Scarcity mentality is an interesting thing. On one hand, it’s been the thing that pushed me to do things I might not have otherwise done, the idea that, “this could be the last time I have the chance to…” or “if I died tomorrow, what would I regret not doing?”
The idea of limits and boundaries on capacity. The idea that, if we don’t do it now, we never will. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a concept grown almost entirely from a scarcity mentality.
And sometimes it’s needed. Sometimes we need to get pushed out of our comfort zones by a “now-or-never” mindset. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets us to a new place, gets us to try that thing we were scared of, gets us to take a leap we haven’t been able to take before. Operating from a place of scarcity isn’t always bad… but it’s definitely not always good.
Because as much as scarcity can propel us toward movement in a moment, it can often be the foundation of interpersonal issues: jealousy, insecurity, fear, desperation.
FOMO is a pretty good example: sometimes we do things (play with someone, try a new thing, whatever) because it feels like that’s the only chance we will have to do something. And sometimes that’s great! But if we aren’t prepared to do that thing, if we are forcing a connection that isn’t there… sometimes we are left feeling more hollow than we would have if we had let the opportunity pass by. What we do when we act out of desperation is often not in our- or anyone else’s- best interests.
When time is scarce with someone, it can lead to us guarding it jealously, unwilling to share it with anyone else because “it’s all the time we have.” This shows up in long distance relationships sometimes- when you only see one another for short, finite periods of time, it can breed resentment to share that time with others who are more consistently available. (I don’t tend to fall into this, maybe because most of my relationships happen over distance and I really like meeting and spending time with people who are important to the people I care about, but it’s something I have heard others express and struggle with, so it bears mentioning.)
Personally, I tend to approach experiences with a scarcity mentality. “If I don’t do this now, I never will,” or, “This is the only time I will ever get this chance.” It makes it so, if I enjoyed doing the thing, I feel a sense of loss that I will never get to do it again- even when that’s totally absurd. Because that was the only chance I got, and I’m glad I took it, but I’ll never get it again. Because scarcity.
And of course, insecurity. If that’s the only chance we have for (whatever), then what are we left with when the moment ends? Maybe they’re not really that into you but just got caught up in the moment. The presence of something we desire being within our grasp- and then it’s subsequent loss- can lead to all of the spinning wheels, the brain weasels, the rise in insecurity, the scramble to get it back…but not knowing how to ask for what we want because we are insecure and afraid that our desires are not well-met outside of that specific circumstance.
When we operate from scarcity all the time, it leaves us in a position to accept less than we deserve for more than it’s worth. Which is to say, the price we pay in mental health, self-esteem, confidence, comfort is often higher than the table scraps we feel we are begging for- and more often than not, leaves us unfulfilled.
What, then, is the alternative? How do we transition from a mentality of scarcity to one of abundance? How do we not view exchanges, circumstances, time, energy, presence as a fleeting thing, existing only for a moment and leaving us hollow at the end? How do we allow the people, the experiences, the time, whatever to endure beyond the moment?
Metaphor time: I am chronically dehydrated. It’s not secret to anyone that knows me that I do not drink nearly enough water, to the point that I don’t even notice the symptoms of dehydration anymore. In fact, the only time I notice that I’m dehydrated is when I start drinking enough water and then stop and realize, oh, that dry feeling in my mouth, that fatigue in my muscles, that parched sensation… right, that’s dehydration.
When I’m dehydrated long enough, I stop noticing it. Those sensations are just a part of my experience in my body. It’s only when I have something to compare it to that I’m even aware of it.
Similarly, when I’m dehydrated and I drink a glass of water, it doesn’t fix it immediately. I have to constantly drink enough water over a period of time to actually rehydrate my body and fix some of the issues that come from chronic dehydration.
Scarcity is an emotional dehydration. Sometimes we don’t notice it until we experience abundance. And we have to keep refilling our cups, over and over again, to teach our bodies that it can depend on emotional hydration coming in, so every glass of water doesn’t feel like the last. So that our bodies don’t hoard and ration positive experiences, believing they will be the last.
When we operate from abundance, each glass of emotional water helps fill and sustain our emotional hydration, until we are able to trust and believe that there is another glass coming. When we operate from scarcity, each glass of emotional water is hoarded, guarded, and often over-used to try to sustain more than it should.
A single glass of water can’t sustain an entire body, much like a singular experience can’t sustain an entire relationship. The insecurities that scarcity brings up show us the emotional dehydration we experience. We have to find ways to refill ourselves, and establish trust that this is not the last glass of emotional water we will get for a long time.
We have to refill. Daily. Until we are saturated with it, until our bodies aren’t hoarding every scrap like it’s our sole source of sustenance. We have to do some of this work ourselves- it’s great when someone brings you a glass of water, but you can also go fill up your own cup. We have to rehydrate, and maintain hydration, or we will get locked in a spiral of desperation, need, insecurity, and dependence.
And with that, I’m going to go drink a glass of water.