A couple ways we may see life through a lens of scarcity or abundance

I noticed that a lot of what I’m consuming recently is being processed through a lens of scarcity and abundance.

I recently started reading The Infinite Game for a book club at work. In The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek differentiates between finite and infinite games:

Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game.

Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules. Though there may be conventions or laws that govern how the players conduct themselves, within those broad boundaries, the players can operate however they want. And if they choose to break with convention, they can. The manner in which each player chooses to play is entirely up to them. And they can change how they play the game at any time, for any reason.

Infinite games have infinite time horizons. And because there is no finish line, no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as “winning” an infinite game. In an infinite game, the primary objective is to keep playing, to perpetuate the game.

Finite games remind me of a scarcity mindset. Both see the world as if there’s a winner and a loser. Both fear change and uncertainty (and thus drive a need for control). Both feel stuck playing within the rules that have been described to them.

Infinite games remind me of an abundance mindset. Both see the world as if there will always be more. Both are welcoming to change and uncertainty. Both look for ways to push boundaries and challenge the status quo.

One thing in my life that reminded me of an infinite game is running.

On the Bare Performance Podcast, Jeff Cunningham shares this idea:

It’s more important to be consistently good than occasionally great.

Being consistently good reminds me of an infinite game. It’s not about a race. It’s not about a training session. It’s about being a runner.

(Note: I suspect this isn’t strictly an infinite game by Sinek’s definition because your being a runner ceases to exist when you die, but I thought some of the parallels were interesting.)

Being occasionally great is a finite game. There is a race you can win or lose. There is a personal record (PR) you can break (or not).

Again, in The Infinite Game, Sinek warns us that:

To complicate matters further, finite games are seductive; they can be fun and exciting and sometimes even addictive. Just like gambling, every win, every goal hit releases a shot of dopamine in our bodies, encouraging us to play the same way again.

It may feel good to win the next race or set a new PR. But constantly pushing can lead to ignoring the need for rest. It can lead to overuse injuries. (It can also lead to using too much energy at the beginning of a run.)

This is something that Sinek describes:

Because finite-minded leaders place unbalanced focus on near-term results, they often employ any strategy or tactic that will help them make the numbers.

And it’s not only the drive for that next dopamine hit.

It’s also the fear of failure. As Sinek writes:

Because they are playing with an end point in mind, [James] Carse tells us, finite-minded players do not like surprises and fear any kind of disruption. Things they cannot predict or cannot control could upset their plans and increase their chances of losing.

This fear can drive a need to predict or control things such as food, water, shoes, weather, heart rate, race route, body temperature, competitors, etc.

(To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with planning. But not all planning is fear-driven.)

Another book I’ve started reading recently is Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. Burkeman writes:

If I could get enough work done, my subconscious had apparently concluded, I wouldn’t need to ask if it was all that healthy to be deriving so much of my sense of self-worth from work in the first place.

This made me think about how the drive for productivity and efficiency is often symptomatic of a scarcity mindset.

We feel that we need to be productive and efficient to prove our worth, earn our right to belong, demonstrate our competence, etc.

In The Culture Map, Erin Meyer shares something revealed by her host on a trip to India:

Because we grew up in a society where currency wasn’t always stable and governments could change regulations on a whim, we learned to value flexibility over linear planning.

Meyer then shares her reflection:

I was learning that flexible-time cultures, like India, tend to emphasize leaving many boxes open and working on all of them simultaneously.

This makes me think that multi-tasking may also often be driven by a scarcity mindset. People may not feel comfortable working on just a single task because they don’t know that that task will still be valuable when they finish.

So this is something I’m starting to be more conscious of lately: where am I viewing my life through a lens of scarcity? What perspective aligns me more with an abundance mindset?

The beauty of uncertainty is infinite possibility. You don’t even know what you’re capable of. And anything is possible, y’all, so let’s fucking go.
Erika Royal

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