When I started my first business, I had about a hundred bucks in my bank account and three grand in credit card debt. I was 23, two years out of college, and for the prior two years, I’d been working with a startup that paid $45,000 a year. Money was always tight, so most of my thoughts at the time were centered around how to make more of it.
So when I decided to go out on my own and start a marketing agency, I didn’t have much of a nest egg. Things were tight over the years that followed. And while I wasn’t broke, I flirted with broke-ness more than my fair share of times.
It took me years to learn the mindset and skills that would ultimately lead me to a more stable lifestyle rooted in abundance. Today, looking back on those lessons and the “mistakes”‘ (although there are none) they originated from, I can tell that exhibited a pattern in those early years.
It was the same pattern that I’ve seen friends go through when they struggle with abundance —whether financial or otherwise; I call it a “scarcity loop.”
As the name implies, a scarcity loop is a system of behavior that reinforces the presence (and impact) of scarcity in the life of the person experiencing the loop. It typically follows these steps:
- Step 1: A thought occurs that results in a sense of lack, or scarcity
- Step 2 (a few seconds later): The sense of lack, or scarcity, triggers an emotional response of fear
- Step 3 (over the following few minutes): The fear inherently places the nervous system in fight or flight (or “sympathetic”) mode. Cortisol (the stress hormone) increases, anxiety sets in, and we begin imagining worst-case scenarios.
- Step 4 (over the following few hours): Whether consciously or subconsciously, these worst-case scenarios become bad enough to threaten our health, life, or livelihood, resulting in a deeper sense of lack. We then return to Step 2 and the cycle repeats.
Once a scarcity loop begins, it’s very difficult to escape. I remember trying guided meditations, yoga, affirmations, visualization, and bodywork to get “back” to an abundance mindset. And it worked, too—or so I thought.
Looking back now, I can see that the yoga and meditation and everything else were just placating my conscious mind to the point that I was no longer thinking about how little money I had. Don’t get me wrong—I was still pretty much broke. I’d just convinced myself that it wasn’t as bad as it actually was. My subconscious mind, on the other hand, was still in Scarcity Land.
So this state of delusion gave me short-term relief from my scarcity loop, which felt good. But since my subconscious was still in Scarcity Land, I began to exhibit behaviors that sabotaged my financial situation even further. This gave rise to an even bigger scarcity’ “meta-loop” that unfolded a bit like this:
- Step 1: Find some way to end the scarcity loop through meditation, yoga, breathwork, etc.
- Step 2: Begin to remind yourself that you actually DO have everything you need
- Step 3: Continue reminding yourself of this until you don’t remember why you had the scarcity loop in the first place. Begin to embrace an abundance mindset
- Step 4 (here’s the clincher): Embrace the abundance mindset to such an extent that you begin behaving as if you don’t actually have money problems. Treat yourself to something nice.
- (Around 3-4 weeks later) Step 5: Your credit card bill arrives. New scarcity loop begins.
I can’t tell you how many times this meta-loop happened. I definitely made some dumb financial decisions, both before and after I started my business, and they were always in a period of delusion around my finances.
Why am I telling you all of this? Surely my story isn’t nearly as full of scarcity and suffering as many others, and although you may have encountered money problems in the past, maybe you’re pretty well-off now. I don’t know. But what I do know is that these scarcity loops don’t just happen with money. They happen with everything.
They happen when a guy is depressed and can’t get a date.
They happen when a girl can’t lose enough weight.
They happen when a husband becomes estranged from his wife. Or when a patient receives a bad diagnosis. Or when a student isn’t picked for a sports team or a play. It leads to debilitating anxiety and depression, and if left unchecked, suicidal thoughts. And it’s this pattern, in one form or another, that is behind the mental health crisis in our country.
It’s the chronic, insidious, recurring feeling of not enough.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that there are two solutions. The first is to interrupt the meta-loop by cultivating abundance instead of scarcity.
In my case, this would have meant saving my money instead of treating myself to something nice in Step 4.
For others, it could be walking a date to his or her door instead of inviting themselves upstairs. Or putting in a few more hours of study time instead of going to the party.
This is where discipline comes in.
This “first” solution is done purely on your own, and it can be difficult. But, done with intention, it not only puts a stop to the meta-loop, but also reduces the intensity of the scarcity loop.
So every time you fall back into one, those meditations, that yoga, or whatever you do to get your head right will begin to sink deeper and deeper into your subconscious, eventually changing your core beliefs around money from scarcity to abundance.
And when that happens, all of those behavior changes you made to interrupt Step 4 not only become easy, but also increase your awareness of signs from the Universe on where you can find more abundance. Then you enter an abundance loop—and those you don’t want to escape from.
That’s the first solution – the lone ranger approach.
The second solution is a partnership approach.
It’s where you find a friend who is experiencing a manifestation of scarcity that is different from your own. For example, if you’re experiencing relationship scarcity (i.e. can’t get a girlfriend or boyfriend) and your friend is experiencing time scarcity (i.e. always busy, always exhausted), then you can help add time abundance to your friend’s life (i.e. by showing them your own calendar system and holding them accountable) and your friend can help add relationship abundance to your life (i.e. through playing a wingman, giving tips on flirting, etc.).
The idea here is pretty simple: you both give from an area of your life in which you’re currently abundant and receive into an area which is scarce. You can call yourselves abundance buddies.
I did this (unknowingly at the time) with my wife. She was my abundance buddy. Over the years that we’ve been together, I’ve pulled her up from my own place of abundance and she’s done the same for me.
We held each other accountable in the realms of quality time, money, travel, entrepreneurship, friendships, fitness, personal growth, nutrition, and more. The sum total effect, over six years together, has been that we have a life we love, and it is filled with abundance.
We don’t experience scarcity, even in the face of failure or setback. Not because scarcity-based things don’t literally happen (they do, to all of us), but rather, because we choose to see the abundance at every opportunity.
For example, this past summer we went through a period where we had to put our heads down and push pretty hard to hit some milestones with the business. There was a pretty solid financial goal that we wanted to reach, and we knew we had to stay positive and abundant in order to hit those goals.
Well, let’s start with language. You may have noticed I used the words financial goal. This is a bit of a loose term. It could mean many things. We could have been in debtors’ prison, or we could have simply been making sales calls. The phrase financial goal, rather than get out of debt or pay the credit card bill, can flip a situation from scarce to abundant.
I’ll give you one more example of how we stayed positive.
Over the course of that time, we found out that we had a pretty huge, and unexpected, tax bill. Maybe you’ve been there. It typically doesn’t feel that great. But, shortly after finding out about it, Melanie and I started talking about how grateful we were that we get to live in a country that is safe, that we have the freedom to pursue our dreams, access world-class healthcare, and so much more. And all we have to do in order to get all of that is pay some money. How cool is that?
So we said thank you to the government, and sank into the feeling of gratitude for everything the government does to help us, all the way down to paving our highways and keeping our water clean.
That is abundance thinking.
Six or seven years ago, that tax bill would have led me into a scarcity loop. But, since “doing the work,” as we say, I’ve slowly added more and more abundance loops into my life, which leads to abundance meta-loops, and ultimately, the life I really want to live. And the feelings I really want to have.
So if you, or someone you know, are/is experiencing your own scarcity loop right now, I encourage and invite you to start working your way out of it using one of those two suggested solutions. Start practicing it. Hold yourself accountable to the loops. Find an abundance buddy and pull each other up as you go. And never, ever underestimate the power of a positive attitude.
Your mind has equal power to create abundance as it does scarcity.
It just needs to learn how.