How to embrace an abundance mindset and break down the negative thoughts damming your creativity.

Deep in the middle of the pandemic, I couldn’t do much more than nap and play video games. I barely got by at work, and probably only because my coworkers were going through the same post-apocalyptic fiction-turned-reality nightmare that I was.

When I tried to engage my creativity, it slipped through my fingers. It squirmed, wriggled, and shimmied out of my grasp.

Sounds familiar, I bet?

Looking back, I see now that my scarcity mindset was blocking my creativity. Don’t get me wrong, there are still times when I slip back into the pre-programmed track of negative thinking. But it’s worth fighting back the tide of destructive impulses so I can embrace an abundance mindset and unleash the creator inside me.

Here’s how you can cultivate an abundant mindset and embrace creativity.

Recognizing abundance vs. scarcity mindset

Catching yourself slipping into a scarcity mindset is an essential skill. You can take steps to redirect your mind’s course before you ever fall into that unproductive well of negativity. And most likely, it’s easier to escape the negativity before you fall in head first.

Here’s how these two mindsets compare so you can recognize the emotions, physical feelings, and situations that signify abundance or scarcity:

Abundance mindset

  • You’re relaxed but alert and ready for whatever happens next
  • You might feel excited about upcoming changes
  • You feel empowered to tackle anything
  • You have exceptional clarity, which allows you to listen intently
  • You feel you have a choice in whatever happens next
  • Your creativity is a never-ending fountain to draw upon
  • You approach new things ready to learn

Scarcity mindset

  • You’re tense and probably anxious
  • You feel emotionally tapped out
  • The current situation leaves you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed
  • You believe you can’t catch a break
  • You’re easily forced into decisions, either due to weak willpower or because you don’t have the energy to decide for yourself
  • You feel like there’s no escaping negative situations
  • You engage in negative self-talk
An dark blue, beige, and gray infographic comparing characteristics of an abundance mindset to a scarcity mindset
Infographic created by the author

Is it any surprise that scarcity mindset also leads to negative self-talk? Do you ever talk down to yourself when things don’t seem to go your way? I know I do.

Just last week, I was learning how to illustrate a scene in Procreate, a drawing app on my iPad. But no matter what I tried, I couldn’t seem to get the colors, shapes, and feel of the scene right.

I kept trying to tackle the problem the same way over and over. When that approach repeatedly failed, I began drowning in scarcity mindset. I started talking down to myself and negatively comparing myself, a beginning digital artist, to professionals who’ve been creating digital art for years.

It was only until I took a step back that I realized I was still in learning mode.

So this particular technique wasn’t working for me, what could I try instead? I talked myself back into an abundance mindset and gave it another go. Guess what? I really like what I’ve got started now, and I learned a lot in the process.

Catching that negative self-talk monster in the act is another way to identify scarcity mindset and redirect your brain.

Trick your brain into embracing abundance

Our brains are amazing, inspiring organs. Did you know that we’re wired to react more strongly to negative things compared to positive things?

“The mind evolved to overreact to negative things so, to compensate for that, it’s good to take a moment to stop and consider the positive side,” Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist, explained in an interview with Jill Suttie for the Greater Good Magazine.

Our brains’ tendency to overreact to negativity is taken advantage of in today’s world. Bad news seems to reign supreme, and it’s likely that media focus on depressing, horrible stories because of our brains’ stronger reaction to negativity.

But despite what our brains (and the media) are telling us, things aren’t so horrible. We need to counterbalance the negativity our brain is focused on with positive stories, images, and thoughts.

… In general, the indicators of human well-being are all moving up — life is getting better and is really good in many ways, despite the constant predictions of doom. So just to be accurate in how you see the world, you need to put a bit of a correction on the negativity bias.” — Roy Baumeister

I almost imagine our brains to be like Gandalf during the celebration at Edoras after the Rohirrim and part of the Fellowship successfully routed a massive army of orcs at Helm’s Deep.

Aragorn asks Gandalf if he’s heard any news about Frodo, and Gandalf replies that no, he hasn’t. Aragorn replies, “We have time. Every day, Frodo moves closer to Mordor.”

Gandalf, currently in a scarcity mindset, replies, “Do we know that?” And Aragorn redirects Gandalf’s brain to focus on the positive by saying, “What does your heart tell you?”

Gandalf smiles and says, “That Frodo is alive. Yes. Yes, he is alive.”

Okay, okay. Lord of the Rings geek out moments aside, it’s well worth pushing your brain toward abundance: as you feed your mental mind positivity, you’ll find the doors to your creativity are flung open. But how do you do that? You seek out the positive pulse of this world, your personal Aragorn. (If only.)

How to create an avalanche of positivity

You know how people joke about going to your “happy place” when times are tough? Well, it’s not bad advice.

If the pressure’s on and your brain is latched onto a scarcity mindset like a tick, it’s time to seek out things that make you smile. Some of my favorite happy places include:

Start riding the wave of optimism, and you might notice that your brain will offer up more positive thoughts. Just like it’s wired for a stronger reaction to the negative around us, our brains are also wired to serve up evidence that supports our expectations.

Expect the positive and your brain will point to good things and yell, “Look!” And if you can open your mind with positive abundance thinking, your limitations are lifted. You have access to endless creativity.

Speaking of, did you know your creativity is unstoppable when you’re in a good mood?

“When you’re in a better mood, the part of the mind that is alert and analytical tends to relax. That cedes control of your mind to the more intuitive and quicker thinking system, which also makes you more creative.” — Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

Change your expectations and you’ll change how your brain perceives the world.

Ask questions to escape the confinement of scarcity

Scarcity mindset says we’re stuck in this thing called life alone. No one else out there shares our reality, our suffering, our frustrations. The world is out to get us — just us.

You can use open-ended questions and your natural curiosity to escape this negative thought spiral. George Saunders described life as a “solitary confinement of mortality,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Questions and curiosity lead us to community.

The next time you find yourself frustrated and overwhelmed by negative thoughts, ask yourself these questions:

  • How might someone else experience this same situation? What positive things might they notice?
  • What choices do I have at this moment?
  • Let’s say I can accomplish this task, what would my first step toward success be?
  • What’s going well right now?

You can also try imagining what it would be like to succeed at the task at hand, or what it might feel like to be your idol.

Savor life’s wins

Don’t shrug off your success or the effort you put in to accomplish your goals.

You might feel like shrugging off your achievements is key to maintaining humility (*raises hand guiltily*). Instead it robs you of additional positivity to feed your brain.

You worked hard to reach this goal. You’re a badass. You succeeded where others, possibly even yourself, thought failure was the only option.

If you need to practice self-compassion and appreciation, it might be easier to start with others. Among your circle of friends, coworkers, even folks you follow on Twitter, express your appreciation for what they’ve given you. Tell them why you’re grateful for your connection with them.

My company made the practice of showing appreciation for others official by starting Thursday shout-outs on Slack. It’s so wonderful to get that notification when you’ve been mentioned and given praise, and it feels equally awesome to tag someone else who’s done a stellar job and shower appreciation on them too.

Plus, it’s fascinating to read what everyone around the company has been up to. Some folks are working on some projects I wouldn’t have known existed until they got a shout-out.

Best of all, a practice of appreciation fosters community. We’re all in this together even though we may exist thousands of miles apart, on different teams, or speak different languages at home. We celebrate our wins together, and we come to each other’s aid when the going gets tough.

Showing appreciation breaks us out of the solitary confinement Saunders described. It redirects our brains to what’s going right in the world. And with community and positivity comes creativity.

I acknowledge that some days it’s easier to see the world through the lens of abundance. We all go through hardships that we shouldn’t make light of just to see the positive side. You should embrace those emotions, they’re correct and you’re justified in experiencing anger, frustration, sadness, and other negative feelings.

But when you’re ready to pick up your creativity again, seek out your happy place and a supportive community that regularly expresses appreciation.

How about you? Do you have a favorite happy place to visit when you need a pick-me-up? Do you find you’re more creative when you’re in a better mood?