Scarcity and Abundance Exercise

Tom Thurmond
MDI Contributor

Tom Thurmond, VP of Team Innovation, offers one of his favorite exercises from the MDI Resources Library. The full library of exercises, games and ceremonies can be found HERE.

Scarcity and Abundance Defined

Scarcity – The state of being scarce or in short supply; shortage.

Abundance – An ample quantity: an abundant amount : profusion

Before we get started, here’s a brief overview of 5 ideas we’re going to look at which will help us to move from a Scarcity mindset to one of Abundance.

  1. Abundance is not about money
  2. Focus on what you’re for, rather than on what you’re against
  3. Instead of asking “What can I get from this?” Ask “What can I contribute?”
  4. Create a vision (but don’t get too attached to the goal)
  5. Be the captain of your own ship

1. Abundance is not about money. 

Abundance is not even about what you have, just as scarcity isn’t about what you don’t have. So, what is it about? Thoughts?

Both abundance and scarcity are about how you relate to what you have or don’t have. So it’s not about how much money you have, where you live, how big your house is, whether you have the latest iPhone 36 or whatever, it’s about how you relate to, feel, and talk about what you do have.

This is where the law of attraction has a point. The concept is that what you put out, you get back, or, to put it another way, we reap what we sow. If we’re constantly focusing on what we don’t have, we’re sowing seeds of lack and not enough, and that’s exactly what we’re going to get back. Even when we get the things we think we initially wanted, we still feel unhappy, so we look to the next goal to buoy us up.

This starts a cycle called the “When…then…” mentality. The thoughts we usually have go something like “When I get that job, then I’ll be happy”, or “When I am earning X amount of money, then I’ll feel secure”, or “When I’ve finished this next big project, then I’ll be able to take a break and spend time doing things I really want to do”.

How many of you have had these thoughts? If you don’t put your hand up, you’re lying.

So what’s the problem with this mentality? 


Essentially, the goal we’re chasing is not the thing that is actually going to make us happy.

When we keep thinking in this manner, we give away our potential for happiness, security, satisfaction, or whatever it is we want more of, to our hypothetical future selves and we don’t get to experience it right now. I can tell you, because I’ve had this mindset and lived this pattern out many times…. that I don’t feel happy/secure/satisfied etc. when I reach that goal. Instead, I just look to the next thing that might fill that emotional hole.

That’s just one way that we reap what we sow. Equally, if we’re going out into the world with a negative mindset about where we’re at right now, we’re more likely to attract people who share this mindset. If most of what we talk about is how things are going wrong for us, the problems we’re dealing with, and so on and so forth, we’re more likely to attract people who have a similar mindset and can relate to that, and potentially deter people who are more optimistic, who take responsibility, and take action on the things they want to do.

So abundance is really a mindset. And that’s great news because it means wherever we’re at and whatever we’re dealing with, we don’t need to wait…. until that debt is paid off, or our income goes up, or until we get a new partner to start appreciating what we *do* have and to start enjoying that feeling of peace that comes with accepting where we are right now.

Exercise: Let’s go to your work sheet and jot down the “When I have X… then I’ll be happy” thoughts you’ve had over the last couple of days or last week (or any varation of them), especially making a note of what areas of your life they relate to. I’m going to give you a couple of minutes to do that right now.

Now that you have a few examples of where this thinking crops up for you, I want you to spend another few minutes or so just thinking about how you can start to generate more of that feeling you want—whether it’s happiness, satisfaction, etc.—in your life right now. It might be that there are certain things you have today that you’re overlooking because you’re focusing on tomorrow, or it might be that you don’t need to meet those goals in order to get those feelings you want to feel—they are accessible to you regardless of whether you achieve or attain that thing or now.

(This is an exercise I’d encourage you to build on in your own time. For the sake of time, I’m going to move onto the next few steps.) 

How do we move away from this feeling of scarcity? What should we focus on? 

2. Focus on what you’re for, rather than what you’re against. 

When people talk about an abundance vs. scarcity mindset, they often encourage others to focus on what they have rather than what they don’t have. So, just start to focus on what you’re for rather than what you’re against. This is subtly different from focusing on what we have rather than what we don’t have, as it encourages us to approach our thoughts about the future from an optimistic place, rather than just looking at what we have in the present.

Take a few minutes and jot those down right now. What are you for? Happiness? Financial independence? Early retirement? Seeing the world? Finding true love? All good things to be for.

If we constantly do things because we’re motivated by wanting to avoid pain, we’re always going to be focusing on the pain in our lives. If, however, we start to do things because we know those things will bring us pleasure and enhance our lives in some way, we’re coming at those activities from a place of having enough already and we’re far more likely to enjoy the process of doing those things as a result.

Exercise is a great example. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve exercised because I feel like I’m not enough; not skinny enough, not fit enough, etc. etc. it never works. I might start out with great intentions, but after a while I’ll end up resenting the process, feeling frustrated that I’m not making as much progress as quickly as I might like and therefore and still feeling “not enough” despite all the effort and energy I’ve put into it, and eventually I’ll give up.

If I focus on how I want to feel, however (so, in other words, if I exercise out of a motivation to move towards pleasure, rather than out of a motivation to move away from pain), I’m going to find it a lot easier to continue—despite any obstacles that might come up.

Exercise: Where in your life are you focusing on what you’re against? And what would it look like to shift that focus towards what you’re for instead? What would you do differently? What might shift in how you feel?

Take a moment and write those thoughts down. 

3. Instead of asking “What can I get from this?” Ask “What can I contribute?”

This shift is probably the idea that can have the single biggest impact on how you relate to your life, especially during times when things aren’t quite going the way you want them or expected them to and when you notice thoughts around “not enough” creeping in about yourself, your work, and the rest of your life.

It’s so counter-intuitive in fact. If we’re feeling like we don’t have enough, why would we focus on what we can contribute? Surely we’d be on the lookout to get what we’re needing, right?

(Well that’s certainly the default position we go to, and it’s a very natural, very human position.  Studies of the human brain have shown that when we experience rejection, it lights up the same parts of our brain as feeling physical pain. So, thinking back to the last point we talked about, if we’re in a scarcity mindset and feeling rejected by or alienated from other people as a result, we’re going to be focused on moving away from pain rather than moving towards pleasure, hence asking “What can I get from this?” rather than, “What can I contribute?”)

In reality, we get value from giving value. That’s the way our world works, in business, in relationships, and in most, if not all, areas of life.  Our friends are our friends because they get value from our presence just as we get value from theirs. We earn money at a specific company or through performing specific services or tasks because those roles, services, or tasks are valuable to someone else.

Although focusing on what we can get from a certain situation is very natural, it’s unlikely to get us anywhere as when we’re in this mindset, we’re focused on taking rather than giving.

Exercise: So now, think of a situation recently where you notice you went in focusing on what you could get from the situation. Take a few seconds to write it down and write a little about the circumstances. Now, write a few sentences about what you would have done differently if you had focused on what you could contribute instead.

How does that scenario feel to you? I know that when I’ve done this exercise myself in the past, I always notice that the latter scenario feels like a relief, it feels lighter, easier, and far more aligned with how I want to show up in the world. This is another exercise you can build on later, and you can use this switch-around whenever you notice that you’re putting your energy and focus into what you can get from a certain situation.

4. Create a vision (but don’t get too attached to the goal).

I used to set goals and get really attached to meeting them, then start focusing on the fact that I wasn’t there yet, how far I was from the goal, and so on, rather than enjoying the process of reaching the goal and being able to look at how far I had come.

So, we want to focus on what we’re for, and this includes creating a future vision for ourselves and creating goals or milestones we’d like to reach. When creating those goals, however, it’s really important to start by focusing on how we want to feel and then creating goals out of those desired feelings (if you’re interested in exploring this process in more depth, check out the book The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte). We all know that doing things because we want to impress other people is not a good plan, so focusing on how we want to feel, then pursuing the activities that will generate those feelings for us is a much healthier alternative to this.

When we approach goals in this way, the goal itself doesn’t really matter—it’s the process that really counts.

When we get attached to the goal, our happiness becomes dictated by whether we’ve met said goal or not. In other words, we make that goal way more powerful than it actually is, and the goal starts controlling us, rather than the other way around. In reality, we can shift goals as and when we need to. I don’t know about you, but I’ve started working towards goals in the past and found that new opportunities have come up as a result of my progress towards that goal, or that I get part of the way there and realise that actually the thing I thought was the goal in the first place isn’t really what I want to be doing. Being focused on the process rather than the goal, and keeping in mind that ultimate end goal of how you want to feel, rather than what you want to attain or achieve, allows you to flexible. You’re not approaching the goal from a place of not having enough, you’re then approaching it from a place of wanting life to be awesome :)

Exercise: So now, put thoughts about all the goals you currently have in your life to one side and instead write down three to five words that describe how you want to feel. Try to be as specific as possible, so instead of writing something like “happy”, try to dig a little deeper and identify what “happy” means to you. Do you mean fulfilled, joyous, inspired, excited, or something else?

Then, spend some time thinking about which goals, when you start working towards them, would leave you feeling that way. This will set you up to focus on your goals from a place of abundance and seeking pleasure, rather than from a place of not having enough or being enough.

5. You are the captain of your own ship.

The final idea is one that underpins everything we’ve talked about so far, and that is the idea of self-responsibility. When we’re operating from a scarcity mindset, we tend to focus on placing blame; we want to hold someone accountable for where we are and how we feel right now, and that’s where a lot of our energy goes. This might be someone else; we might blame our parents, our boss, our partners, or anyone else in our lives, for things that have happened to us or the things we’re struggling with right now. Have you ever thought, “I’d love to do XYZ, but my mother/father/sister/brother/husband/wife/friend doesn’t support me.” ?

Or we blame ourselves and we say things like “I’d love to do XYZ, but I’m just not confident/young/skilled” enough. To be blunt, when we say those things, we’re making excuses. Blame is not productive, and it moves us in the opposite direction to experiencing and living abundance.

Wherever you are in life and however you feel about it, it might not be your fault that you are where you are right now—it could totally be due to someone else’s decisions or actions—but the important thing to remember is that you have responsibility for what happens next.

No one else has control over ourselves, and giving other people this control, either by blaming someone else for the fact that we’re not feeling fulfilled, or by waiting for someone to rescue us, is a sure-fire way to slip into the scarcity mindset. Where are you giving away your power?

Exercise: A question I’d like you to consider is: Where can I take responsibility for my life? Where am I giving someone else power over my life, either by blaming them for the way things are now, or by waiting for them to rescue me? What would I do differently if I were start acting more like the captain of my ship?

These are not easy questions to answer, but they are an absolute must if we want to shift from scarcity-based thinking and live with the knowledge that this is our life and we absolutely have the power to make decisions that lead to greater abundance, satisfaction and fulfilment.

So to recap, remember these points.

  1. Abundance is not about money
  2. Focus on what you’re for, rather than on what you’re against
  3. Instead of asking “What can I get from this?” Ask “What can I contribute?”
  4. Create a vision (but don’t get too attached to the goal)
  5. Be the captain of your own ship

Refer to your notes, and add to them as you feel the need. We’ll revisit this another time and see what kind of shifts have occurred.

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