Have you ever fallen prey to the nagging thought that you need to take as much as possible – like you’re going to miss out if you don’t? This can cause us to ask for more, consume more, and something as simple as NEVER leaving food or drink ‘to waste’. This is a simple difference between abundance and scarcity.

It’s not a case of having too much that is making us fat, it’s the mindset to begin with that we don’t, nor will we ever, have enough. In short, it’s about quality versus quantity.

Let’s take a look at this common coffee situation, as an example.

On a recent trip to the US I asked a guy if there was somewhere close by to get a coffee. ‘Yeah, around the corner, but it’ll cost you like 50c extra than normal and it’ll be the smallest coffee you’ve ever seen’ he said. 

As soon I heard those words penetrate the air, I knew it was going to be a coffee that I would like because it will not taste like crap, and it will actually be worth the extra 50c. To me there simply wasn’t a comparison.


I’ll add to that – a week earlier when in Seattle, I ordered a small coffee and the server asked me ‘Do you want the large? It’s the same price but you get loads more!’

My face must have screamed bewilderment. However, I politely declined, choosing to leave out ‘No, because it’s going to be a terrible coffee and I don’t want a greater quantity of it!’

My response was met with total confusion – why does this guy not want more, for free?

An abundance mindset says, ‘I’ll gladly spend 20c or 50c more for a quality cup of coffee, regardless of whether it’s a small serving size.’

The scarcity mindset says, ‘Why spend more, PLUS it’s such a small cup! I want to get as much quantity as I can for my money.’

Can you see the key difference in approach to this situation? Once you can, you’ll see it everywhere: people eating as much as they possibly can at ‘All you can eat’ restaurants. Even at a normal restaurant, how common is the sentence ‘I’m sooo full?’

Just because it’s free or you’ve paid for it, doesn’t mean you should shove as much of it as you can in your face, just to ‘get your money’s worth’ – there will be more meals, more food.

It’s time to stop with the scarcity.

I was walking through the train station a while ago and there were massive bins full of oversized cans of ‘energy’ drink. People were rushing to it and grabbing handfuls. What the...?

Seriously, you don’t need that, nor probably like it, so don’t grab it and shove it in your face just because it’s free!

Stop with the scarcity.

We hoard things, attaching our happiness to them instead of chasing what will truly make us happy in life. 

Being unavoidable products of our parents, and theirs (obviously), we have inherited these leftover hang-ups around a deep-seated fear of lack – of not having enough. As such, we easily display greedy and gluttonous tendencies, constantly seeking more; more money, more food, more things, as if one day there’ll magically be enough and we can be happy and satisfied.  Having turned an observation into a (strong) opinion it’s nice to see actual research is backing up my coffee shop inspiration. Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir have delved into why we are drowning in scarcity with their book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.

Their argument is quite simple: scarcity captures our focus and attention, which provides one narrow benefit: we do a better job of managing pressing needs. But on a larger scale, it costs us: we neglect other concerns, and we become less effective in the rest of life.

They call this capture of our attention a tunnel; leading us into narrow thoughts where our only focus is solving the emergency of the moment, ‘I’m hungry and I’ve spent precious money on this, I must consume it all and get my money’s worth.’ People who are coming from this place spend most of their attention stuck in this ‘tunnel’ of thinking, struggling to get a healthy perspective on life.

This was also backed up by two University of Miami marketing experts, Juliano Laran and Anthony Salerno. They suggest that the news we’re exposed to every day, specifically information about a tough economy, adversity, and everyday struggle in a harsh world, is triggering a live-for-today mindset that makes us short-sighted about how we eat.

They state that due to our evolutionary past, living in a harsh world makes us focus on immediate reproductive success, which makes us fiercely competitive for scarce resources. This sense of scarcity makes us ignore the future and focus on the here and now, including getting in a load of calories, beyond what we need – a function of something that had more practical implications for our distant ancestors.

Scarcity is the wolf in sheep’s clothing; it’s the fear of lack dressed up as the comfort of immediate satisfaction.

To me, this is it. This is the problem – the need to get more, get as much as you can because you might miss out.

No, you won’t. Unless you are in an extreme situation of survival, poverty or lack (which I’ll point out, most of the people who have time and opportunity to be reading pieces like this on the internet are not), you will not starve or go without.

There will be more food, more meals, more to drink, more money, another day to earn, to live and experience life or whatever that ideally looks like to you.

Just give it a chance. Scarcity mindset is making us consume WAY too much. It’s also keeping us impatient, short-sighted, and in my opinion, generally unhappy – stuck on the ‘Mediocre-Man treadmill’.

Coffee in America made this so obvious to me, but of course it plays out many ways. 

Think of two common thoughts many people have to start and end their day: upon waking – ‘I didn’t get enough sleep’ – setting the tone for the day. Followed at the end of the day/before bed – ‘I didn’t get enough done today’ – cementing this in our minds before we rest.

Can you see that these two thoughts, if a common occurrence, are a sign of a scarcity approach to life in general? There will be another day tomorrow to get things done, so relax, enjoy life, sleep well knowing the ‘to do list’ will be there tomorrow, and the next day. It will never go away. The sooner you accept it, the better off you’ll be, the easier you’ll be able to shift your priorities from scarcity to abundance.