What Is Scarcity Mentality?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 25, 2024
3 min read

Have you ever tried to complete a task but been constantly interrupted? The distractions aren’t from the outside, like noisy kids or a demanding boss, in your own mind. It’s something you need and can’t stop thinking about. For example, you’re on a diet, and all you can think about is the food you can’t eat anymore.

A scarcity mindset is when you are so obsessed with a lack of something — usually time or money — that you can’t seem to focus on anything else, no matter how hard you try.

Scarcity mentality isn’t something you do on purpose. It’s the background noise your brain makes when you can’t get what you want. But it’ll cost you.

Focusing on something you don’t have can take a toll on your mental health. You can get “tunnel vision” when all you think about is the unmet need.

Scarcity mentality also has other impacts on your brain and can even cause it to work differently.

It lowers your intelligence quotient (IQ). Having a scarcity mentality can lower your IQ by as many as 14 points. It might not seem like much, but it’s enough to move your score from average to outstanding and vice versa. If you have an average IQ, losing 13 or 14 points can make it fall into the deficient category.

It limits your brain function. Scarcity mentality affects your ability to solve problems, hold information, and reason logically. It also affects your brain’s decision-making process. A scarcity mindset limits your ability to plan, focus, and start a project or task. Your brain is too busy thinking about something you don’t have.

It makes impulse control harder. ‌The decision-making part of your brain also controls impulses. When tunnel vision reduces your brain function, you’re more likely to give in to impulses you usually wouldn’t.

When we spend our energy obsessing over one thing, other areas of the brain start to lapse.

The opposite of scarcity is abundance. Abundance mentality means there is plenty for everyone.

Scarcity mentality isn’t a personality trait. It’s brought on by things around you.

Try these tips to shift from a scarcity mentality to one of abundance.

Focus on what you have. Scarcity often scares people from making career changes because they think there aren’t enough opportunities. Think about the positives you have, and let that move you forward.

Surround yourself with positive people. The people around you will influence you. Spending time with positive-minded people will soon have you thinking the same way. 

Practice gratitude. Gratitude has been shown to improve mental health and well-being. Create a gratitude journal and write down five things you’re grateful for every day.

Recognize the possibilities. Focusing on one thing can train your brain to let other things go unnoticed. Rewire your mind to look for possibilities and solutions instead of letting the problem get you down.

The tunnel vision caused by a scarcity mindset means other important things fall by the wayside. Start escaping that tunnel by organizing your time or automating tasks that might help you build an abundant future.

  • Finances. Automate bill payments, and write them on a calendar to keep track. Sign up for a 401(k) plan with your employer, if it’s available, so you can save money without thinking about it.
  • Work and rest. Schedule time to step away from your desk and stretch your legs. Get enough sleep at night to help improve work performance and fend off a time-scarcity mentality.
  • Exercise. Start exercising with a friend, or make appointments with a personal trainer. It makes you more likely to stick to a healthy lifestyle, which can relieve stress.
  • Food. Make one grocery trip each week, plan meals, and stock up on healthy foods. Because a scarcity mindset hinders impulse control, planning can help you avoid diet pitfalls.
  • Family time. Ensure weekly family time by signing up for an activity or outing you can all do together.
  • Self. Free up some time for yourself every week to relax and refocus your energy, even if it’s just a few hours. Managing your time better can help you avoid the feeling of going nonstop.