The dialogue of scarcity is prevalent for most of us. We might wake up with the thought, “I didn’t get enough sleep”. We look at our To Do list and feel we don’t have enough time to get everything done. We check our calendars and think there is not enough space to take a breath.
Scarcity shows up in other areas of our mind chatter, from simple things like not having enough milk in the fridge or enough gas in the car to more pendulous problems, like not having enough savings for our retirement.
Whatever the topic, this internal dialogue of scarcity cues our anxiety, turns on our fight or flight centers. Simply holding the thoughts of scarcity is enough to send the brain into high alert, and the body responds with troubled breathing, muscle tension, elevated heart-rate, sporadic sleep.
Overall, scarcity can be one of the main catalysts of anxiety, robbing us of contentment and joy, because we’re so wound up about not having enough.
To work mindfully with scarcity, we go back to Awareness, Acceptance and Choice. First, we need to notice when the dialogue of scarcity is present. Simply noting, “thoughts of scarcity are here” or “thoughts about ‘not enough’ are here”. The more we can notice ourselves in those moments of having scarcity thoughts, the more we will be able to apply the next tools to deal with them.
Next, we accept that scarcity thoughts are part of our habit patterns. It is normal to have thoughts of scarcity. We live in a society that emphasizes consumerism and has entrained us in feeling that whatever we have is never enough.
I was reading this year about Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle. By any objective marker of sufficiency, he is well in the green. He has a $48 billion fortune, and is the owner of the BNP Pariibas Open tennis tournament, and America’s Cup-winning sailing team, the 288-foot super yacht, Musashi, an Italian Marcetti jet, a sprawling Japanese-style estate, a large swath of Malibou beachfront property, the Hawaiian island of Lanai, and a Hawaiian airline. Yet, he doesn’t have the sense of having enough. He craves more. He says, “I am addicted to winning. The more you win, the more you want to win”.
So, if we wait for that moment to arrive when we feel like we have enough (money, time, health), we’re going to be waiting indefinitely. Instead, we need to develop the mindset of sufficiency with things as they are right now That is, we need to understand that sufficiency is not necessarily reflected in how much material wealth we have amassed, nor in how many vacation days we get from work nor in how many minutes or hours we have between appointments. Rather, sufficiency is a state of mind, an attitudinal adjustment that says, “This is enough”, that says, “I am enough”.
We come again to that truth in mindfulness: it’s not the events, things and people in your life that cause your distress, but rather your reaction to those things. Change how you react, change the story you tell, and you change your experience.
Whereas the dialogue of scarcity makes us feel anxious, the dialogue of sufficiency helps us feel more at ease. It is directly connected to the idea of acceptance. You are accepting the conditions of your life as they are, instead of insisting that they should be somehow else.
That said, remember that acceptance is not resignation. Maybe you could create ease by allowing more time between appointments, or going to bed an hour earlier. However, chasing happiness by feeding the fear of scarcity will likely only reinforce the idea that you don’t have enough already. Embracing the idea that everything you need is already here is a harder, but more fruitful route to contentment. Harder, because you are pressing up against a well-ingrained habit of talking about scarcity and believing in that talk. As you know, habits die hard. So…
Be patient and be kind while you work with your habit of scarcity. Don’t beat yourself up when you notice more scarcity dialogue. Congratulate yourself for noticing it in that moment, and realize that in that moment, you can work mindfully to reinforce the habit of sufficiency.
Lastly, relativizing can help quiet the fear brain and engage the frontal lobes in some good, old-fashion perspective-taking. You live in one of the wealthiest and safest countries in the world. We have developed such a level of ease in our lives, compared to what most face around the globe. We have beyond what is sufficient for our own happiness. Perhaps relativizing will cue your compassion and generosity, leading you to share your great sufficiency with those who have less. Giving your time, money or other resources is a great salve for the soul, a true generator of happiness. And, the act will get you out of the thought of scarcity and remind you how lucky you really are.
Mantras for Practice:
I am enough as I am.
I have enough.
This is enough.