Robin Carberry on a dock with the creek and a boat in the background

How to overcome a scarcity mindset

How do we move from a scarcity mindset to abundance, and why is it important?

Of course, we all want to live happy and fulfilled lives. We want to embrace opportunities and enjoy success – however we define that for ourselves. 

So abundance sounds more aligned with those goals than scarcity, doesn’t it?

But there’s more to it than appears on the face. And it all goes back to how our brains work. Let’s begin here….

First, I’ll define scarcity.

According to (which, by the way, is the only source that didn’t use the word ‘scarce’ in the definition of scarcity), scarcity means insufficiency, shortness of supply or a dearth.

When we operate from a scarcity mindset, we believe there’s never enough to go around. 

We fear that there’s a limited supply. 

When someone else wins, we automatically lose.

Stephen Covey introduced us to the concept of the Scarcity Mentality in his influential book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He defines the Scarcity Mentality this way:

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality.  They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there.  And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.  The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life.

It’s not a very appealing way to look at life, is it? But, for so many of us, it’s a completely normal way to process information. It’s how we were taught to look at the world growing up.

According to a research article in PNAS by Inge Huijsmans, Ili Ma, Leticia Micheli, Claudia Civai, Mirre Stallen, and Alan G. Sanfey…

Not having enough of what one needs has long been shown to have detrimental consequences for decision making. Recent work suggests that the experience of insufficient resources can create a “scarcity” mindset; increasing attention toward the scarce resource itself, but at the cost of attention for unrelated aspects.

The problem is that the scarcity mindset can spill over into areas where resources actually are abundant. As a result, our decision-making becomes less about growth and opportunity and more about conserving or collecting resources.

So how do we change that? It begins, like most change, with awareness.

How to tell if you have a scarcity mindset.

Here are three questions to ask yourself to find out if you have a scarcity mindset:

  1. Do you constantly chase resources because there’s never enough [fill in the blank… time, money, work opportunities, clients, love] available to you?
  2. Is it easier for you to imagine and plan for worst case scenarios than it is to see opportunities?
  3. Do you believe some people are gifted with good luck, and you somehow missed out?

You are far from alone if you checked any of those boxes. And this is especially true right now.

The covid-19 pandemic reinforces the ideas, feelings, and emotions of scarcity. We see competition for resources all around us.

Just like me, I imagine you’ve heard the stories and seen the pictures of empty shelves in stores, and processing and manufacturing plants shut down. 

Therefore, it’s normal human behavior to react with a scarcity mentality. You grab the last roll of toilet paper or the last pack of chicken thighs – even though you don’t need them. I’m raising my hand because I’ve done it.

It’s not fun to operate from this perspective. But that’s not the only problem.

Scarcity mentality also is detrimental to us in the long term.


Back to the study that was the basis of research article in PNAS by Inge Huijsmans, et al.,

[the] study demonstrated that neural processes underlying consumer decisions are affected by a scarcity mindset. These findings support the notion that the feeling of scarcity can directly impact goal-directed value-based decision processes.

So, we focus on our immediate needs rather than the things that could create way more benefit in the future.

If resources are limited, we are tempted to use them up before they disappear. 

Or we acquire things we don’t need because they might not be there tomorrow. 

Maybe we say yes to a job, project, or client that isn’t the right fit because there might not be another offer.

Or we envy someone else who got the promotion or had a 6 figure launch because we believe that means there’s nothing left for us.

Because our beliefs influence our behavior, scarcity becomes self-fulfilling.

If you believe that all the good people are already in relationships, you won’t bother adding your profile to a dating site.

If you believe that you will never have enough time to learn to sail a boat, or speak Spanish fluently, or play the guitar, you’ll never try to do any of those things.

The beauty of our brains is that we have the power to see the world as full of opportunity rather than a place that is drained of resources. And I’ll explain how you can start that shift today.

Next, though, I’ll explain what the abundance mindset looks like.

Abundance, according to Stephen Covey, sounds a heckuva lot more fun than scarcity. He speaks to the abundance mindset this way in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.

I love that Covey makes the connection between self-worth and abundance. With that, everything makes sense. If you feel good about yourself, it’s easier to see the opportunities instead of the limitations. 

And because beliefs create your reality (read more on that here), when you believe in yourself and that there is more than enough for everyone, you will take the actions that create abundance in your life.

So how do you get to abundance if you are feeling stuck in scarcity?

Here are three ways to move from scarcity to abundance….

First, cultivate gratitude for yourself, your gifts, your journey. 

Make gratitude a daily habit by listing out the things you are grateful for each day. 

If you journal, include gratitude as part of your practice. If not, then go through your gratitude list in your mind before you get out of bed or while you brush your teeth.

By associating gratitude with a daily activity, especially if it’s first thing in the morning, it will become part of a lovely routine that sets the tone for your day. 

Second, look at things that “happened to you” from another perspective. 

Often, when something we hoped for or expected doesn’t happen, that space is filled by something much better. So I invite you to explore those events – the job you didn’t get, the relationship that didn’t work out, and look past the initial disappointment. 

What happened next? What opportunities were actually created as a result? Is there a new story you can create around those events?

For example, back in the early 90s, I interviewed for a job that I thought would be perfect for me. When I didn’t get it, I moved to a new town to start a business instead. And it was one of the best things decisions EVER for so many reasons – one of which is that I met the awesome dude I married. Which never would have happened if I had gotten that job.

Third, be patient with the process – and with yourself.  

Change does take time. Even though we always have the choice to think differently, we first need to cultivate awareness of the negative thought patterns. Then we can make the choice to change our focus to abundance.

To sum it all up, our brains are pretty powerful. What we believe creates our truth. So believing all things are possible for you, that you can achieve your dreams, that opportunities are endless and that you are smart, capable, and open to receiving abundance frees you up to make it all happen.