like we’re not enough. It doesn’t take much imagination to fill in the sentence,” I’m not ____ enough,” with a long list of adjectives. Between comparing ourselves to others and societal standards, we often focus on where we come up short.

    Unfortunately, the scarcity mindset has more profound consequences than a few self-disparaging thoughts.


    Self-Awareness Crash Course: Why the Scarcity Mindset is So Pervasive

    A scarcity mindset is not culturally imposed (although it’s culturally encouraged–something you’ll have to work to unlearn). It stems from our primal roots. It made sense for our evolutionary ancestors’ brains to be oriented toward unfulfilled needs. After all, if they didn’t find things like food, water, and shelter, they literally wouldn’t have survived.

    Therefore, our brains adapted to tune into what we lack to survive. This lack also got entwined with fear. Fear of not having enough motivated us to find more.

    Because this fear of scarcity is so deeply ingrained, it’s called a “bottom-up intrusion.” We don’t consciously summon the feeling or intentionally bring it up. Instead, it barges in, uninvited and unannounced (what a rude house guest!).


    Downfalls of a Scarcity Mindset

    Okay, okay, so you know we all experience a scarcity mindset–by why is it so bad? Doesn’t it sound like it could still serve us?

    Yes, and no. In theory, a scarcity mindset might help you identify areas of growth in your life. But that growth mindset requires more conscious thought, whereas scarcity doesn’t play so nicely (remember how it’s a rude house guest?).

    1: Scarcity decreases your overall happiness

    It doesn’t take too much thought to recognize how focusing on what you lack can severely limit your happiness. When your brain is paying attention to what you don’t have, it doesn’t spend any time appreciating what you do have. To make matters more complicated, our brain’s selective attention can make it so we don’t even see things right in front of us.

    After college, I moved to a new town. I had a couple of new friends, but I couldn’t help but feel lonely (especially after living in a townhouse with six best friends in college). At first, my brain kept focusing on what I didn’t have (best friends around me) rather than giving attention to what I did have (best friends I could call, a loving family back home, and a ton of new, interesting relationships in my life). 

    It’s no wonder I didn’t feel very happy until I shifted my attention away from a scarcity mindset.

    2: Scarcity lowers self-esteem

    That perpetual feeling of not feeling good enough is rooted in scarcity, and it’s a killer when it comes to self-esteem. We derive confidence from our strengths and positive experiences. We can’t do that, then, when a scarcity mindset forces us to only think about our weaknesses and shortcomings.

    If you could take inventory of your daily thoughts about yourself, I imagine the fair majority of them aren’t positive. Your human nature will make you constantly compare yourself to others, and your scarcity mindset will make you only focus on where you come up short. 

    Self-love can’t be rooted in a scarcity mindset. It’ll take some inner work to get past it, but it’s worth it!

    3: Scarcity lowers bandwidth and cognitive ability

    Scarcity doesn’t only fill our brains with negative thoughts. It actually hurts our cognitive ability. That’s right–a scarcity mindset literally knocks down our intelligence in certain situations. Studies have proven it. For people who are constitutionally living in a state of scarcity in poverty, studies have shown that it can lower their IQ scores.

    This is because scarcity fills up a large portion of our precious bandwidth. If you think of your brain like a pie chart, it needs slices of space to function at its peak. (And creatively, you need empty spaces to allow new ideas to flow in). When our brains spend so much time focusing on what we lack, we use up precious bandwidth and leave little room for anything else.

    4: Scarcity decreases your risk-taking, patience, and dedication

    Another big consequence of scarcity is an inability to zoom out and look ahead. Our fear-driven brain makes us focus on the here and now. (If you think back to caveman days, it’s the equivalent of, “I need food now” leading to “I’m going to get food now.”)

    A scarcity mindset launches us into such a strong state of fear and urgency, it lowers our patience, long-term vision, and healthy risk-taking. Ironically, all elements we need to find happiness and create a life without scarcity.


    How to Fight Scarcity Mindset: Develop your self-awareness of it.

    If you can’t erase a scarcity mindset from your brain, what can you do? Fortunately, it is possible to limit scarcity’s impact on your life. Here are three steps to tackle to move from “I’m not good enough” to a place of love and gratitude. The best way to move through them is with a pen and journal in hand!


    Step One: Learn what scarcity is.

    You’ve taken the first step by reading this article; you now have a better understanding of what scarcity is. This is huge, as you can’t fight against invisible enemies.

    Journaling Prompts:

    • How has your understanding about a scarcity mindset changed?
    • What about a scarcity mindset surprises you?
    • What are the most common examples of scarcity do you see in society?


    Step Two: Identify where scarcity affects your life.

    Once you understand scarcity, it’s time to see where it plays a role in your life. For this step, I encourage you to take on different perspectives. Think about how it might affect you on a life-long level, in your current stage of life, and daily.

    Sometimes realizing some of the everyday examples can give you insight into larger patterns. For instance, I used to experience a sense of scarcity when I ordered ice cream (sounds silly, right?). It took a painstakingly long time for me to decide on a flavor because I didn’t get ice cream that often and didn’t want to be filled with regret for what I missed out on. 

    This example sounds silly, but when I recognized scarcity for what it was, I could begin to combat it with healthier, combative mantras that shifted my mindset.

    Journaling Prompts:

    • Where do you feel like you’re not enough or don’t have enough?
    • How much brainpower do you dedicate to this lacking?
    • When in your life has a fear of what you don’t have dictated your behaviors?


    Step Three: Develop counter-scarcity mantras and evidence to fight back.

    Once you know when your brain slips into scarcity, it’s time to fight back! It’s time to interrupt the fears and feelings associated with scarcity. This might be as simple as coming up with a mantra to say after you feel yourself losing focus. For example, if you find yourself thinking, “I don’t have enough time,” immediately respond with, “I do have enough time.” 

    You can help yourself even more by listing out evidence that proves this mantra. For the time example, look at a calendar and show your brain when you do have time. If you lack friendships, call attention to the positive relationships that you do have.

    By telling your brain concrete evidence, you can help stop the fear cycles that prevent clear thinking.

    Journaling Prompts:

    • What is a mantra you can say to counter the scarcity mindset?
    • What do you need to say to interrupt negative thinking?
    • How can you find and list evidence to counter your fears?


    Step Four: Shift your thinking.

    Finally, you must practice shifting your attention from what you lack to what you have. Consider listing the things that you’re grateful for in life. Gratitude is one of the most powerful practices we can implement to change our lives. The practice of gratitude will, slowly but surely, teach your brain to rewire.

    You should also do this when you’re feeling bad about yourself. Call attention to the qualities that you’re most proud of. Developing a strengths-based perspective will skyrocket you on your journey to self-love.

    Lastly, a helpful trick is to develop a “sign” for your body that you are shifting. Sometimes repeating one word or behavior (such as snapping your fingers) can help teach your brain/body combo that you’re making the shift. In doing so, it solidifies the practice.

    Journaling Prompts:

    • How can you implement more moments of gratitude in your life?
    • What are some of the things you’re most proud of about yourself?
    • What can you do to signify a shift in thinking? 



    Kara McDuffee-1

    Author bio:Self Aware

    Kara McDuffee is the writer and founder of My Question Life, a community dedicated to helping you discover yourself and find the answers you’re searching for.  She gives you the questions you need to become more self-aware and vulnerable in your everyday life. To read her posts or download her free eBook The Art of Being Self-Aware, check out her blog.