How to cultivate an abundance mindset

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

Last week, I wrote about the scarcity mindset: a zero-sum way of seeing the world that makes it hard to find joy. Scarcity mindset teaches us that there’s a limited amount of good stuff in the world, and everything we want in life must come at a cost to someone else. It elevates competition over collaboration, hoarding over sharing.

The scarcity mindset claims to be “the way things are” — a true reflection of the constraints that exist in the world. But look a little deeper, and we find that scarcity is more often imposed than natural. It’s pervasive form of conditioning that trains us to see the world through a lens of insufficiency.

But we don’t have to live this way. We can choose instead to view the world with an abundance mindset: the view that life is not a zero-sum game, that our every joy does not have to come from another’s loss, that there is more than enough to go around.

It’s one thing to say this, though, and another to actually believe it. Unlearning a scarcity mindset doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been working at it for years, and I’m still working on it. Because it’s such an entrenched way of thinking in our society, scarcity often sneaks into daily interactions. So I thought it might help to share a few ways of cultivating an abundance mindset: simple mindset shifts and practices that can help you reframe your thinking.

Practice gratitude (the right kind)

One of the things that keeps us stuck in a scarcity mindset is that it’s so easy to think about what we don’t have, and so hard to remember all that we do. Gratitude helps tip the scales back in the other direction, focusing your attention on the abundance that already exists in your life.

As you practice gratitude for the things in your life, the joy you find in those things increases. This builds a foundation for an abundance mindset, because it lets you come from a place of already having abundance, as opposed to coming from a place of lack and insufficiency.

One note of caution here: practicing gratitude doesn’t mean you have to pretend that everything is perfect in your life, or that you can’t acknowledge that there are parts of your life you want to change. This toxic gratitude often comes in a shaming voice that sounds like:

“Unhappy in your job? Be grateful you have a job!”

“Angry at your parents for violating your boundaries? You should be grateful that they care so much about you.”

“Feeling like you need to get out of a bad relationship? Be grateful you have such a great father for your kids!”

This “gratitude” doesn’t cultivate abundance. It’s actually the scarcity mindset in disguise, telling you that there isn’t enough to go around, so you should feel lucky that you have anything at all. When you’re practicing gratitude, it’s ok to acknowledge that life isn’t perfect. And it’s ok to recognize that you have things others might be grateful for, but aren’t right for you. These admissions only clarify and deepen the genuine gratitude you have for the things you truly love in your life.

There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from journaling to writing letters of thanks to people who have helped you in the past. One of my favorites is to do it aloud, with your partner or a friend. Albert often asks me, “What are three things you’re grateful for this weekend?” and we take turns sharing. This simple question is a low-pressure way to make gratitude a regular part of your routine.

Give, even in small ways

Giving is a practice of abundance. It tells your mind, “I have enough to spare that I can give this to someone else.” Whether you’re giving a generous tip or donating to a cause you care about or bringing cookies to a neighbor, giving helps override the scarcity mindset’s inclination to hoard the good things in life.

For many people with an entrenched scarcity mindset, generosity can feel like a virtue that’s hard to access. You may wonder why it seems so easy for others to be generous and why you struggle so much with it. The reason could be that at some point in your life, you didn’t get enough of what you needed (food, attention, or even love), and the impulse to hoard is an attempt to fill this hole. If this sounds familiar, small, frequent gifts can be a way to remind this part of your unconscious that you’re an adult, that you can take care of yourself, and you don’t have to worry about not having enough.

To find ways to give that feel meaningful, take note of when others’ generosity toward you has really mattered. For example, I was blown away by some of the baby gifts we received during the pandemic, from people who were not especially close to us. It made me feel so loved in such a hard time. Sending baby gifts now feels like a chance to channel that love and share it with others.

Pursue wealth, not status

If there’s one idea I could share with you that will do more than anything else to shift your mindset from scarcity to abundance, it’s this: pursue wealth, not status. Though wealth and status often get mixed up together, it’s clarifying to pull them apart. Wealth is having enough resources (money, health, connections, etc.) to live the life you want to live. Status reflects your place in the social hierarchy. (Credit to Naval Ravikant for this distinction.)

Status is conferred by awards and accolades, membership in exclusive clubs, endorsements by powerful people, or approval by the masses. People play status games to gain power and influence within systems of scarcity. Harvard admissions is a status game. The bestseller list is a status game. Titles within corporations are status games. Celebrity is obviously a total status game. Status games are incredibly addicting because we have been conditioned to associate status with worth. Status feels like a shiny gold star of approval.

But status is inherently a scarcity game. There is no such thing as status without a hierarchy. So to have status means that others need to have less status. They need to be less influential, less powerful. And herein lies the rub: status is never secure. Anytime you have status, you are at risk of losing it. Publish a bestselling debut book and your second book is a flop? You’ve lost status. Marry the most eligible bachelor who later turns out to gamble away all your money? You’ve lost status. Not to mention that even when you have status, there will always be someone else with a higher status. Status is incredibly fickle.

Wealth, on the other hand, doesn’t depend on anyone else’s approval. Your definition of wealth might look different from others. You might feel you need millions to be wealthy. You might feel wealthy if you have enough to control my time and the things you get to work on. Another person’s definition of wealth might be about living in a small cabin in the woods and fishing all day — not having much in the way of material goods, but access to the wealth of nature.

Wealth is a state of true abundance because it doesn’t require someone else to be less wealthy in order for you to have it. (Again, I have to put the billionaire caveat in — unless your definition of wealth is so extreme that you make it impossible for most people to achieve it for themselves. But this is not most people’s desire.) There aren’t a fixed number of spots. There’s no “best.”

As someone who was raised to chase awards and praise and see official approval as a sign of success, I’ve found this shift to be a profound one. It has relieved a ton of pressure, and allowed me to focus on doing work that really matters to me rather than what’s seen as most prestigious. It allows me to be truly happy when others succeed in their careers, because I truly don’t feel like I’m in competition with them. I don’t feel like we’re playing some win-lose game; we’re each playing our own games.

It’s not to say that status will never enter the conversation. You may still want to win an award or be recognized by a certain powerful someone. But it becomes a means to an end, rather than a goal in itself. So for example, you might want to be published in the New York Times. If you’re imagining how good it will feel to put “published in the New York Times” on your website and tell people about it, that’s a status motivation, and not achieving the goal feels like failure. But if you’re thinking about getting published as a way to build your business, which will help you retire early so you can spend more time with your grandkids, that’s a wealth motivation. The benefit of a wealth orientation is that there are always multiple ways to go about reaching the goal. If you don’t get published in the Times, you can get published somewhere else, or you can pitch podcasts to do interviews, or you can set up partnerships, or run ads. There are many paths to success.

To practice shifting from status to wealth orientation, it can help to define what success looks like for you without using any external markers. What would you have? How would it feel? How would you spend your time? By focusing on what success feels like in your life, as opposed to how it looks from the outside, you give yourself permission to stop playing scarcity-based status games.

Savor

When you experience something that brings you joy, this can be a perfect time to practice cultivating an abundance mindset by savoring it. When you savor, you take a fleeting experience and extend it. You intensify the pleasure you feel and etch it deeply into your memory. In research, savoring has been shown to increase both momentary joy and overall happiness and well-being.

With the holidays coming up, savoring can help you stay present amid the whirlwind of activities and make space for joy even when things are stressful. Savoring is such a valuable tool for increasing joy that I’m teaching a free class on it this week! It’s just half an hour long, but you’ll learn a powerful set of techniques for maximizing the joy you find in both everyday and special events. Get the details and sign up here.

If you’re new to savoring, a great place to start is by focusing on the sensorial qualities of an experience. Notice the textures, colors, sounds, and scents, and let yourself become aware of how these different sensations contribute to the joy you feel.

Stop using scarcity as an excuse

What happens when you get asked to do something you really don’t want to do? Do you respond, “Oh I’m so sorry, but I can’t do that right now. I’m soooooo busy.” If so, you’ve just used scarcity as an excuse.

Scarcity excuses make you feel like you’re setting boundaries (”I said no!”) but are actually an appeal to external constraints to avoid setting boundaries. By saying “I can’t do this,” instead of “I don’t want to do this” or “This isn’t a priority for me,” you give up your agency over your time and simultaneously reinforce your sense of time scarcity. (If you’re always telling yourself “I’m too busy,” when it comes time to rest, you’ll find it’s very hard to do because your unconscious mind has bought into the idea that you are in fact, too busy to relax.)

Yes, it’s easier to claim you don’t have time to do something. But by making intentional choices and honestly stating your priorities, you reclaim your ownership over your time, and it begins to feel a lot more abundant.

Say no, abundantly

As we enter the season of abundance, with holiday tables piled high with treats, I come back to some words of wisdom from author Sarah Copeland on how to enjoy without going overboard. When presented with an array of delicious foods, Sarah reminds herself, “This is all here for me. But I don’t have to have all of it right now. And I don’t have to have it all in this moment, I don’t have to eat it all today. And maybe there are certain weeks or months or years when I don’t need any of it, but it’s there for me to have again if I want it.”

When we say no to ourselves, so often it comes from a place of deprivation. “I can’t have that,” we might say. Or “I shouldn’t have that.” These denials turn abundance into scarcity, by making us feel limited and constrained. What I love about Sarah’s approach is that it reframes the choice to say in terms of abundance. If we know that abundance is available to us in the future, we can say no now without feeling deprived.

I’d love to know: How do you cultivate an abundance mindset?

To help you find more joy in this season of abundance, I’m offering a fun, free mini-workshop. On Thursday, November 10th, join me for the Art of Savoring. In this 30-minute live class, I’ll share evidence-based strategies for expanding the present moment and maximizing the joy of the season.

November 5th, 2022

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    Discussion (3 Comments)

  1. Bee Denham on November 6, 2022

    I love this way of thinking about abundance. I do practice gratitude and appreciation, particularly because my children are now teenagers and time is flying so fast! I appreciate having them at home and part of our lives for the present, knowing the time will soon arrive when they are off on their own adventures. 
    I haven’t previously thought so much about savouring but absolutely love the idea and will add this to my appreciation practice. 

    Great post, thank you. 

    Reply
  2. Natalie Corneau on November 9, 2022

    Great ideas!! 
    I’ve believed the scarcity lie for so long now. I work on my abundance mindset every day. I end my morning journal with 5 positive affirmations of things I want more of in my life. Ex; 1. I have financial abundance. I have more than enough. I have all that I need. Money flows to me. I am safe. 
    Then I state 5 things I am grateful for. You are so on point, sometimes that gratitude feels like guilt. Now I will be more aware of that scarcity mindset. 
    Lastly, I give myself an intention for the day. 
    I think your posts are brilliant. I love reading all you have to say about Joy. I am grateful for your emails. Thank you!! 
    Natalie
    Next Beginnings

    Reply
  3. Olivia on November 22, 2022

    I always love reading these emails and I have really enjoyed this one. the gratitude thing; saying I understand others might be grateful for what I have, but it is not right for me; that is a game changer right there

    Reply

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