I don’t know anyone who feels like they have enough: enough time, enough energy, enough money. Enough life.
It can feel like all of us live in a world of scarcity, despite knowing rationally that we have more than most humans have ever known.
We have so much, in fact, that we can too easily consume calories and exceed our body’s requirements. We have more spare time, more annual leave, and time to spend as we please thanks to time-saving gadgets like electric washing machines, tumble dryers, microwaves, and electric kettles. We even have more years of life than previous generations (from 71.13 in 1960 to 80.96 as of 2016).
But as much as we can tell ourselves it matters how much we have, what really matters is how much we think we have.
Perceived scarcity actually has big impacts on how we experience reality. It can make us value something more or inflate its value, take more risks, and make poorer decisions.
When we think something is scarce, we develop tunnel vision on the problem at hand. We focus on the immediate-term – how to fix the shortage ASAP.
This makes sense if we are facing a drought in the savanna, but can be less helpful when we’re rushing home from work to get the kids from the childminder in time, before rushing them through the necessary meals/baths/homework/bedtime routines to get them asleep in time to get optimal sleep for their ages.
And this laser-like focus sounds like it would help us solve the problem, but it actually makes us less likely to do so.
When faced with perceived scarcity, we don’t think as clearly, and definitely don’t think as creatively. Our negativity bias means we don’t notice solutions under our noses, or even when solutions are no longer necessary because the scarcity is over.
All this got me thinking about my own perceived scarcity: time, money, and control.
When I feel there is little control in my life, I tend to assert what control I do have in unhelpful ways, like snapping at my kids, or getting stroppy with people on the train.
When money starts to run low, I frequently adopt a ‘F— it’ mentality and start using my credit card.
When running out of time, I tend to flit between lots of things, shifting gears needlessly as I decide this is the important thing to do with the limited time I have. No that. No, THIS is what I should do… and when the time is up, I find I haven’t completed anything.
This also got me thinking about myself generally. As in, recognising that I don’t think I am enough – good enough, smart enough, etc. And how that feeling of scarcity – a kind of scarcity of virtues – leads to comparing myself to others, competing, striving, and defensiveness.
So if you find yourself facing any scarcity, here are some prompts that might let the feeling of sufficiency.
If you knew that you are enough, just as you are, how would you approach your day today?
[If time is scarce] What are you spending more time doing than is required?
[If control is scarce] Do this spheres of influence exercise.
Draw three concentric circles.
- In the small, inner circle, you can write things that are 100% within your control.
- In the middle circle, what are the things that aren’t entirely in your control, but definitely within your influence?
- And in the outermost circle, what is completely outside of your control?
It may be hard at first to find much that IS in your innermost sphere of influence, but there is often more there than you realise. If you’re interested in this, more on this exercise here.
[If money is scarce] Do this exercise about what you want and what that represents.
- List the things you want to spend money on but can’t afford right now. This could be anything from a new handbag, paying for driving lessons, going on a holiday, or buying a cup of coffee every day on your way into work.
- Next to each thing/experience/service you want, identify what need that represents. For example, I may want to spend money on getting my floors redone because that represents to me a sense of calm, attractive home I crave.
- Brainstorm free or affordable alternatives that meet the need. There are often different ways to meet a need. Sometimes there’s a way to half do it – it’s not quite what you want, but it takes the edge off the need. So if I can’t afford home improvements I want to do, I can still make my space more attractive by airing it on a sunny day and giving it a deep clean. I’m always surprised how just cleaning and tidying my home makes me love it more. Or if you want the new handbag so you feel a pick-me-up and feel more fashionable, maybe a charity shop purchase will do the trick. Or if you can’t get that holiday you want, you might be able to hire a babysitter and get a night out with the girls for a bit of a break.
I’d love to hear from you. When do you feel scarcity in your life? And how do you manage this?