If you’re familiar with self-help literature, you’ve probably come across the idea of “abundant thinking.” It’s a term that unscientific and “inspirational” gurus often throw around, so you may have been tempted to dismiss it as self-help candy floss. But if we take a serious look at it, it is possible to take a common-sense view that science supports. Let’s explore the concept.
The internal battle for abundance
In most people’s minds, there is a battle going on between two perspectives: abundance and lack. These are like two roads that we can choose to walk down, each giving us vastly different experiences of life.
Abundance correlates with positive thinking and generosity, with the central belief that there’s enough out there for everyone. By carving our niche and claiming our success, we’ll add to the realm of possibility. Abundance feeds our self-esteem and confidence and helps us stay resilient during the tough times. It’s also infectious and generative, creating a flourishing environment and community around us. Like attracts like, so if you look around you, you’ll find positive, confident people who are friends, partners, or business partners with similar mindsets.
On the other hand, when we think from a perspective of lack, our primary motivation is fear. We think in negatives, are highly attuned to what we don’t have and what won’t work, as well as the deficiencies of our situation. We think in black and white and shrink from obstacles and limitations, retreating to a conservative, protective comfort zone, avoiding risk, and resisting change. “Better the devil, you know . . .” we say, or “Out of the frying pan, into the fire.” Yet, we often have no actual evidence that bad things will happen if we take a risk.
Think about your own life. Have you ever stuck with something—a job you were unhappy in, a dysfunctional relationship, a friendship you had outgrown—because you feared uncertainty and change? Do you worry about failure if you embark on something new? Often, when we’ve gone through something unpleasant, we might start to adopt this mindset without realizing it. A single friend of mine who desperately wants to meet a partner stopped dating recently after a run of bad experiences. She believes all men are the problem. When you’re stuck in a lack mindset, you strengthen the negative pathways in your brain. As a result, you continue to respond to life as if the worst is going to happen.
How our fears lead to a lack mindset
Fear is a powerful emotion and one that occupies a primal part of our brain. In this state, the parts of our minds that combine emotion and memories become overactive with red alerts. It dredges up bad memories and past failures as part of a safety mechanism to protect us from danger. This creates a feedback loop, triggering a tailor-made response to help us run away from risk.
Interestingly, losses have a much more significant effect on our brains than gains and rewards ever will. As a result, we are more likely to go out of our way to avoid a potential loss than we are to try to gain rewards. Blame cultures in businesses rely on this behavioral bias because people are too fearful of questioning poor decision-making and challenging the status quo. Remember that last time you asked for a raise and your boss hated you? Or that guy you liked who ghosted you after three dates? Put yourself out there again, and there is a genuine danger these things could happen again, says our brain, doing what it thinks is best for us.
Living with a lack mindset gets in the way of positive change, and it keeps us stuck and stagnant. It makes us cling to what we have because we are hyper-aware of what we don’t have. We fear losing anything and become intensely risk-averse. A brain that is overly attuned to threat can’t facilitate flexible and abundant thinking or engage in sound decision-making.
Our mindset will adapt depending on the context. We all swing from one to the other across different areas of our lives, depending on stressors that may trigger a particular view of a situation. For example, most have a significantly reduced appetite for risk when they’re under chronic stress. If we’re working on a big and complex project with a difficult deadline, we probably won’t take advantage of a great opportunity to buy a new home or think this is a good time to get serious about dating. This is a natural and—to a certain extent—rational response. However, when you consider that many of us live in a state of near-constant stress, it’s easy to see how a lack mindset can take over. This kind of thinking can leave us stuck in a rut and unable to progress to the next level.
A lack mindset can also become ingrained in a particular area of our life, irrespective of immediate stressors. Think about your own life, and ask yourself where you most practice an abundant or lack mindset: in relationships, work, friendships, or generally trying new things. Think about how this is affecting your life now and your future dreams.
How to cultivate abundance
So, how can we change the way we think to allow for an abundant way of living? Abundant thinking relies on a willingness to change our patterns of thought and make space for new ones. It also requires us to let go of past beliefs and assumptions and the openness to take on board new evidence and ideas. Neuroscientists have had to walk the talk on this—research has disproven many of the things that we previously thought were true. We’ve recently had to reassess concepts like the nature of differences in male and female brains and the biological basis of sexuality, to name a few.
By definition, if you stand for science, you stand for being comfortable with failure and moving forward with an appetite for new learning and continuous improvement. Just like in science, making progress in life becomes much easier when you’re willing to let go of past beliefs and embrace change. If you want to make a significant transformation in your life, you need to be honest about your own thinking. But most importantly, you also need to be ready to change your mind.
This article was adapted from The Source: The Secrets of the Universe, the Science of The Brain. It is reprinted with permission from Harper Collins Publisher.