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Mind Health: The Scarcity and Abundance Mindsets

In this article, we’re going to look at a topic that’s critical for our levels of well-being, happiness and success in life: the scarcity and abundance mindsets. These are two contrasting mindsets available to human beings. We can track and predict our results and levels of satisfaction according to which side of this dichotomy we lean towards.

In another article, I speak about the growth and fixed mindsets, two contrasting mindsets related to learning. The two pairs are certainly related, but the scarcity and abundance mindsets are more to do with our worldview and model of how life works.

Not only will we cover the key markers of these mindsets, we’ll also look at practical ways to develop an abundance mindset and harness its power, learn how these mindsets show up in various areas of our lives, and delve into their psychological and historical roots.

Let’s get right into some important tips for the journey ahead.

Table of Contents

    Behind The Scarcity And Abundance Mindsets

    Can We Really Split Them?

    Before looking at them separately, let’s bring them together.

    In the psychology world, we like to divide ideas and concepts into neat, self-contained categories. This gives us a concise, user-friendly map for the complex terrain of the human mind. We also contrast one thing to another, as though our concepts were two separate realities bumping against each other, in conflict and tension.

    That’s fine for the purpose of simplifying and streamlining, but these tidy packages have us miss some crucial aspects of the human psyche.

    So let me offer a more complex picture before I start analysing and categorising at will. In reality, we’re both abundance- and scarcity-minded. We’re complex psychological beings, composed of many layers of functionality and complexity. Our many internal levels all send up their own signals, some which are scarcity-based, others which are abundance-based.

    Think of these mindsets as dispositions. Different life situations – both macro and micro – light up these opposing dispositions within us, and on any given day we might be predominantly oriented towards abundance, while the day after is a day of scarcity. What’s more, in each area of our life we have a scarcity–abundance pendulum. When we say a person is scarcity- or abundance-minded, we’re using shorthand.

    People certainly tend towards one or the other, bringing dramatically different results, but we all contain them both in varying degrees. Both have their wisdom and raison d’être, and coming to deeply understand those scarcity-oriented aspects of our psyche is as important to fulfilment and flourishing as deliberate efforts to promote abundance-based thinking.

    So keep this in mind as we proceed. I no doubt have my own biases and lack of integration in certain areas, and will try to limit how those colours this information.

    The Roots Of Abundance And Scarcity

    Scarcity and abundance don’t just apply to humans, and they’re not merely choices we make. Think of them as forces of nature, part of the duality of life. In certain situations, a scarcity mindset is the best choice, in others an abundance mindset should prevail.

    Photo by kevin turcios on Unsplash

    Human history is plagued by war, disease, conquest, racism, torture, division, slavery, hierarchies and starvation. We’re sitting on top of a long legacy of scarcity and pain. This means the scarcity mindset is wired into us. In fact, if we look at any developmental model of the human being, we see that scarcity needs dominate the first major stages of human development. Many of our basic needs are scarcity-oriented, like those revolving around basic survival needs, the social realm, status and recognition, and so on.

    This invites us to have self-compassion, but also to realise that abundance living is a real possibility. Certain times favour one mindset or the other, and on the whole our world has never been more favourable to the abundance mindset.

    Mindsets: What Is The Abundance Mindset?

    Let’s now define the abundance mindset.

    This is the view that we have enough. We perceive that there are unlimited resources and that positive thought and action lead to positive outcomes. It entails a certain naive, child-like trust in the magic of life and your life journey based on the sense or intuition that life is working with you, not against you.

    And as with all language, be aware that I’m using words to point to patterns in the human psyche. My words don’t really do it justice. Only by finding it for yourself will you really grasp the abundance mindset.


    Closely related to this is to see and trust sychronicity – meaningful coincidences, as Scott Peck would define it. Being aware of synchronicity-in-action is precisely what connects us to the magic of life, enabling us to trust in the order of things.

    This is a matter of perspective. We can choose to see that our experiences and the opportunities that arrive to us are leading us further along our path to destiny, or we can see them as just boring old life, as though it were a dead mass of unrelated events and circumstances.

    Finally, seeing synchronicity has us see through and beyond our unpleasant experiences. For one, we can glimpse a deeper meaning and wisdom to the pain we felt in those moments while questioning our tendency to view them as negative and detrimental. What’s more, we’re able to understand how we brought about that event through our actions, turning us from passive victims into active creators.

    I don’t believe life is magically conspiring in our favour. Life is a mixture of all sorts of experiences. Those we focus on are those that become habitual for us and those we multiply through our actions. With synchronicity, we merely realise that there are plenty events and phenomena that work in our favour and seem to be invisibly intertwined. And through choice, we have the power to feed those rather than shooting ourselves in the foot.

    Fierce Faith

    Another component of the abundance mindset is what I’ll call fierce faith. In all people I know who exhibit traits of the abundance mindset, there is a strong trust in life, one that closely verges on rigidity, naivety and magical thinking.

    It’s faith that stays true even in the darkest hour, adamant that there’s a way out, no matter how bad things immediately seem. This is true for everything from our individual lives all the way up to the global village. It’s a belief in the good of life, rather than the bad.

    Most people would find such faith hopelessly idealistic and impractical. But when we’re attuned to synchronicity and our creative power, we realise we can work with life to create a happier situation, rather than fighting. This is abundant because we ultimately believe that circumstances are designed in our favour, even if we experience pain and suffering.

    Let’s take an example: Covid-19. The response of many was to panic and fear for their livelihood. It was a response of fear, not of faith. I don’t blame anyone for that response – it takes serious guts to have unwavering faith in troubling times. In any case, a fiercely faithful response would be: “Life has brought us this set of circumstances. Why has it done that? What is it showing me? How can I work with life to extract the unique lessons I’ll learn from this situation?”

    You might think this is airy-fairy talk, but tell me that Covid didn’t make you re-evaluate some aspects of your life. Hasn’t it changed you in some unforeseen way? I know many people whose lives are permanently different now, and for the better. With abundance thinking, we anticipate those shifts ahead of time, rather than being caught in the tsunami of fear and only clumsily acknowledging the upside when we’re back on solid ground.

    Empowering Thinking

    Closely related to the previous two features of the abundance mindset is a positive state of mind. Knowing we always possess the power to focus our attention and desire, we take responsibility of our mind and put it in service of what we want to create, willing it into existence. While we don’t ignore the obstacles, we don’t let them overcome us and we understand that obstacles are a test of our metal.

    We Can All Win

    Though some elements our mind are linked to zero-sum situations, the abundance mind is attuned to elements of life that run on different dynamics. Instead of the competitive, comparative mind, we adopt the mentality that everyone can benefit at once and create positive-sum games. Rather than others’ success inspiring jealousy, it elicits awe and wonder. They can do it, as can I. They’re being looked after, and so am I. With this orientation, we tend to empathise more deeply with others and see the good in them, rather than being lost in zero-sum games.

    Making Oaks From Acorns

    The final key component of the abundance mindset is an attunement to the multiplicative forces of life. In this way, life is incredibly abundant. Jesus metaphorically turned water into wine and fed the thousands with a loaf of bread. Humble acorns grow into majestic oaks. Life multiplies, expands and complexifies.

    With this connection, we focus on opportunity and possibility rather than limitation. We look years ahead, contemplating how our daily actions could multiply and grow exponentially over time, rather than feeling constricted by our current lack. Our hunches and instincts are valuable sources of knowledge as we seek authenticity, trusting that whatever we sow will grow to extraordinary heights with time.

    all impulses of thought have a tendency to cloak themselves in their physical equivalent.

    Napoleon Hill

    Seek Fulfilment Over Things

    The higher, abundance-oriented part of our mind is drawn to fulfilment, joy and wholeness rather than possession, status and image. Instead of desiring to own and acquire tangible objects separate from us, we gain fulfilment from the magnificence of life and by tweaking our psychology such that we appreciate rather than strive. This does not render material possessions unnecessary, but subordinates them to a new brand of higher-order happiness.

    Mindsets: What Is The Scarcity Mindset?

    Let’s now turn our attention to the scarcity mindset. This is the flipside of the abundance mindset. Fundamentally, this describes human needs, motivations, behaviours and beliefs based on limitation and lack. Something is missing. There’s resistance to life, a need for things to be different. We put happiness outside ourselves, seeking it in pleasures or people. Life happens to us, not through us – we’re merely passive bystanders.

    Zero-Sum World

    If there is only one piece of cake left and four hungry mouths, three will be left unsatisfied. I better not be one of them. The scarcity mindset sees life from this perspective. Spending money is seen as losing money. Another person succeeding means another one has failed. Joy for some guarantees misery for others.

    The basic pattern is that I need to come first. If not, others will have their way, and I’ll lose out. It’s a world of comparisons and competition. Though this frame of mind is necessary in certain situations, in others it can make us unnecessarily paranoid, fearful and vengeful.

    Photo by Andre Taissin on Unsplash


    Another pillar of this mindset is that it sees problems and obstacles everywhere. It has a Geiger counter that detects illness, poverty, death and destruction. Life is difficult, life is skewed downwards. We’re mere pawns in its Machiavellian game. As a result, we pit ourselves against life, trying to outmuscle, outsmart and outmaneuver it.

    Disempowering Thinking

    Accompanying the fearful worldview are disempowering thought patterns and a negative self-image based on inner scarcity and lack. We aren’t enough, we can’t make changes, we’re at the mercy of external forces. Sure, life for others is plentiful and they feel full, but we can’t. We’re out of touch with our power as creators, not realising that those disempowering thoughts create a self-fulfilling dynamic, only worsening our plight.

    Lost In Appearances

    Another pillar of this mindset is that it has us become lost in immediate, outward appearances. What do I mean by this?

    The outward appearance of illness is pain and frailty. The outward appearance of poverty is debt and visible destitution. The scarcity mind is focused only on these outward signs, as though they were inevitable, fixed outcomes of which we’re the unsuspecting victims. It’s a disempowered stance in the face of the formidable forces of nature.

    Effects Of Abundance And Scarcity Mindsets

    This is where we get serious. Whether we lean towards scarcity or abundance thinking has an enormous impact on the quality of our lives. Why is this?

    In short, everything that we bring about in our life begins with thought. We’re cognitive animals with the ability to plan, imagine, visualise and create various scenarios in our mind. Even basic actions we take every day requires that we think about them first.

    The Conscious Mind and Its Influence On Abundance And Scarcity – example

    Let’s take an example of going to the supermarket. The trip to the supermarket doesn’t begin when we leave the house to go there. Rather, it starts when we first realise we need to go. The lack of supplies in our kitchen sets us in motion. We mentally connect the scene in our kitchen with the supermarket, imagining in our mind a series of steps that will enable us to restock the kitchen.

    We plan our meals, taking into account several factors, we fuss over the right time to go, we imagine ourselves going there, and so on. There’s a lot of mental rehearsal and planning.

    Nothing physical has happened! Yet without those steps, even without the ability to mentally connect “lack of food” with “supermarket”, we’d never go to the supermarket. Only with cognitive power can we make this happen. All that mental activity eventually has us go to the supermarket to reach our goal.

    Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

    Effect Of Conscious Mind On Life And Mindsets

    That’s a mundane example, but let’s extrapolate it. Look at your life – your job, possessions, kids, spouse, hobbies, home, friends and family. At one point, all of that only existed in your imagination, like your humdrum trip to the supermarket. Seriously. Your kids didn’t just burst onto the scene. You imagined them, possibly for months and years before they arrived, then you took the action required to bring them into your life. At one time, Your job was once a vague mental image and nothing else.

    Here’s the kicker.

    With abundance thinking, we naturally imagine positive scenarios and gradually bring them to pass through our actions. With scarcity thinking, it’s just the opposite. Through mentally processing these negative circumstances and outcomes, we slowly bring them into our lives.

    What happens is that our conscious mind – the part you’re directly aware of right now – eventually programmes the subconscious mind. This is the part of your mind which runs below the surface. From a neurological perspective, it’s all the brain circuitry that supports automatic neural programmes – schemes and patterns that are habitual.

    What man images, sooner or later externalises in his affairs.

    Florence Shovel Shinn

    In our first-person experience, we don’t experience it at all. It’s a blank. All you experience of your mind is the operating system you need for daily life, which includes memory and planning. Nevertheless, the subconscious is responsible for 90-95% of everything that happens in your life.

    And the temporary content of our conscious mind, if rehearsed and repeated enough times, is eventually sent down to the subconscious. Once it forms part of the subconscious, you’re no longer aware of it, but it affects your actions. Those conscious images and thoughts become hardwired into your neural circuitry, they become habitual. And your actions invevitably come to reflect that subconscious content.

    Both of these mindsets are self-fulfilling prophecies for this very reason. Your thoughts become your actions, which shape your reality, reinforcing what you thought in the first place.

    Abundance and Scarcity Mindsets In Career and Business

    Let’s get really practical now and see how these contrasting mindsets show up in career, one of the main areas of our lives. Here, we often find scarcity and abundance fighting with us. For this, I’ve enlisted the help of my friend Grace from She’s a Life Purpose Coach and helps people through career transitions. Check out her course on the Abundance Mindset.

    Scarcity Thinking In Career

    When researching for this article, I came across several resources that equated “abundance” in career and business with “money” – if you have money, you have financial abundance. In my view, our level of scarcity and abundance in career isn’t a function of wealth. In a certain sense, they can actually be inversely proportional. A lot of highly lucrative business is built around scarcity thinking.

    Rather, scarcity thinking in career and business revolves around your view of the marketplace. Remember, the scarcity mindset only sees limitation. There’s limited money, limited clients, limited opportunities, limited jobs. If all you remember about scarcity thinking is the word “limitation”, I’ve done my job today.

    Many ultra-common phenomena stem from this basic idea. We’ve all faced these issues. For instance, our current job pays the bills and we believe we won’t find another if we leave, so we stay in it. We think we’re incapable of pushing beyond our current position, so we reject that promotion opportunity. We feel a muse, an inkling that something greater awaits us, but we recoil in fear from the possibility of pursuing it.

    Grace told me that she sees scarcity in her clients who attempt to change careers. Some of the common themes are: “I don’t have money”, “I don’t have the time”, “I don’t have the right opportunities”, “I can’t”. This leads to indecision, limits career advancement and prevents people from achieving promotions.

    But this isn’t just about personal finances. As I hinted, scarcity plagues business too. How many companies – bone-chillingly powerful ones – cause harm almost deliberately and justify it with pretty balance sheets and smiling shareholders? How many companies sell terrible products that do horrible things to people? Too many.

    This is scarcity-in-action. It’s selfish behaviour based on the idea that I need to win and others need to lose, because there’s only so much money to go around. In fact, we might even cling on to millions and millions because we feel hollow inside. We think if we lose those millions, another lucky person has to gain them.

    Abundance Thinking In Career And Business

    On the other hand, abundance thinking in this area revolves around opportunity and fullness. Instead of viewing all things as limited, we see them to be essentially unlimited. There’s unlimited money. Unlimited opportunities. Unlimited clients.

    Again, you don’t need a Swiss bank account to have this mindset. And having one might do just the opposite. We can all develop it regardless of our outward financial situation. Hey, this mindset might just improve it!

    There’s also a trust, even if times are tough, that our financial needs will be met. This doesn’t mean passivity, but active faith. We intuit that we’re supposed to have an abundant financial life, and even if our current circumstances don’t reflect that, we act for it.

    Another component is daring to do the work that makes us passionate. You might think you can just slide into a passionate career with little graft. For most, it’s not like that. It takes months and years of hard work and patience, and sometimes a life crisis.

    Most of us have a calling to authentic, passion work but few follow it, and this is because they don’t have an abundance mindset. They see the million ways they could fail and the obstacles in their way, never truly allowing themselves to dream let alone construct a hard-nosed plan for making it happen.

    both poverty and riches are the offspring of thought.

    Napoleon Hill

    A crucial part of living an abundant financial life is doing work that benefits the recipients of it. And I don’t mean charity or volunteer work. I mean contributing in a way that’s meaningful to you. This kind of work is what our higher self craves.

    Grace identifies the abundance mindset in clients that believe they have the requisite skills or resources or can obtain them. They’re not scared to apply for promotions or follow their dream careers. The focus is on possibility and growth, not limitation.

    I’ve noticed the abundance mindset brings more money into my life. When I make empowering, abundant thoughts habitual, things around me move in my favour. I move in my favour. My action changes, becoming bold and ambitious rather than weak, half-hearted and directionless.

    Scarcity And Abundance Mindsets In All Areas Of Life

    Our discussion of career naturally leads us to ask how scarcity and abundance operate across our lives. They influence domains as diverse as career, relationships, finances, friendships, diet and hobbies.

    One factor is that the our scarcity-abundance dials governing each area all point in different directions. While we may have an abundant mindset in career, in intimate relationships we might be more scarcity-driven, fearing loneliness and seeking refuge in a dependable relationship, creating dysfunction as a result.

    The best barometer of our scarcity–abundance level is our level of fulfilment in that area of our life. With scarcity often comes darkness and suffering. With abundance, there is expansion, openness and empowerment, which clearly lead to greater satisfaction. The emotions you feel are a sure indicator.

    If we average out all those different levels of scarcity and abundance within us, we can get an idea of our overall level. This is a guide for how abundant we are as a whole. If, on balance, we’re unsatisfied with our life, you can bet we’re marred by scarcity thinking.

    Remember, scarcity is fundamentally about limitation. Abundance is synonymous with trust and possibility.

    How to Encourage The Abundance Mindset

    Let’s now look at how to move ourselves upwards on the scarcity–abundance spectrum. Though our current personal situation and external factors certainly impact our mindset, it’s not the only factor. History is chalk full of extraordinary figures who remained defiantly abundant in the face of monumental obstacles – and they succeeded.

    Besides, if you accept that your current situation is to a considerable extent your own making, you can then re-engineer those insatisfactory areas of your life. Let’s look at the most powerful methods for doing this.

    1. Identify The Weak Areas

    Life is a cornucopia of domains, so we must direct our energy where it’s needed most. The areas in life where you’re least satisfied are those where scarcity thinking likely dominates.

    Let me suggest that financials, career and intimate relationships are the biggies. If you can see scarcity thinking in those areas, get to work right away.

    the subconscious mind will translate into reality a thought driven by fear just as readily as thought driven by courage, or faith.

    Napoleon Hill

    2. Write new mental code

    As we covered earlier, all of the circumstances in our life begin with thought. If we want to create abundant situations, we need to think abundant thoughts. This is not abstract philosophy. We’re cognitive creatures that depend on the mind. If you’re not convinced of this fact, Learn to Meditate with me, and you’ll soon become aware of just how much thinking dominates your attention.

    So be very vigilant over your habitual mental scripts and slowly discard those that drag you into scarcity. You can also spend time deliberately imprinting the mind with new mental scripts, like an actor rehearsing their lines until they’re second nature.

    This is called auto-suggestion, and in it we say abundance-oriented statements out loud. We do this for five minutes per day, for 60 days straight. Here’s an example of an auto-suggestion statement related to career: “I have wonderful work, in a wonderful way. I give wonderful service, for wonderful pay.”

    This might seem outlandish and New Age, but not so fast. You already do auto-suggestion, but you do it unconsciously. You are already sculpting your mind in every moment with every thought, but rather than working like Da Vinci, your sculpting action probably resembles that of a deranged alcoholic.

    With time, these thoughts replace your unconscious negative mental scripts, and your life comes to reflect them. You create a highly desirable self-fulfilling prophecy.

    3. Gratitude

    We often fall into scarcity thinking when we compare our situation to those with apparently superior lives. They make our lot seem puny. This dynamic traps us in thoughts of limitation regarding our capabilities, life circumstances and accomplishments.

    The antidote to this is to actively cultivate gratitude for what we have. If you live in a modern, 21st-century democracy, you have a lot to be grateful for. Everything, even the most innocuous possession, is a potential object of gratitude, if we exercise the power to see what it brings to us.

    The classic gratitude exercise is to note down three things you are grateful for each day before you go to sleep. After some time of mechanically exercising your gratitude muscle, it’ll strengthen, and soon gratitude will become your go-to disposition towards life. In every moment, you’ll silently bless the gift that is your life.

    Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

    Integrating Both Mindsets

    In this article, it might appear that I advocate 100% abundant behaviour, 100% of the time. Not so fast. The picture is more grey and nuanced than that.

    You need to know how to operate in the dog-eat-dog world. If you don’t know how to, the big bloodthirsty dogs out there will pounce on you, and you’ll be thrashed from side-to-side like a rag doll.

    Abundance requires fearlessness, decision and determination. It’s not starry-eyed and dreamy. It’s a steadfast commitment to living in a world of abundance when most people around you stumbling around drunk in scarcity. We take scarcity-oriented capacities like strength, autonomy and resilience and re-work them in a higher context.

    Scarcity is a huge part of being human. We need to learn to take care of ourselves and secure our basic survival. But once that’s in place, the abundance mindset is superior. It leads to greater joy, less worry and stress, and an attitude of wonder and amazement at life and the endless wonders it offers.

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    Integrate scarcity and abundance in two vital areas of life, careers and intimate relationships, with my new ebook Spiral Dynamics Embodied.