Why the Scarcity Mentality Is Keeping You Poor

I know how I feel when I start believing that there isn't enough. It doesn't matter what we're talking about — time, money, energy, appreciation. When I start to feel like there isn't enough, my heart starts to pound. My shoulders tense up, and I feel an odd combination of adrenaline rush and hopelessness.

Why do I feel these things? Because I believe there isn't enough for me.

I know that I'm not alone in feeling this "not enough" mentality. Through conversations and other interactions, I've discovered that many of us struggle with this, in one form or another. The popular term for this sort of thinking is the "scarcity mentality," and, if you struggle with it, I can guarantee it is holding you back.

What Is Scarcity?

Scarcity is exactly what it sounds like: The belief that resources are scarce, that there's not really enough to go around. It is the idea that human desire and need goes on forever, but there isn't an infinite amount of resources to be spread around.

Steven Covey, of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame, says that we think of resources like time, money, happiness, etc., as belonging to one pie. When the pie is gone, the resource is gone. And there's a limited amount of pie, so that if big chunks have already been dispensed, there's not much left for the rest of us.

The scarcity mentality can come out in different ways. For some of us, it mostly comes out with other people, producing something of an "us versus them" mentality. We see someone with a lot of money, and we feel all sorts of negative emotions because we don't have that money and now less of it is available. Or, when we are going through a hard time in life, we look to others and wonder why they have all of the happiness and stability while we keep struggling.

Scarcity can also come out in how we view ourselves, and how we think about our own lives. I know that I spend a lot of time, when things are going well, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It seems like good can't go on forever, so I start to feel anxious because I'm waiting for the moment when things go all wrong.

How Does the Scarcity Mentality Limit Us Financially?

There are a lot of ways we end up limited financially by scarcity. More than anything else, I think scarcity makes us hold ourselves back from pursuing opportunities that could make us rich. Maybe we don't believe there's enough money to support our particular opportunity, or we see other people in a similar niche and we think that there aren't enough customers for us to be there, too.

The scarcity mentality also causes us to hedge our bets. We aren't willing to lay it all on the line in the hopes of financial success, so we take a route that feels safer. Maybe we get a degree in a field where jobs are plentiful, even if they don't pay well, or we launch a product that is cheaper because we are afraid no one will buy the one we really want to sell.

When we don't believe that there's enough money, success, goodness, customer support, or whatever, we tend to get stingy. We don't want to invest ourselves and our money in something, because it might not work out. We don't want to try for something better, because we wonder what bad thing might happen to us in another part of our lives if that thing did work out.

Fighting Scarcity

One antidote to scarcity is safety. When we feel safe, like the world isn't out to get us and our place in it is secure, we are often more willing to risk. I think the same thing can be said for our financial lives, too.

When we know that we have enough money to cover most contingencies, when we feel like there is enough good in the world to cover both them and us, we will be more likely to take the sorts of risks that lead to wealth.

For some of us, beating scarcity might mean coming up with a good plan and following through. Getting a job with a steady paycheck and amassing some savings isn't sexy, but it makes us feel financially safer. And when we have a safety net, it's easier to start that business, get that new training, apply for jobs out of the comfort zone, and more.

That might not be possible for all of us, though, and I don't think it's the whole answer even if it is. Beyond making smart financial decisions, we need to decide that scarcity is false and embrace abundance, instead. Sure, many of the resources we feel to be scarce are not infinite (like money), but there is enough. There's plenty of money out there for you and me and all of us not to be poor.

When we believe this, when we tell ourselves this truth over and over, we will begin to live by it. We will start to believe there's enough money for my product and yours, too; enough goodness for my love life and my work life and my financial life to all go well at the same time; and enough time to work a good job and pursue a passion in the evenings.

When we believe there is enough, we will act as if there is enough, and then we will see that there is, actually, enough.

In what areas do you struggle with the mentality of scarcity? How does it keep you poor?

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J Simpson

Good question, and a good topic. This is something i struggle with a lot, as a freelancer. It's something my girlfriend and i talk a lot about. She's younger than i, and is a lot more inherently optimistic and knowing of her self-worth.

How it effects me, particularly when work gets tight/starts to run out, is I end up taking bad jobs that don't pay enough, just to make ends meet. They take too long, for too little, leaving me feeling burned out and jaded and then unable to work on higher-paying jobs.

I think a real-life example is the simplest, best metaphor: you buy a nice steak, to make steak tacos. It's nicer than what you usually buy, and you're looking forward to the tacos, so you draw it out. You want to make it last, you're afraid of when it's gone, it'll make all your other food seem boring, etc. etc. etc. You wait so long to enjoy this one nice thing that you have that it ends up going bad, and then you don't get to enjoy it at all.

When you feel like that's the only nice steak you're ever going to get, you end up not enjoying it at all. When you know there's other steaks out there, and you deserve them, you can relax and enjoy yourself.

Thanks again for the topic and posting!