A Technique for Shifting from a Scarcity Mindset to an Abundance Mindset

Most people who are stuck in a scarcity mindset are stuck because they have no practice thinking in abundance terms. This post describes a technique for practicing your abundance mindset.

I define a mindset as the way that I interpret a given set of facts. The classic example is seeing 4 ounces of water in an 8-ounce glass—the facts are the ounces of water, but do I interpret those facts as the glass being “half-full” or “half-empty”?

One of the most common themes I’ve encountered in my emotions & finance conversations is the notion of the scarcity mindset. A person with a scarcity mindset tends to view money, opportunities and resources as limited, and whatever the person can scrounge together won’t “be enough.” The underlying emotion is fear.

A person with a scarcity mindset often wants to move to an abundance mindset: the idea that there are plenty of opportunities, chances and resources out there, and we just have to go get them.

How do we do that? 

Competing Interpretations of the Facts

Since I’m a lawyer, I’m going to present this technique through a legal analogy.

In the legal system, lawyers and judges attempt to determine the truth of a situation by examining competing interpretations of a set of facts. In many cases, the facts themselves are not in great dispute (a dead body was found) but what the facts mean is in dispute (was this person murdered or did they die of natural causes). The prosecution and defense present alternative explanations of the same fact pattern in an adversarial format. The judge then decides which of the interpretations/narratives of the fact pattern makes more sense.

I’ve observed that people who feel locked into a scarcity mindset never consider alternative explanations of the same set of facts. It’s like having a trial, with you being the judge, and only allowing one lawyer (let’s say the prosecution who is trying to prove guilt) to present their case. In a legal setting, that would be ludicrous—what kind of judge only lets one side speak?

Letting the Defense Present Their Case

In this analogy, let’s call your scarcity mindset the prosecution and let’s call your abundance mindset the defense. The prosecution is trying to prove that a given situation is bad, and the defense is trying to prove that the situation isn’t bad.

If you feel like you are trapped in a scarcity mindset, you probably don’t let the defense present their case, or if they do present it, you don’t take time to listen to what they are saying. One way to get around this is to do a bit of roleplaying.

If you find it hard to ascribe a more positive interpretation of a fact pattern in your life, then you can pretend to be someone else. Ask yourself one of these questions:

·         How would a “glass-half-full” person see this situation?

·         If I was a person with an abundance mindset, even though I’m not, what might my narrative be?

·         If I hired a defense lawyer to provide a positive interpretation of this set of facts, what kind of argument might they come up with?

Pretending to be someone else—while acknowledging the present beliefs we hold about ourselves—is a little trick that often frees our minds from our default thinking patterns. When I was first getting over social anxiety, I would sometimes ask myself, “if I was a person that didn’t feel social anxiety, how would I act?” Then I’d pretend to be that person— “I’m going to pretend that I’m a person that doesn’t have social anxiety, even though I know I’m not that person, and see what happens.” And lo and behold, social interactions felt much easier.

Incidentally, this concept of having a structure that allows two competing viewpoints of a situation is common in the professional world. In cybersecurity, members of an organization divide themselves into a red team and a blue team, with the red team attempting to hack into the company’s systems and the blue team attempting to defend. When I was a portfolio manager, some of my colleagues would have the role of criticizing my trade idea (even if they personally agreed with the investment thesis).

The Judge Doesn’t Have a Pre-Determined Conclusion

Mindsets and beliefs evolve over time. It’s very rare that a person wakes up one day, decides to change a belief they have, and it just instantly, automatically changes.

If you currently have a scarcity mindset, you can’t push a button and have that mindset magically go away. It’s part of who you are at this current moment. That’s why you as the judge can’t have a pre-determined conclusion of accepting the abundance mindset lawyer’s interpretation of the facts—deep down, your mind just won’t believe it.

Instead, what we want to do is start giving your mind some practice in generating, and considering (not necessarily accepting!) more abundant interpretations of the everyday fact patterns in our lives. Whatever we practice, we get better at. Every time you tell yourself a positive story, you create and reinforce neural pathways relating to abundance and opportunity.

Furthermore, I believe that it’s important to acknowledge and integrate our “negative” emotions, like fear. There are times to listen to fear. If we want to be fair to the abundance mindset lawyer, we also need to be fair to the scarcity mindset lawyer. There are situations where the scarcity mindset might be the better interpretation of the facts! For example, if you work in an industry that is clearly shrinking (e.g. commercial office real estate) and you adopt a view that if you “think enough positive thoughts” things will be fine, you aren’t an optimist, you’re delusional.

Last point—you may find this technique tiring. Creating and training these new neural pathways is exhausting. But much like exercise, it becomes easier with time and eventually you get used to it.


This exercise is best done by yourself during a quiet time.

1)      Visualization

Visualize yourself as a judge. Imagine how you look, where you are seated, the courtroom, etc. Imagining yourself as the judge, rather than one of the lawyers, reminds you that you are separate from your mindsets.

Now visualize the prosecution (presenting the scarcity viewpoint) and the defense lawyer (presenting the abundance viewpoint). What do they look like? What are their names? They might be versions of you.

You will return to this imagery at a later point.

2)      Noticing

As you go through your day, notice a time when you find yourself locked into a scarcity mindset. The words may sound something like “this will never work,” “I’ll never have enough money for X,” etc.

For now, just notice it and write down the narrative in your journal.

3)      Inquiry

Set aside time to return to the scarcity narrative you wrote down. Imagine the courtroom, with yourself as the judge, and the prosecution and defense.

Allow the prosecution to present their case (refer to your journal).

Now, let the defense offer their interpretation of the facts. If the lawyer was a person with an abundance mindset, what arguments would they present?

Record the abundance arguments in your journal.

4)      Judgement

As the judge, render a judgement. Which interpretation of the facts do you find more compelling? It’s okay if you decide in favor of the prosecution!

Notice how you feel when you deliver the sentence. Are you angry that you sided with the prosecution, as you always do? Did you concur with the defense, but deep down you know you don't believe their argument? Whatever it is, just notice it and accept it.

The goal is only to give the defense lawyer some practice. Repeat this exercise from time to time until the defense starts to win some trials.

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