Starting a diet? A new workout routine? A weight-loss regimen? If you’re most people, you’re ready to approach your health endeavors with a white-knuckle, uber-disciplined mentality. As a culture, we thrive on it. We get a pat on the back for how much we can sacrifice. For what we’re able to limit. For how much we can push and how long we can go without.
We see it all the time too. Sugar detoxes, juice cleanses, or that ridiculous “75 Hard Challenge” that made the rounds on TikTok last year. We get the message that in order to succeed, we have to embrace the suck, believing that by depriving ourselves we can have what we want.
Problem is, approaching your health and fitness goals from a place of lack typically leads to more lack. Meaning, instead of feeling inspired, energetic, and focused, you end up depleted, grumpy, and ultimately, too discouraged to keep it up.
Do You Have a Lack Mentality?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to clients who’ve said that doing one diet or another “worked for them.” They tell me how they lost tons of weight by eliminating all fruit or bread or wine. To which I typically reply, “if it worked so well, why are you working with me?”
That’s the catch, right? When you look at things through the lens of what you can’t have or can’t do, that’s all you see — that’s called a lack (or scarcity) mentality. In contrast, when you look at what you get to do, getto eat, or get to become, a whole world of possibilities starts to open up. This is what’s known as an abundance mentality.
Examples of Lack Mentality
Always wondering what you’ll need to give up
Believing you can’t have certain things
Feeling jealous of others
Withholding calories, foods, or joy in general
Waiting for the “other shoe to drop” especially when things are going well
Examples of Abundance Mentality
Noticing what you can be grateful for in life
Being open-minded and compassionate
Thinking about how your actions can benefit others
Believing that anything is possible – and that you’re worthy of achieving it
Respecting and appreciating your body for the miracle it is
Are You Team Lack or Team Abundance?
Initially coined in the best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen R. Covey refers to scarcity mentality as seeing life as a finite pie, so if one person takes a big piece, that leaves less for others, whereas with an abundance mentality, the belief is that there’s plenty for everyone.1
The pandemic has shed a lot of light on how we as a culture tend to operate (toilet paper shortage anyone?). Fear of the unknown causes us to think with more of a scarcity mindset. Which, as we witnessed over the past year, was actually accurate in certain instances.
But for some, this type of mindset isn’t exclusive to the pandemic. People who struggle with a lack mentality believe there’s not enough in the world (not enough love, success, money, health, happiness). Or if they were to get “their share” they would subconsciously sabotage it due to feeling guilty, undeserving, or a host of other negative emotions. If you’re in this camp, you may have noticed it takes a significant toll on your wellbeing.
The Downside of Thinking There’s Not Enough
Recent studies on the subject reinforce the negative implications of having a lack mentality – everything from temporarily decreasing your IQ to completely eroding your confidence. Researchers tell us that this kind of mindset requires so much attention that it becomes difficult to focus on anything other than the thing we feel we’re lacking.
In this study, behavioural scientist Eldar Shafir and economist Sendhil Mullainathan had 400 low-income participants think about a hypothetical $1,500 car repair2 While they pondered the scenario, the researchers had them perform fluid-intelligence and cognition tests, which on average, lowered their score on an IQ test by 13 points, the same level of impairment as pulling an all-nighter.
Psychologists also find that self-described dieters are at a greater risk of being in the lack mentality category. This study tested how dieters and non-dieters reacted to eating a chocolate bar. While the non-dieters ate the bar and carried on with their day, the dieters reported worrying about how to make up for the calories they’d just ingested and beating themselves up for eating it in the first place.3
Your stories and core beliefs create your current reality. Usually, it stems from the messages you received growing up, whether it was from your family, your teachers, or society in general. All of which to say, it’s not your fault if you’re struggling with a lack mentality.
Here are the strategies I use with my own clients to help them ditch the scarcity mindset and start to look at their situation through the lens of abundance.
1. Focus on what you have. Even if you’re positive you’ve got nothing to be grateful for, realize that in addition to having some sort of food, water, and shelter, you’ve got the luxury of time to be reading this article.
Tip #1: Write down what you’re grateful for and revisit your list daily.
2. Watch your circle. Notice the type of people you hang out with, online and IRL. Are they constantly stewing over the unfairness of life or are they operating under the belief that anything they want is available to them?
3. Reframe your thoughts. Hearing yourself say things like, “I can’t have that” or “that would never happen for me” on the regular? First, knock it off. Second, replace those thoughts with a more positive version. Try “I get to have…” or “what if it did happen for me?” and see how it feels.
Tip #3: Practice this reframing daily until it becomes automatic.
4. Do what brings you joy. When was the last time you laughed out loud or did something that had zero productivity value? By loosening the reins on what you think you’re supposed to be doing, you’re able to tap into the joy of living, which begins to shift your mindset.
Tip #4: Think about the last time you lost track of time doing something fun. Then do more of that.
5. Look for the positives. Sometimes things won’t go your way, but there’s almost always a positive or “silver lining.” For every unfair hand you’ve been dealt, ponder the valuable thing that’s come out of it instead of just focusing on the negative.
Tip #5: Ask yourself what you can learn from your experiences, even the negative ones.
5 Steps to Abundant Thinking
If your health goals always feel out of reach, your mentality could be to blame. Practice shifting your mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance and see if you notice a difference. I have a hunch you will. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if things start to line up in every area of your life, just by following these 5 steps:
· Focus on what you have
· Watch your circle
· Reframe your thoughts
· Do what brings you joy
· Look for the positives
Do you have a lack mentality or an abundance mentality? Tell me what strategies work for you!
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.