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How the 'scarcity mindset' has set in our hearts

The pandemic has triggered behaviours that emerge from our belief that we will not have enough

The scarcity mindset is not limited to money, but extends to how we view the world. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO
The scarcity mindset is not limited to money, but extends to how we view the world. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO

In the past year, money conversations have made it to therapy sessions much more than they used to. Every client has discussed their relationship with money, their anxieties about not having enough, and some have talked about what it would mean to save and have “enough”. Last March, when the pandemic was looming and the lockdown was announced, we began the year on a note of scarcity. We feared we might run out of groceries or medicines or even masks, so we all engaged in hoarding of some kind. This was that strange period when our fears and anxieties became intertwined. We felt we had to be prepared and some of us even believed “having more is better than having less”—and in those moments the scarcity mindset strengthened in our minds and hearts.

At an organisational level, firms weren’t transparent about possible pay cuts or timelines, which added to the anxiety. For freelancers, fears about work and remuneration left them hyper-alert. A 48-year-old male client who works in the media told me: “I remember how I continued to over-work till December as I feared that what if I contract the virus, or my parents, who are in their late 70s, contract it? I would lose all my savings and as someone who works independently, I wouldn’t get paid too. Strangely enough, I managed to save so much and yet I am not at peace. I want to renegotiate my relationship with money and want to enjoy my work as well as the money.”

Maybe all of us in some or other form fell prey to the scarcity mindset and are still guilty of letting it run our lives.

In simple words, the scarcity mindset can be understood as thoughts, feelings and even behaviours that emerge from our belief that we will not have enough. This mindset is not limited to money, it extends to how we view the world and even our own potential. It impacts how we choose to share our own insights and knowledge with other professionals and those around us. The scarcity mindset impacts our self-esteem, how we look at our own achievements, and the satisfaction we derive from our own lives.

At the heart of this mindset lies a fundamental conflict—we feel what we are doing or have is not enough, or we need more. As a result, we can’t be mindful and stay in the present or even enjoy moments where we experience joy. We are constantly thinking about the past, where the lack of resources or scarcity was a real thing, or about how we can reach abundance in the future.

The reality is that even before the pandemic, we were deeply embedded in a culture that promotes hustle and productivity. Our narratives of productivity guilt, fear of missing out (fomo), bedtime procrastination are all products of a culture where we feel we are not doing enough or not making the most of our time. Social media exacerbates this, where we constantly feel we are falling behind, whether it’s our search for validation or the number of followers. Often, this narrative of “working towards more” drives us, even controls us.

As Lynne Twist, founder of The Soul of Money Institute, which helps people re-examine their relationship with money, says, “Our drive to increase our net worth turns us away from discovering and deepening our self-worth”

If you are struggling with this mindset, examine the beliefs related to money you were taught or heard while growing up. Begin by taking stock of all those moments where the topic of money creeps in with your friends, your partner—and how often you think about it. Maybe learning to develop a relationship with money that serves us well, allows us to retain our life’s purpose, be present and also be aligned to our values, is what we can all aspire for. Begin now.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear, and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.

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