How Scarcity Mindset Impacts Artists


It was a full house this past Wednesday at my Overcoming Scarcity Mindset workshop at Big Medium. Thanks for coming out.

This is obviously something many of us have strong feelings about, so I wanted to share some takeaways with all y'all here. If you've heard of Scarcity Mindset before but didn't know exactly what it was and why it's so toxic, here's an overview:

Scarcity mindset is the state of believing that what you want is in limited supply. That you will never have enough of that thing.

You could have this feeling around money, time, connections, status, peace of mind etc. If you have scarcity around connections, you feel lonely. If you have scarcity around status, you feel undervalued.

This is a common experience for many of us, and it turns out our brains are doing some interesting things when we feel something is scarce. According to the research of Harvard economist, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir, when we are in 'scarcity mindset,' we do a few key things:

1. We engage in 'tunneling' - we get obsessed with solving the problem. Be it manifesting an opportunity, getting Instagram followers, finishing a project. When we're in the tunnel we have blinders on to everything else. We end up missing meetings, forgetting to pay a bill, or are unable to see other opportunities.

2. We lose our bandwidth. Bandwidth is our fluid intelligeince (ability to problem solve) + our self control (ability to avoid impulsive decisions). These functions diminish significantly when we feel scarce. Ooof.

3. We do trade-off thinking. We think about things in an 'either/or' vs. a 'this/and' framework. We don't allow for many possible solutions.

This feeling familiar? Wednesday's crowd felt that way too. Which leads me to my next question:

Why are creative people so susceptible to scarcity mindset? Well...

1. We feel scarce in many different areas of our lives. Time, money, status, security, respect. You name it, we've felt scarce around it. This leads us to feeling like we're failing in so many different arenas. If we're succeeding in one, we're catching up in another.

2. Creatives love the tunnel. We LIKE to feel in the zone. This is a comfortable place for us. It makes us feel focused, powerful, effective! This is how we were trained to work in school. Turns out it's not always the best thing for our brains.

3. We are always juggling. Juggling means we are moving from one pressing task to the next. We are always 'catching up' and feeling a step behind. This exacerbates the feeling of scarcity - that we will 'never have enough' energy or time. We move from one crisis to the next.

How the hell do we get out of the scarcity trap?

1. Deal with the effing tunnel.

We have to make the tunnel work for us, not own our lives. That means we need to be able to get out of it when it’s time. Here are some of my tips for getting out of that obsessive, myopic, blinders-on way of working:

  • Set aside intentional time for the task you need to get done. 

  • Create an alarm to get you out of it. (seriously, this works!)

  • Get an outside perspective - from a collaborator, partner, coach, stranger. It gives you context and helps you identify what you’re not seeing.

  • Get in your bod - Step away from what you’re doing. Eat lunch, go for a walk, take a shower, listen to music. This will increase your bandwidth, restore your fluid intelligence and help you get some fresh ideas back.

2. Examine systems you engage with that reinforce scarcity thinking.

Social media is a system that reinforces scarcity. This is how it makes its money. It wants you to feel like you’ll never have enough of exotic vacations, shoes, degrees, so you go out and buy these things. Use it as an instrument for advertising, which is what it is built for, and minimize your relationship with it outside of this.

Instagram also makes it hard for you to connect with values-driven examples. It puts all the people you’re following (your cousin, Cardi B, an artist you love, a friend from college) in the same distribution stream, thus making it harder for you to remember what you actually care about and what’s driving you. It will drive you to feel scarce in some department of your life or another.

Outside of social media - what other systems do you engage with that reinforce scarcity thinking? Is your work environment a place where you feel respect, security, and money are in limited supply? How is that being reinforced? Take a look at your environment and see if that’s impacted how you perceive what is available to you.

3. Minimize the juggle: set values-driven priorities.

We can’t do it all! When we try to, we end up doing everything half-assed and feel like trash afterwards. Minimize the juggle by setting priorities. If this is extra hard for you:

  • Use a priorities matrix

  • Get a coach or accountability partner

  • Try this starter exercise: list everything you’re juggling and pick your top 4 most important areas of focus. Cut everything else away! This forces you to examine what’s important, be it family, studio time etc.

How do we move into an abundance mindset?

1. Get grateful. 

Gratitude is a practical thing. Not only does it give you perspective and make you feel lucky, it helps you recognize how you are resourced. 

Are you grateful for your partner? Resource: a person to bounce ideas off of.

Are you grateful for an exhibition? Resource: a place to share your ideas and connect with people.

Are you grateful for your cat? Resource: a couch buddy who helps you feel relaxed at the end of a long day!

2. Give with intention.

Giving helps you realize that opportunities are renewable resources. By giving (from a place of abundance, not lack, i.e. with intention) to a peer something of value, it not only releases the scarcity grip, but it helps you identify what you want to spend your time on. You can’t seize every opportunity (minimize the juggle), so if you see something that is a great fit for someone else passing it on is a win/win.

3. Practice luxury.

Luxury is about recognizing your values, and giving yourself permission to experience abundance for yourself. Naps, good cheese, a hot bath, a new plant, silence, are all small luxuries. Make your list and do that shit. It will make you feel like you’re worth a million bucks, and you’ll be able to see abundance out in the world.

4. Play.

Creative people need to make things without an end result in mind. We need to experience an abundance of new ideas, new possibilities, new materials. Play is the expression of abundance in the studio. Make room for it! Carve out 20 minutes a week to do something that is not “out-put driven,” that is not evaluated. Something that is just for you, no one else.

Have feelings on this? Tell me how YOU like to feel abundant. I’m all ears.

Thanks, David Shrigley.

Thanks, David Shrigley.

christine garveyComment