You’ve heard of the term “mind over matter,” but can your mindset really change how you feel or help you overcome problems?
If you’re skeptical that simply believing you have enough time, money and resources will shift your circumstances, that’s fair. Changing your perspective won’t change the current realities of your life, but what it can do is change your behavior — and that may ultimately improve your life.
What are abundance and scarcity mindsets?
The terms abundance and scarcity mindset are often attributed to Stephen Covey, who used them in his widely successful book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
An abundance mindset is when you believe there are plenty of resources for everyone. A scarcity mindset is when you believe there are limited resources, so if someone else has something, you feel there is less of that resource available for you, says Tabitha Kirkland, a psychologist and associate teaching professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Psychology.
She notes that while the terms are circulated in pop culture, the concepts also have roots in psychology.
Researchers define a scarcity mindset as when your thoughts about scarcity affect your attention and how you behave — and this occurs regardless of whether someone actually lacks resources or simply believes they lack resources.
“It seems to be more important that we have a perception of scarcity than to objectively have low resources. That is one theme in psychology, our perceptions of things matter more than what is true,” Kirkland says.
How does a scarcity mindset affect your behavior?
Your mindset changes your behavior because it determines what you focus on, which affects how you act.
When you experience scarcity — be it a lack of time, money or social connection — your attention shifts to the scarce resource. This focus can be helpful, but it also causes “tunneling,” or ignoring other needs and obligations.
“On a very basic level, scarcity mindset makes you feel bad, and abundant makes you feel good,” Kirkland says. “When you feel negative emotions, it leads to narrowed attention and hyperfixation on the thing that’s causing you to feel negative.”
For example, suppose you believe you don’t have enough time to finish a project at work. In that case, the scarcity mindset might help you focus on that project — but you are also more likely to neglect other work and personal responsibilities, especially if they don’t have immediate benefits.
Real and perceived scarcity can increase jealousy, stress and competition, Kirkland says. It can hold your mind captive, taking over your thoughts and taxing your brain so that you can’t think of other things. This in turn leads to behaviors focused on short-term coping, even if these actions worsen long-term outcomes.
Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. If you’re on a tight deadline and feel you lack time, you might cut corners to complete the project even if this harms your long-term business goals.
How to develop a more abundant mindset
Many people face a real lack of resources, and even if you have sufficient means to meet your day-to-day needs, competitive environments foster a perceived sense of scarcity.
Kirkland says that cultivating a more abundant mindset can help you see connections, broaden your perspective, solve problems and make decisions that will benefit you long-term — even when your resources are low.
Foster collaborative relationships
Your environment matters. If you’re in a workplace that encourages competition over collaboration, it’s going to be harder to adopt an abundant mindset.
“If you don’t want to be stressed out and competitive, then don’t make that your peer group and avoid the field where those behaviors are rewarded,” Kirkland says.
This is easier said than done. One way to try to nudge culture in a more abundant-mindset direction is to try to encourage and celebrate the successes of your co-workers and friends, instead of viewing their wins as your loss.
Gratitude can help you be aware of what you do have, instead of fixating on what you don’t.
Writing down things you are grateful for each day or at the end of each week is an easy and tangible way to help shift to a more abundant mindset.
Notice and redirect automatic thoughts
Noticing your thoughts allows you to question if they are true and if they are beliefs you want to hold, or if you’d rather replace them with a different perspective.
“If you do this frequently enough, you’ll get better at interrupting those automatic habits of thought in all areas of life,” Kirkland says.
Say your colleague wants to join a project you’ve been working on. Your automatic thought might be that they are trying to steal your thunder. However, if you can step back and notice the thought, you can choose to instead assume positive intent and believe there is enough room for both of you to work and succeed in this area.
Advocate and give support
Part of developing a more abundant mindset is recognizing when you have resources and sharing them. The idea here is that helping and giving to others lifts everyone up.
If people find big and small ways to support each other, this creates the resources others are seeking.
“I think if we want to have more collaboration, abundance and optimism, we need to create the life for ourselves we hope to find,” Kirkland says. “We can start local and in our sphere of influence; that can be really empowering.”