Do you feel you’ll never have enough? Do you feel you’ll never be enough?
That, my loves, is your Scarcity Mentality at play.
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey describes the difference between Abundance Mentality and Scarcity Mentality.
“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 a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for every body else.
The Abundance Mentality, however, flows out of a deep sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for every body … It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”
The whole industrial body, health, and beauty complex is founded on convincing us that we are all competing for the titles of “beautiful,” “lovable,” “sexy,” and “worthy.” They teach us these titles are scarce and we have to compete against each other to get them.
More than anything else I’ve encountered, dieting creates a Scarcity Mentality that damages both our bodies and our minds.
Many of us live each day with the weight of thousands and thousands of counted calories, calories you carry around like excess baggage. And when I say excess baggage, I don’t mean that body fat society teaches us to dread, I mean emotional guilt over what we’re told only a select elite get: the right to eat food.
We are handed an unattainable ideal standard and expected to (sometimes literally) die trying to achieve it.
When we diet, we are simultaneously told that we are not enough and that we can’t have more.
This creates what economists, psychologists, nutritionists, and sociologists call The Scarcity Mentality.
Here’s an example of The Scarcity Mentality at work in a way I think many of us can relate:
You’re trying to lose weight, so you cut back your calorie intake. A few days go by and your jeans get a bit looser. You weigh your food, input your calories to your fancy new iPhone app, and realize you can cut back even more, hoping for faster results. A week goes by and you’ve become familiar with the pang of hunger in your stomach and started welcoming it like an old friend, each time secretly patting yourself on the back for being able to stop yourself from eating more food.
The weekend comes, and your friend has a birthday party featuring your favorite: a mint chocolate chip ice cream cake with rainbow sprinkles and frosted animals on top. You spend the first hour of the party attempting to enjoy chatting with friends, but mentally counting that week’s calories. Had you held yourself back enough to justify having a frosted animal cake topper? You remind yourself of your mantra “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and decide that no, you won’t have any cake.
You spend the next hour trying to figure out how you’ll turn down the cake when the time comes, dreading the test of willpower and potential scene you’ll cause saying no. When everyone gathers around to sing Happy Birthday, you try to smile, but you’re too focused on the cake and its taunting, sinister rainbow sprinkles, begging you to have just one. The cake is cut and slices passed around, and you are proud of yourself when you let the plates pass you. You get a bit of frosting on your finger and lick it off instinctively, berating yourself for the lack of willpower so that you can’t even enjoy the sweet sugar rushing over your parched tongue.
The birthday girl hands you a piece of cake and you refuse, boosting your self-confidence. To prove your point, you bend over and whisper conspiratorially to her, “I’m on a diet.”
“Oh,” she says, guiltily looking at her mostly eaten cake. “I probably shouldn’t have any either.”
No, you shouldn’t, you think, noticing that she’s a size bigger than you are. “It’s ok, it’s your birthday!” you say cheerily.
The birthday girl smiles and agrees and eats the rest of her piece. You feel superior as you chat together, knowing you didn’t succumb to the temptation of mint chocolate chip ice cream cake. You leave beaming and proud of yourself. So proud, in fact, that you pick up a pint of ice cream at the store, knowing you can control yourself now and trust yourself to only eat a wee bit when your daily calorie count allows it.
The next night, you skip dinner and scoop yourself some of the ice cream as a reward. The bowl empties quickly, so you scoop just a bit more. Then a bit more. Without really tasting it, you shove it into your mouth, your body longing for what it’s been denied, afraid to pause and have it once again taken away. Soon, the whole pint is gone and you have a stomachache from guilt and lactose intolerance. You berate yourself for your lack of willpower and promise you won’t eat for a week to make up for it, but the next day you find yourself eating compulsively and don’t understand why you can’t just stop. Your body is constantly craving food, particularly sugary sweets, and you feel like you’re going mad, unable to figure out where the composure and willpower you had just days ago went.
Only a couple weeks after starting, you announce your diet – and yourself – a failure and, in rebellion, eat a pint of ice cream in secret every night for a week, just to prove your point. In the end, the only thing you’ve lost is your self-worth.
This is actually a story based on a real memory I have from a friend’s birthday party. I was that girl who starved, thinking I didn’t deserve food and binged in secret hoping no one would see I was *gasp* eating. I was sixteen at the time and making myself horribly sick from all the various diet pills and weight loss plans I was on.
We’ve all felt this same kind of push and pull of the Scarcity Mentality in our lives, even if not as severe as my story. Dieting is so prevalent in our society that it’s an easy example, but think about the ways that same cycle seeps into the rest of your life. Replace the cake with a fancy purse you can’t afford turned into an all-out shopping spree. Or a relationship you feel you don’t deserve so you gorge on love before it’s taken away from you, suffocating both you and your partner in the process.
We could talk for hours about the social, historical, and psychological reasons that the fear of scarcity is so prevalent in our lives, but for now let’s just say there are natural instinctual and created social pressures that foster this line of thinking, which – I’m sorry to say – means it’s really hard to stop. Hard, but not impossible.
To overcome scarcity, you have to think of life as abundant; you have to embrace the Abundance Mentality.
Let’s look at that same scenario from above with an Abundance Mentality:
You want to feel more vital in your body, so you incorporate more nutrient rich foods into your meals and start going for walks in the morning and at night. A few days go by and your jeans get a bit looser, which you’re slightly bummed about because you don’t want to have to buy new jeans, but you also accept because you’re dedicated to feeling vitality in your body, even if it means you have to change. You Google new ways to incorporate important nutrients into your diet, and get so excited by all the delicious recipes that you decide to throw a dinner party for your friend’s birthday this weekend. You feel great. You’re never hungry and you’re starting to have more energy, sleep better, and even your nails are less brittle. Your friends notice how happy you are, and you thank them by offering some of the delicious snacks you’ve been eating.
The weekend comes, and you excitedly prepare your new recipes for your friend’s birthday party, including a slightly lopsided, but still adorable birthday cake. You spend the first hour of the party chatting with friends as you put the finishing touches on your meal, and soon you’re all sitting around the table laughing and enjoying the pleasure of good food and great company.
When it comes time for dessert, you proudly display your lopsided cake and laugh as it slides even more to one side while the birthday girl blows out the candles and makes a wish. The cake is cut and slices passed around, and you are proud of yourself for making such a delicious, nutritious meal for the people you love. You get a bit of frosting on your finger and lick it off, relishing the flavor. You want another piece of cake, but you’re full, so you slice off a piece tohave tomorrow and pack the rest up to send home with the birthday girl.
When your friends leave, you are beaming from the joy of the evening and proud of yourself for putting together such a love-filled event. So proud, in fact, that you decide to cook at home more often and vow to host monthly dinner parties featuring your best recipes. That night, you treat yourself to a new audiobook and take a stroll around your neighborhood, loosening your tight muscles from standing in the kitchen all day. Within a few weeks, your body starts to crave these walks, and long for nutrient-rich food. You’re happy, your body is thriving, and you got your wish of feeling vital.
You may think I put a rosy spin on this new story, but this is again an actual story of my life, one that happened shortly after learning about the difference between Scarcity Mentality and Abundance Mentality.
When you find yourself in the Scarcity Mentality, remind yourself of two things:
1. “There is always more where that came from,” and
2. “There is plenty for everybody, including me.”
While these statements might not immediately be true – there may not actually be more of your lopsided cake for everybody to have – their sentiment rings true – you can always make another cake. And on the days when you have no flour, eggs, or oven to make a cake, you still have plenty to sustain you.
Celebrating abundance is about celebrating what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t.
Try journaling for 10 minutes on all the abundance you have in your life – make a list that starts with “I am breathing.” Really, start there. There really is that much to be grateful for in simply being able to breathe.
Our next post will go farther into how to switch from scarcity to abundance mentality, but for now, simply start with breathing.