Managing Your Mindsets

Mindsets are powerful ways of telling a story about yourself, no matter your age. As a young girl, I struggled with mathematics at school. I felt defeated by the numbers, letters and odd squiggles I didn’t understand and by the end of high school, I had a fully developed mindset that I was devoid of mathematical ability. That mindset was reinforced by teachers and family members who joked I’d better not choose a career that involved math. Agreeing with them, I chose a degree that excluded math subjects, ending thoughts of studying business. My ‘hopeless me at math' story lasted over two decades until I enrolled into a course for adults to learn high school math. I raced through the modules, received good grades and realised that not only could I learn math, I understood it. It felt as though I’d broken a spell that had limited me for years.  

The power of a mindset

A mindset is created by your belief in a set of ideas and attitudes that explain to yourself and to others, who you are.  All mindsets lead to actions that reinforce them, for example, avoiding math study because you think you aren't good at math. Because a mindset comes from the thoughts that you have, your thinking is the critical component in forming and reinforcing a mindset.  

Types of mindsets 

There are two primary ways we see ourselves according to research conducted by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset (2017). Sometimes we use a limitation mindset, which Dweck calls a fixed mindset, and at others we use an extension mindset, called a growth mindset by Dweck. Whichever one you choose will profoundly affect the way your life evolves.   

We all see ourselves as limited somewhere in our abilities or personal qualities. We might believe that we aren’t very smart, don’t have what it takes to be a kind or generous person, or are not worthy of someone’s respect and admiration. These stories we tell ourselves show a limitation mindset at work. Limitation mindsets suggests that what we are born with can’t be changed much or at all, and to get through life, we must accept or adapt to our limitations.  

An extension mindset believes that we can always learn to be better at our job, that practicing being kind to others is achievable, and that developing respect for ourselves is the first step to being worthy of it in others. These stories show that much of what we were born with can be developed and extended further by changing our thoughts about it and rewiring our brain.

Mindsets change your brain

Mindsets actively change the neural pathways in your brain. The more you focus your thinking in any area, the more your brain forms new neural connections to reinforce this thinking, even growing new neurons. Known as ‘cells that fire together wire together’ it describes the process of neuroplasticity – the reality that your brain can continue to learn new things and literally change its wiring based on what you pay attention to. Which is cool if what you mostly pay attention to are rewarding, motivating and loving mindsets, but not so good for your brain or your body if you are constantly wiring in fearful, threat-based, limited mindsets.

The limitation mindset

Our stories of limitation vary according to our experiences, and scarcity is one form of a limitation mindset. If you consistently think about what you don’t have, worry that others have more than you, or believe you don’t deserve to be happy, your focus will be on what you lack. Zander & Zander in The Art of Possibility (2000) write, ‘This attitude prompts us to seek to acquire more for ourselves no matter how much we have and to treat others as competitors no matter how little they have.'  

The more you focus on what you don’t have, the more your brain dredges up memories of deprivation. I think of a scarcity mindset as a strangler fig vine. It twists itself around many healthy and flourishing parts of your life, ultimately reducing these healthy ‘hosts’ to an empty shell. 

Flipping the mindset

While abundance thinking is often sold as the cure for a limitation mindset, it’s surprisingly difficult to do.  The mind doesn’t simply eject one set of beliefs for another without proof the new beliefs are better, and the brain finds abundance thinking hard. The brain views scarcity as a realistic threat to its survival, and it craves the certainty that we have what we need (or think we need) right now.  To hold a thought or belief of ‘abundance’ really means holding a hopeful, but uncertain and unknown future in abeyance. It means trusting that things will work out and turn up when we need them, which is a long stretch for a brain that doesn't like uncertainty!

Rewiring limitation thinking

To rewire limitation thinking means to flip your mindset towards the belief that YOU are all you need at any time.  Scary right!  But as your mindsets are only your own beliefs about yourself, YOU are the only place where mind and brain can work together to action change.  

If no one buys your product, YOU will be okay. If you never get that raise, YOU will be okay, if your friends don’t call, YOU will still be okay.  Sometimes I say that many times a day to settle down my threat-focused brain: “I am okay at this minute... (breathe) …and in this minute…(breathe) and now in this moment I am still okay.” 

Flipping a limitation mindset about yourself means not expecting some other person or situation to be more, or different, to fill a gap that you have a scarcity story about. Instead it's trusting in your own ability to accept this situation at this moment and remind yourself that you are all you need.  You will find a way to get through it, because only you can. 

The extension mindset

An extension mindset rewires your thinking towards the belief that abundance lies within you, not outside of you.  I know, it sounds like a stretch when it would just be easier to expect someone else to provide everything we need to make us happy.  If only it worked that way!  But believing that life is only satisfying when things are different from what they are now, you remain stuck in a repetitive cycle of lack and unfulfillment unless ‘more’ is continually found. If more does not eventuate, then life continues to be unsatisfying, until you stop looking for answers in others and realise you can trust yourself to be enough as you are. 

You are already abundantly creative, abundantly resourceful, abundantly able to deal with whatever life throws at you. This means rewiring your thoughts towards a new belief that YOU are all you need in life, exactly as you are. To change a mindset, you must create a new story with new meaning. What could be more meaningful than realising that you hold the key to everything you see, and have the power to change it by changing how you think about it? 


The Scarcity Mindset Checklist

Downloadable Resources

The Scarcity Mindset Checklist