Scarcity Mindset

Common concerns raised amongst healthcare professionals include the number of people already working in the same or similar space, limited opportunities, and an insufficient amount of resources, time, and/or expertise to further contribute to the field.  These concerns are typical of what is referred to as a scarcity mindset.  This tends to be a limiting mindset that makes growth difficult to visualize and can lead to unintentional self-constraints on potential. 

The other end of the spectrum is an abundance mindset in which opportunities are perceived to be limitless and resources, time, and expertise can be continually developed and enhanced.  The scarcity mindset imposes challenges in the pursuit of health, wellbeing, and, in particular, sustainable high performance.  For this reason, the abundance mindset is more in alignment with The Practices of the Healthcare Athlete.

The scarcity mindset is defined as a persistent feeling and outlook that there is a fixed amount of the commodity is being considered, such as time, expertise, funding, and, ultimately, the number of available opportunities.  In essence, there is a finite amount of whatever is being considered and if there are already individuals present in that space, there is less available for others.  This is a mental model that leads the individual to either incorrectly perceive there are limited resources and opportunities or to overestimate those limitations.  It is important to emphasize that this mindset is not a reflection of true scarcity that affects many people. 

Manifestations of a scarcity mindset commonly include feelings one is not keeping up to date with objectives and goals; is continuously falling further behind their timelines; is working uphill and not keeping current with important commitments; having difficulty saying no to offers and/or opportunities; feeling as though the presence of others working in the space limits available opportunities; and a tendency to commit to more than one can accomplish.  These manifestations can negatively impact daily function and limit potential.

The pervasive concerns that result from this mindset can lead to consumption of cognitive and physiologic resources in the brain.  Since the available resources in our brain is truly limited, any increased consumption related to concerns over scarcity of resources will lead to a reduction in available resources for thinking, decision making, and memory formation, amongst other brain functions.  The overall impact is less efficient and ideal functioning of the prefrontal cortex.

There is overlap between the scarcity mindset and the fixed mindset that Carol Dweck, PhD described in the context of the growth mindset.  Dweck described a fixed mindset as that being associated with the mental model that traits, such as skill development and intelligence, cannot be improved over time and are static, or fixed, in nature.  In contrast, the growth mindset was associated with the framework that these same traits could be improved over time with practice.  In many respects, the scarcity mindset is the resource equivalent of the fixed mindset and the abundance mindset is the equivalent to the growth mindset.

An abundance mindset is the paradigm that there are no limits on opportunities and resources will become available in time.  The growth and abundance mindset allow our brain to maintain a more expansive perspective leading to improved performance and development of skills and traits.  This is the perspective that no matter how many others may be working in the space, there will be sufficient opportunity to develop our own niche, our skills can and will improve over time and there will be an adequate amount of available resources.

While it may be evident that an abundance, or growth mindset, is preferred, it is not necessarily easy to cultivate.  This requires deliberate practice of the traits of the abundance and growth mindset.  This includes a mindfulness practice, identification of which resources are abundant in the present moment, setting achievable goals that lead to accomplishment of larger goals, and an acceptance of the current situation concurrent with an understanding that improvement is always possible.

The polyvagal perspective provides additional considerations regarding the paradigm of growth/fixed and scarcity/abundance mindsets.  In the fixed/scarcity framework, there is the potential for cues of threat to result from an inability to accomplish tasks or perceived lack of available resources and/or opportunities.  This may lead to a mobilized sympathetic state and, if prolonged or severe, a dorsal vagal state. 

Another consideration is that since one tends to have a growth predominant mindset under certain circumstances and a fixed predominant mindset under different circumstances, is it possible that our physiological state, based upon the degree of safety for our nervous system in the situation, may be the determining factor regarding which mindset predominates?  If this were the case, then recognition of our mindset may be a factor in identifying our physiological state and perhaps training our mindset could then also be used to influence our physiological states.  This realization could change the understanding of whether or not our mindset or physiological state is the primary determinant and perhaps the polyvagal lens better explains how our mindset can change at different times as well as how best to orient our mindset towards our goals and objectives.

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