Abundance mentality and why other people's success isn't your failure

I first read this idea in the classic productivity book 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey but the wisdom behind this idea has proven itself over and over again.

The idea is simple: there is enough room in this world for both of us to succeed, and there are resources and successes for all of us to have. The opposite of the abundance mentality is the scarcity mentality which means that there are only enough resources and success for a few people and we should protect them and keep them from getting into the hands of others. The scarcity mindset dictates that for you to win, someone has to lose.

It seems pretty obvious and the right thing to do but not all of us apply this idea in practice. From a very early age, we’re taught that life is a race and we should do our best to leave everyone behind or at least not get left behind. While it is true, we’re all running a race god knows where it started and god knows exactly when it’ll end (maybe when we’re dead) but there are a few key things that they forgot to tell us:

  • First, it’s not necessary to have only one winner in this race
  • Second, you don’t have to run alone.

Other people’s success is not your failure

In Asian cultures we have a thing, we try to motivate others by pointing out the person’s flaws and comparing them with someone better. And it’s not done behind our backs, but on our face. The idea is that it’ll push us forward, which sometimes works but most of the time it just makes us bitter and makes us want to run away. I think it’s because of this that we think that if someone else wins, we’re at a loss. That’s why it becomes difficult to enjoy another person’s success and more natural to just be bitter or jealous of it.

No matter how much resemblance there is, our lives are not The Hunger Games, if you lose you’re not going to die. There’s plenty of room in the world, plenty of fish in the sea. Other people’s successes won’t diminish your chances for success.

Next time you feel bad about someone else’s success, take a step back and see why you’re feeling bad. Is it inwards like:

  • You could’ve done better
  • You see where you made mistakes
  • You can’t wait to go at it again

Or is it outwards, filled with self-doubt or jealously, like:

  • They don’t deserve it
  • I’m not worthy and never will be
  • There’s nothing I can do to improve

Like mostly everything else in personal development, cultivating an abundant mindset comes with lots of practice and self-reflection. We’ll discuss how in a minute.

Two ways of thinking

There are two ways to think about things:

  1. With possibilities
  2. With limitations

Let’s say you’re thinking about the scope of a new mobile application. One way of thinking about user requirements and features of this app would be to think “How about we have this cool feature that doesn’t exist yet?” and another way of thinking would be to think with limitations like “Oh we can’t do that, that’s not possible”.

Ideally, you want limitations thinking to come in and keep things achievable. But it’s the possibilities thinking that creates innovative and audacious things.

While limitations led thinking might be safe, achievable, and believable - know that all great things you use in your life that are making your life easier was achieved by adopting possibilities-based thinking and having an abundance mindset.

Arguing that there are only enough resources to go around is thinking by limitations.

Many resources are in fact in limited supply, and the biggest among those is your time. So the only place where thinking with limitations is probably good for you is thinking about your time and how to allocate it effectively.

Win-win situations

The scarcity mindset dictates that for you to win, others have to lose. Creating a playful/competitive environment to push each other is one thing. What both parties take away from a situation is what’s crucial.

What win-win situations mean is to try and create situations where both parties walk away with a sense of accomplishment. This becomes more clear when you’re trying to create win-win situations in relationships. Would you want your spouse to lose for you to win?

“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” - Carlos Castaneda

The amount of work needed to have either a scarcity or an abundant mindset is the same but the results are completely different.

In his book The 7 habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey describes the 6 paradigms of human interaction:

  • Win: Win at all costs, people don’t matter
  • Win/Lose: Highly competitive and authoritative. You win and the other person has to lose.
  • Lose/Win: You lose to keep peace and maintain the relationship and let the other person win.
  • Lose/Lose: If you lose, you want the other person also to lose. Example from the book to illustrate this: A divorce in which the husband is ordered by the judge to sell his assets and turn over half of the earnings to his ex-wife. In compliance, he sells his car, worth $10.000, for $50 and gives $25 to his ex-wife.
  • Win/Win or No Deal: You both go for a mutually beneficial decision but if it can’t be reached then you both walk away with no hard feelings.
  • Win/Win: Both parties win and benefit from the win. Happens when both parties are proactive, focused, and want to win.

Irony and attraction

The irony I have often faced is that by following an abundant mindset, you open more opportunities and resources for yourself and others. And by having a scarcity mindset and protecting at all costs the opportunities and wins that you already have, you eventually lose them sooner or later.

How can this be? How can holding onto and protecting something make it go away and giving something freely and abundantly, it makes more of it for both you and others.

Love is something that works like this. The more of it you give away, the more of it finds its way back to you.

Something you can only realize with experience and being around abundant mentality people is: it’s attractive. It’s not suffocating, more fun and open to adventures.

A Scarcity mindset makes you needy and neediness is the mother of all unattractiveness.

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life.

People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. They also have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the successes of other people – even, and sometimes especially, members of their own family or close friends and associates. It’s almost as if something is being taken from them when someone else receives special recognition of or windfall gain or has remarkable success or achievement.” - Stephen Covey

How to cultivate an abundant mentality

An abundant mindset flows from a personal sense of worth and security, unlike a scarcity mindset that roots from a personal sense of lack, neediness, and insecurity.

There are no hacks that will turn you into thinking abundantly overnight. It’s a mindset and like all mindsets, it takes time and attention to adapt.

The things that can help you adapt to it faster are by being proactive in your life and taking note whenever you’re shifting between scarcity and abundance. Be mindful when you’re being scarce, reflect on past scenarios when you were being scarce, and think of ways how you can do better.

The easiest way to cultivate an abundance mindset is to surround yourself with people who have an abundant mindset or things that remind you of when you did some abundant thinking yourself.

Maybe you can start viewing other people as collaborators and not competitors.

We needed a scarcity mindset to survive in our hunter-gatherer times. But the thing is we’re not hunting and gathering anymore. We used to have a scarcity mindset because of limited supply of food and each wanted to survive. Then we were each to our own, now we have to live with and among people and society where scarcity is often looked down upon.