Let Go of These Scarcity Mindset Myths

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Much of the productivity conversations being had today are split into two camps: The first is comprised of people like our tech overlords, who continue to preach that waking up at 4 a.m. to spend more hours at work and fewer doing anything else will make you a genius. The second is made of those, like much of the Lifehacker staff, who say hey, maybe we should take a step back here and enjoy our lives before we all burn out.

Underlying both of these, though, is the scarcity mindset. It’s human nature to believe there’s not enough time or money or resources to do and have everything we possibly want. And in many ways, that’s true. There simply isn’t enough time, money, what have you, to be the best parent, worker, friend, piano player, marathon runner, foodie, investor, etc. all at once. Yet we keep pushing ourselves, rationalizing that harder work means we’ll get more, and then we’ll finally be happy. Inevitably we’re still disappointed—we may have more, but we’ll never have “enough.”

It’s a pervasive mindset. Khe Hy, the creator of RadReads, writes (emphasis his):

The day starts with “I didn’t sleep enough.” Then the rush to get the kids fed and out the door is accompanied by the nagging feeling that as parents we’re “not present enough.” Next, a commute skimming articles on our phones and listening to podcasts at double speed. There’s too much to learn and “not enough time.” A coworker gets that coveted promotion implying there’s “not enough opportunity.” Therefore the new addition to the house will have to wait another year, because obvi, there’s “never enough house.” And as bed time approaches, it’s a race towards Inbox Zero. And what’s the last thought before your head hits the pillow? “I didn’t do enough.”

But we can break the cycle and start thinking differently. Hy writes that breaking down the three myths of the scarcity mindset, as detailed in The Soul of Money by activist Lynne Twist, will help us “shift out of scarcity and into sufficiency.” And doesn’t that sound better.

Myth 1: There’s Not Enough

For many of us, Hy writes, the promotion of a colleague spells doom. It means that we must have messed up somewhere along the line, because there aren’t limitless promotions to be had.

“In [our] minds, the slightest screwup (like a botched Powerpoint presentation) could spiral out of control and derail [our] careers,” he writes. “And in waiting for this imaginary shoe to drop [we’re] unable to savor [our] accomplishments, take risks and be present.”

But rather than viewing work and life as winner-take-all, we’d do better to remember it’s a long game. We may not have gotten a promotion this month, but so long as we continue doing good work, we’re likely to come out ahead.

“Situations can initially be perceived as zero-sum [but] are actually win-wins when you expand the horizon,” he writes.

Myth 2: More Is Better

Always wanting more is logical, Hy writes, when we’re worried that someday there might not be enough. But always wanting more—more house, more car, more tech toys, more money, of course, etc.—can also lead to greed and an unhappy life.

How do you convince yourself what you have is enough, especially in a culture that valorizes “more more more?”

This is a common question in behavioral economics (we’ve covered some of the conversation here). How much money would it take for you to be happy? Do you really know? Hy writes,

Look at research from Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton who asked 2,000 millionaires two questions: How happy are you on a scale of 1-10? How much more money would it take you to get to a 10? It turns out that “all the way across the income spectrum, basically everyone says they’d need two or three times as much [to be perfectly happy].” (Source: The Reason Many Ultrarich People Aren’t Satisfied With Their Wealth)

Ok, obviously we could all do with a few more dollars in our bank account. And financial strain is a major problem in the U.S. But, Hy writes, rather than continually focusing on “more is better,” we’d do better to consider what brings real utility to our lives. Chances are it’s not a house that’s 150 square feet bigger than your cousin’s.

Myth 3: That’s the Way It’s Supposed to Be

This final myth gives us permission to believe the first two. This is the way it is, there’s no need to try to change anything or work on new habits. “It entrenches us into our spending habits and professional decisions and can leave us stuck and comfortably numb,” he writes.

What’s the solution here? There’s no simple answer. It’s a shift in your mindset—working on believing that actually, this isn’t the way things need to be. You don’t need 100 subscriptions to different forms of media, you don’t need a new car when you’re used car is still running, you will get a bonus next year if you work a bit harder (or better yet, change jobs). Just because you spend a bit too much now, or aren’t where you want to be professionally, doesn’t mean you need to continue on the same path. There is enough for everyone.

“Accept, as [Lynne] Twist says, that you have agency in ‘the way we choose to act and what we choose to make of circumstances,’” writes Hy. “You have enough. You are enough.”

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