The Danger of Scarcity Mindset

I am reading a new book on the subject of scarcity by Eldar Shafir called Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, and although I’ve only read the introduction and the first chapter, I’ve already learned the profound ways in which scarcity mindset can capture a person’s mind.

What is scarcity mindset?

Scarcity mindset is a mindset that appears in an individual when he thinks and feels that he lacks a certain need. This need can be anything from the need for food in the form of hunger to need for money, time, social connection, etc. While in a scarcity mindset, the person will become preoccupied with the desire to obtain whatever it is that they desire with increased focus. And as a result, his mental capability in process speed and memory recall will become heightened to whatever it is that he has placed his focus on. Although this built-in survival mechanism will help a person obtain and use whatever is scarce with more efficiency and effectiveness, doing so comes at a price.

The consequences

There are two main consequences of scarcity mindset: First, due to your preoccupation with the source of your scarcity, your mind is much more likely to block out and neglect anything else that might be important in your life. And second, being on a scarcity mindset taxes your mind by occupying a large amount of space in your mental “bandwidth.” These two effects lead to a mind that is that is both heavily burdened and preoccupied, leaving it vulnerable to external influences. In the book, they cite studies that show how scarcity mindset leads to poorer cognitive ability than missing out on an entire night of sleep. The lower cognitive functioning and enervated willpower leads to poor decision making in life that ultimately generates even more scarcity. The book offers this as the main reason for why the poor remain poor due to their mismanagement of money.

Scarcity in modern society

Our modern society litters our minds with artificial scarcity to perpetuate a materialist and consumerist culture. This is done mainly by the media and the advertising industry that target your basic needs and amplify your feelings of scarcity. They target your need for food, sex, wealth, and more recently, the need to belong or social acceptance, for their own profit. They will induce insecurity and anxiety so that the only way out for you would be to buy their products. But of course, this is all but vanity for it would never stop there. New insecurities will be created and whatever is gained will quickly lose its value. Media consumption, such as pornography, is even worse for it only stimulates your desires while not offering any real satisfaction. Our modern society is toxic in a sense that it continuously seeks to make you feel inadequate and dissatisfied.

The biggest areas of scarcity for men

Modern men suffer from scarcity in various areas of life that drains their mental capabilities and limits their potential for growth. These sources of scarcity are: need for wealth, need for time, need for sex, need for love and affection, need for a great physique, need for acceptance, need for thrill, and the need to prove oneself. Take a moment to think about which of these areas you feel the most scarcity in.

How to counter scarcity mindset

Although the best solution to counter scarcity is to simply become abundant, it’s not something that can be achieved overnight. Whatever some people might say about simply developing an abundance mindset, having an abundance mindset without actually having it in reality can lead to delusional complacency and carelessness.

The following are alternative ways to counter scarcity so that it no longer grips your mind and impedes your ability to live:

1) Be aware

First, be aware of your own being. Be aware of your desires and anxieties and how you process them. How do you feel? What urges do you get? What do you spend your time worrying about? When do these thoughts and feeling arise?

Next, be aware of your surroundings and you interpret what you see around you. Do certain things lead you to feel inadequate? Do certain things capture your attention and test your willpower?

Here, no action is yet required on your part; you are merely becoming aware of your internal and external world. All that is required of you is to realize that you will always have desires, and to know that the society which we live in will always try to take advantage of them.

2) Disengage

You may not always be able to control your desires or your need for money and time—especially so if you are facing an actual scarcity. But there are things you are able to control to reduce the feelings of scarcity. The first is to disengage from the media and markets (both physical malls and online stores) as much as possible. The media in all forms are becoming increasingly adept at capturing people’s attention and targeting potential consumers. They introduce new desires where there was none before and create anxiety that can only be relieved with you swipe your credit card. Even entertainment media, such as films and television shows that may not be actively trying to sell products, can indirectly induce scarcity by making you feel inadequate in parts of your life and by inducing the anxiety of ‘missing out’ in life. There is no need for you to continue burdening yourself by exposing yourself to these false illusions.

3) Simplify your life

Since much of the negative effect of scarcity comes from all the mental processes that you go through, the way to alleviate it is by simplifying your life and automatizing much of your life decisions. You can do this by prioritizing what is really important in your life so that you don’t become distracted by things that are not important and not relevant. Another way is to develop habits and routines to regulate your actions and to minimize the number of decisions you have to make. For example, I have already simplified my life by disengaging from media and entertainment that add little to no value to my life while developing the habit of living simply while not worrying about money when buying important things like food and books. This way, I don’t have to worry about finances and decision making comes easily for me without taxing my mental bandwidth.

4) Direct your focus

Instead of focusing on whatever it is that you feel scarce about, direct your focus on something else that is important to you. Focus on your projects and goals. Focus on becoming a better man. Instead of feeling scarce about the things you don’t have, focus on all the things that you do have. This is something you need to develop on your own through the practice of discipline.

I plan to finish reading the book and find out more ways in which I can free myself from the scarcity mindset that has gripped me for much of my life.

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