Stress Causes: The Presupposition Of Scarcity

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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April=Stress Awareness Month
Click link to download free College Stress Relief E-Book

Welcome to Stress Awareness Month 2012.   This week, I want to continue our discussion about how much of our stress (i.e. problems in life) comes from our beliefs.   

As you may recall, we previously distinguished three levels of human beliefs: 

Level 1:  Conscious Thoughts

Level 2:  Underlying Philosophies

Level 3:  Presuppositions 

Presuppositions are more basic than personal philosophies.  They are global assumptions about life that are simply taken for granted by the vast majority of people in a given society.  They are rarely questioned by anyone, even though they are often untrue. 

The Presupposition Of “Scarcity” 

Many people grow up within a socially-conditioned conversation of “scarcity”.  By this I mean that one of the basic underlying assumptions about life that gets passed around is:   

           “Most of the good things in life are scarce.”   

For example, wealth is scarce; happy marriages are scarce; really good friends are scarce; success is scarce; happiness is scarce; joy is scarce; jobs are scarce; good doctors are scarce; good lawyers are scarce;  good people in general are scarce; oil is scarce; wisdom is scarce; etc. 

Now, one thing to know about presuppositions is that they are not usually consciously thought.  In other words, we don’t wake up each morning and think to ourselves, “my, aren’t most of the good things in life very scarce.”  In fact, we may rarely, if ever, think about scarcity at all.  We may never even speak the word. 

Yet the presupposition of scarcity can still dominate our lives. It’s like the air we breathe or the “water we swim in.”  It’s not so much what we think per se, rather it’s WHERE WE THINK FROM!  

In other words, scarcity is just taken for granted.  And the vast majority of people in our society have it as their basic “ground of being.” 

How Does The Presupposition of Scarcity Cause Stress? 

When you either subconsciously or unconsciously believe that many things in life are scarce, you are going to look at (and feel about) your circumstances in very predictable ways.  And you’re also going to react to events in ways that are consistent with your underlying assumptions of scarcity. 

For example, if you should lose your job and you believe finding another one will be difficult (because good jobs are scarce), you are likely to feel more demoralized than someone who doesn’t share this same perspective.  Also, the options you “see” for replacing your job might appear to be fewer than another person might perceive. 

Or, say you are in a long term relationship that suddenly comes to an end. If you are of the mind that finding another compatible mate is going to be very difficult (because good prospects are scarce), then you might be inclined to try a few times and then give up.  Or, you might never try to find anyone, because you assume the odds are so massively stacked against you. 

There are hundreds, if not thousands of ways that the mindset of scarcity can negatively impact your life and cause you to experience more stress than you need to, or more stress than others might experience who don’t view the world from a filter of scarcity.  To name just a few examples, scarcity can make you: 

  • Feel more anxious—because if you lose something important to you, it will be difficult to replace;
  • Be more competitive—because if good things in life are scarce, some people are going to end up as winners, while others must go without;
  • See fewer possibilities—to get what you want or need when things don’t go your way initially;
  • Experience more intense sadness—losses will hit you harder, because you believe replacing whatever was lost will be difficult or “impossible.”
  • Pass up major opportunities that come your way—because you believe your time and/or resources to act on them are scarce. 

Scarcity As A Mindset vs. The Reality Of Scarcity 

Many people will argue against the presupposition of scarcity by pointing out that the reality of life is indeed that many things are scarce.  They might point out that jobs really are scarce in our present economy.  Or they might point out that the divorce rate is close to 50% or that they know very few people who truly are happy.  While all of these things may actually be true, they have nothing to do with having the mindset of scarcity.  The mindset of scarcity will actually create certain “realities” for you that may not be real or true at all. 

For example, while jobs might be scarce today, is the opportunity to earn money really scarce?  If half of all marriages do indeed end up in divorce, does that mean you can’t figure out how to improve your odds to greater than 90%?  And if few people around you report that they are truly happy, does that in any way diminish your capacity to be happy whenever you want? 

In my experience, the mindset of scarcity is far more brutal to human beings than whatever true level of scarcity might exist in the world.  It’s one of the most important underlying causes of stress that we have, and it affects millions and millions of people.  Unfortunately, most of us are totally unaware of the hidden role that this sinister mindset plays in our lives. 

In my next two posts this week, we’ll look at the flip side of the mindset of scarcity—the mindset of abundance.

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