“The real reason that you find it necessary to compare yourself to others, is that you’ve fallen under the spell that says: good things are always scarce.”
I came across this statement when I was exploring the psychology of why we feel the need to compare ourselves and our situations in order to assess self-value. It’s referred to, in a behavioural sense, as “the scarcity model”, and at its centre is the perception that unless you “have” – and stockpiled, somehow you won’t survive.
Hmmm… It’s an interesting concept, born presumably from our oldest reptilian brain remnant, the amygdala, originally facilitating our escape from dinosaurs or tigers. The functioning of the amygdala has most recently been accused of being somewhat “dysfunctional” in it’s fight-or-flight talents, not having adjusted yet to what this means in civilization today, and triggering limitless hormones and neurotransmitters at every stressor – real or imagined. It might make sense then, this connection to being less than, and therefore, requiring more.
I can definitely think of examples where I have felt the need to “stock up” – never knowing when the bottom might fall out: be it t.p. when my money is low, or seeking some validation when my spirit is low. I suppose I’ve compared things a little: I’m sure my friend so-and-so would never be so irresponsible as to run out of t.p. (i.e. funds to buy it); my friend what’s-his-face must be totally secure owning his own business, nice house, dining out whenever, wherever – but thankfully, those thoughts are few and far between! I’m so much happier and at peace since I’ve established a definition of success that works for me: and I am successful! I no longer have a need to compare my life to others, and don’t give these comparisons a second more credibility than acknowledging that they are imagined and meritless thoughts: I have a nice little chuckle at their persistency to sneak back into my consciousness, and then boot their butts back into oblivion where they belong! I know now that everyone has their own challenges relative to their own definitions of success; some completely aware of this and doing their own butt-kicking of those momentary doubts; but all too many, completely oblivious to what brings them fulfillment, and stuck in deep-seeded comparison games to validate that they are really happy!
One of my fave speakers and behavioural psychologists, Brene Brown, has written about “scarcity” in two of her books, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, a relevant quote from the latter being:
“Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability) we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.”
In an interview about The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown elaborates:
These are anxious and fearful times, and everywhere we hear the lexicon of scarcity. We are not rich, thin or beautiful enough; we are not safe, perfect or powerful enough, and ordinary lives are completely dismissed. But success and high achievement will not gratify us when our self-worth is tied to the mindset of scarcity. We think the opposite of scarcity is abundance — more time, more money — when really the opposite of scarcity is “enough.” Just enough.
Another duo, behavioural economist Sendhil Mullainathan and the cognitive psychologist Eldar Shafir have written a whole book on the feeling of scarcity, brilliantly comparing it to the realities of scarcity in purely political or economic terms – a very interesting read!
So what are we really talking about – what is the “scarcity model”? To tippy-toe into the concept, here are excerpts from a few recent articles I’ve come across, and then a link to a more detailed article on the Mullainathan/Shafir book.
It’s Time To Give Up The Scarcity Model
The scarcity model says that if the person that you’re comparing yourself to is (arguably) more attractive than you, then that person has grabbed up too much of that thing called attractive and now there’s less for you. Same thing goes for
Next: Comparison Battle – More on the Scarcity Model (page 2)