Help! I Still Have a Scarcity Mindset

Dear Art of Whatever. I’ve done loads of work on my beliefs, but I still have some scarcity mindset going on. It’s not my personal finances now, but my love life – wtf? I just can’t help feeling envious of my friends for having met their wives, and I feel little hope that there are any good eggs left. Whenever I do meet someone remotely dateable, I come on way too strong. I am pretty sure these women can smell my desperation, so I wanted to know how I can teach my body and brain to relax and have confidence that I have options left. I’d appreciate your thoughts. Yours, Desperately Seeking Love. 

Scarcity mindset. We’ve all fallen victim. As far as mindsets go, this one is as disastrous as having a fixed mindset. 

This post is about how to spot the symptoms of scarcity mindset, and how to stamp it out for good. 

What is scarcity mindset?

It was entrepreneur and author Stephen Covey who first coined the term scarcity mindset, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which is still one of my favorite books.)

Covey said “Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as if there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everyone else.”

Even if you don't have a full-blown scarcity mindset, you may not have an abundance mindset either Click To Tweet

Scarcity thinking then is believing that there isn’t or will never be enough x/y/z. So whenever you see something as being limited in supply – that’s scarcity thinking.

It’s probably obvious but in most cases, the belief in scarcity is a false belief. Unless or until water, food, men and women, etc. are irrefutably in short supply, the perception is inaccurate.

Many of us don’t have a full blown scarcity mindset, but fall short of having the opposite – known as an ‘abundance mindset’. Having an abundance mindset basically means you are glass half full, appreciative, grateful, generous, and you bounce back relatively easily from setbacks. A comparison can be drawn between it and having a growth mindset.

‘I don’t have a scarcity mindset’

As Desperately Seeking Love’s letter shows, scarcity mindset can infiltrate other life areas as well as money.

Fomo or ‘fear of missing out’ is a form of scarcity thinking. When we feel envious of other people’s choices, it betrays an underlying belief that positive states, such as joy or happiness, are in short supply.

As a consequence of that belief, we become highly attached to positive experiences and perceived opportunities for happiness, and we are non-accepting of negative experiences. Being very attached reinforces our notion that happiness is externally-generated, and not an internally-derived state.

The problem with scarcity thinking

The major problem in believing that the things you want are in limited supply is that it breeds poverty. In other words, it is self-fulfilling.

In the same way that a gratitude practice orients the mind towards abundance, scarcity orients us to unfulfilled desires and wants. That focus colors your actions, and your actions (as you hopefully already know) are what determine your quality of life.

Scarcity thinking has the opposite effect of practicing gratitude Click To Tweet

Where scarcity mindset comes from

We aren’t born with a scarcity mindset, it is a conditioned response. That’s why to untangle your scarcity mindset, it is not totally necessary, but may be useful to reflect on your childhood experience. Childhood is where our personality mechanisms including beliefs are first formed.

Think about whether you might have experienced scarcity with getting your physical, emotional or psychological needs met.

For me, I was fortunate in that my physical needs were adequately met, but like loads of us, I had some perceived difficulty in getting psychological/emotional needs met. This was especially the case after my younger brother was born. His presence on the scene meant that (naturally) I received less care and attention from my parents, and especially my mum. I literally felt there wasn’t enough for me. This is quite a standard scenario in child development. It leads to ‘middle child syndrome‘ and possibly also one of the insecure attachment styles.

You may have cornered the market on love, but money was tight growing up.

Know that even if your parents were the Coveys and your childhood was 10/10, you still might have developed some scarcity thinking based on your more recent experiences, which I’ll talk about in a moment.

Can we change our legacy with scarcity?

Yes, of course we can! We are not stuck being defined by our early experiences. As soon as we have the ability to observe ourselves, we can appreciate that an aspect of our behaviour is simply a coping mechanism we no longer need, and we are free to discard it. It just takes effort.

Here are some consequences of scarcity thinking in the key areas of our lives, and some suggestions for turning things around. (You’ll notice that the suggested solutions are similar for each manifestation of scarcity thinking.)

Scarcity thinking in your love life

A person with scarcity thinking in their love life settles for love wherever they find it.

Realize that although you might not have started out with scarcity thinking in your relationships, it could have crept in over time.

It is essential to realise whether this has happened to you for a few reasons:

  • Other people will detect your desperation and willingness to compromise on your values.
  • You are likely to settle or enter into codependent situations with people.

If you can feel yourself getting a bit over excited whenever you meet someone new, or you don’t immediately walk away from unhealthy situations and people, then explore the possibility that you have some scarcity thinking around love and relationships.

As with any negative beliefs, it is important to observe and then challenge the thoughts that there aren’t enough men or women to go around for you. You become a better self-observer through practicing mindfulness.

It is also essential to invest in yourself and your life to the extent where you are already feeling very fulfilled by it. That way you aren’t leaving a big gaping hole for other people to come and fill. You do this by living your values.

Scarcity mindset with money

If money and resources were scarce growing up, I’d be surprised if you didn’t have a strong self-preservation instinct. A strong self-preservation instinct means:

  • Your main focus is security, comfort, and environment.
  • The bigger stresses in life are money and sustenance.
  • Your coping methods when unhealthy may include over-stocking, overbuying and overeating.

It doesn’t need to be a bad thing that resources were once scarce. The motivational speaker Tony Robbins grew up in really poverty stricken environment. Because of his growth mindset, he used that emotional experience as fuel to pursue his dreams.

If you think that you have scarcity thinking with money, I’d encourage you to examine your beliefs around money, look at their impact in your life, and then create change for yourself using the same tool: beliefs and your mind.

As I have already written, I do not believe it is useful to focus on having negative beliefs. I think that the best approach is to cultivate a better mind. For me, that comes down to three basic practices: mindfulness, responsibility and acceptance.

You could also try reading something paradigm shifting like Think and Grow Rich or Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

If you want something punchier to help you to transform beliefs, I’d recommend an immersion self-development program. I did one myself in my late twenties that helped me to discard limiting beliefs quickly.

Scarcity mindset with feeling happy and fulfilled

This isn’t an issue for everyone, but it has been my own personal Achilles Heel with scarcity mindset. When I learned about my Enneagram style, it made a lot more sense. Enneagram type sevens have a fear that they will never be satisfied, which they seek to alleviate through endlessly consuming life and experiences.

When you believe that happiness and fulfillment aren’t lasting states, it can lead you to be forever chasing stimulation and never fully relaxing.

In addition to mindfulness and acceptance, practicing gratitude can really shift your set point with this. Gratitude slowly rewires your brain to focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t have.


Dear Desperately Seeking Love (and anyone else with scarcity mindset),

It is completely achievable to transform a scarcity mindset into an abundance mindset. You’re already aware of it, so that’s half the battle done and dusted! Your next task is question the scarcity thoughts as they arise, and develop your ability to choose better responses instead of relying on old default ones. To supercharge all of that, practice gratitude daily, whenever you remember.

The legendary investor and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss apparently keeps a Jar of Awesome for the sole purpose of reminding him of his achievements and blessings. I suggest that you do the same. 

Good luck.