"It is all too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what we lack. Sometimes this acts as reasoning for why we aren’t making progress. Or, it can lead us to work feverishly to compete for 'our piece of the finite pie.' Here’s what scarcity thinking doesn’t do: allow for creativity, incentivize giving, encourage experimentation, or let us feel satisfied, fulfilled and whole." Credit: Modification of photo by Stephanie shared via Flickr Creative Commons

Topic: Learning networks Type: Essay

How Practicing “Enough” and Looking Ahead Can Support Social Innovation

Authors: Michelle Medley-Daniel

The Sunday after Thanksgiving I started having procrastination-anxiety. I recognized it immediately. My interest in vacuuming and folding the laundry was the giveaway. There’s never a better time for me to get housework done than when I’m putting off something else.

I was coming off a wonderful five-whole-days-off, during which I spent time with family, got outdoors for an autumn hike and enjoyed plenty of great food. A perfect staycation. That is, until about 4 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, when all I could think about was my looming to-do list. The one populated by soooooo many things I had intended to make progress on.

I’m one of those people who is always overly optimistic about how much I can accomplish. I want to do all the things. Why? When I’m really honest with myself, there is more going on than the fact that I enjoy my work (which I genuinely do!). Is there really a valid reason I needed to work 12 hours over the holiday weekend? Sometimes the answer is yes: there is a time-sensitive need to get work done. Maybe you’re part of a team, and there are others waiting for components of a project from you. Or maybe you’re hosting an event or giving a talk — where the deadline for being polished and ready is set. But how many times are we creating traps for ourselves? Running up against deadlines that we’ve artificially imposed? Not giving ourselves time to think, gather input, reprioritize and focus on the important rather than the urgent?

Note: This isn’t an invitation to rationalize procrastination. Rather, it is an invitation to join me in a thought experiment: How different would your work (and life) be if you adopted some new ways of thinking and acting in 2018? Here are two ideas that deserve your attention.

Idea 1: Adopt an abundance mentality and give scarcity thinking the boot!

Let’s start here: what is a scarcity mindset, and how does it impact us as individuals and a sector?

scar·ci·ty | ˈskersədē, noun, the state of being scarce or in short supply; shortage. "a time of scarcity." Synonyms: Shortage, dearth, lack, want, undersupply, insufficiency, paucity, scarceness, scantness, scantiness, meagerness, sparseness, poverty.

Credit: Google

The idea of scarcity works on two levels summed up by these basic beliefs: “I am not enough” and “there is not enough.” At the risk of this becoming a self-help post, consider how much of your decision making is related to a belief that, “I am not enough. I need to do more to prove my worth.” Taking this idea to scale, it manifests as, “there is not enough.” When we see our context as limited, we think we need to compete for what we need. If you’re stuck in a scarcity trap, you’re probably agreeing to do more than is reasonably possible for fear of being perceived as not good enough (or some variation of that), and you’re working in what you perceive as a limited context, with not enough time, resources or support.

Here’s the kicker: scarcity thinking is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is a vicious cycle where fear of not being/having enough leads to actually missing the mark. (You can read more about scarcity and abundance in Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and Mullainathan and Shafir’s Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.)

Note: Just like this post isn’t about letting you off the hook for procrastination, it’s not an invitation into a rose-colored world where everything is factually limitless, and the only barriers are in our minds. The key idea here is giving yourself permission to ask,

“Is my perception of {insert whatever you are musing about here} coming from scarcity thinking? Is what I perceive actually rooted in limiting beliefs about myself and the world?

In other words,

How much of my understanding of what’s possible is being determined by self-imposed limitations? How much more space might I have to operate in if I question this?

For many of us working in the natural resources and community resilience sectors, and especially as we work to change national fire management systems, it is challenging to ground ourselves in the idea of abundance. The concept of conservation is based on the idea that there won’t be more forever. We’re working on critical issues. Our work is constrained and limited by a myriad of political, social and economic realities. We imagine our actions allowing us to slip through small windows of opportunity that are closing all around. How tight are your burn windows? How much of your budget was cut? Why aren’t more people taking action!? It’s a spiral that quickly lands us in a place where we are no longer in control — of even ourselves. Is it true that we are working in hyper-complex systems where we do not hold all of the power? Absolutely! Are there real constraints we must contend with? You bet.

For many of us working in the natural resources and community resilience sectors, and especially as we work to change national fire management systems, it is challenging to ground ourselves in the idea of abundance.

Abundance thinking is not about denying reality. It is about questioning the origins of a limitation.

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what we lack. Sometimes this acts as reasoning for why we aren’t making progress. Or, it can lead us to work feverishly to compete for “our piece of the finite pie.” Here’s what scarcity thinking doesn’t do: allow for creativity, incentivize giving, encourage experimentation, or let us feel satisfied, fulfilled and whole.

Are you spending your energy where it is warranted? I propose that there are major gains to be had by changing individual work habits. That might not sound all that strategic at a systems level. But if we don’t change our ways of thinking and working, we have no hope of changing the systems we work in. Here are three things you can do to cultivate abundance thinking:

Give freely.

Networks run on a gift economy. They rely on the goodwill and generosity of their members to share information and resources. Prioritize giving daily. Make it a point to help a colleague, share an idea, or encourage someone else; you may be surprised by how much the act of giving improves your own life as well as contributes to the health of your relationships.

Check your pace; make space for your priorities.

It’s easy to keep adding things to the calendar. There is certainly no lack of worthy work in our field. But are you giving your most important work the attention, care and time it deserves? You may have run across the Pareto Principle, which posits 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of the causes. When you apply this idea to your work, consider if you are giving that most productive 20 percent of your efforts the proper emphasis. For another take on how to build an abundance habit, read this article that promotes a phone-free day at least once a week.

A pie chart with efforts representing 20 percent and results representing 80 percent

The Pareto Principle posits that 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of the causes.

Here’s what scarcity thinking doesn’t do: allow for creativity, incentivize giving, encourage experimentation, or let us feel satisfied, fulfilled and whole.

Practice gratitude.

Several years ago, a colleague told me about how keeping a gratitude journal had massively impacted her life. She attributed it to changing her outlook on her work, her relationships and herself. I tend to be skeptical of anything that smacks of a simple solution. Surely things are too complicated for something like a daily gratitude journal to actually have the power to change everything. But the science backs up the experience my colleague was sharing. And really, what do we have to lose but a gloomy outlook?

Abundance thinking is not about denying reality. It is about questioning the origins of a limitation.

Idea 2: As you reflect on the strategic opportunities that lie ahead, consider how people think about the future.

As fire adaptation practitioners, we must be students not only of fire and landscape dynamics, but of social, economic and psychological dynamics as well. Successful fire adaptation efforts must account for human psychology.

As fire adaptation practitioners, we must be students not only of fire and landscape dynamics, but of social, economic and psychological dynamics as well.

Consider the implications of these articles as you craft your FAC strategies:

Humans suffer from unrealistic optimism. Among the findings unpacked in this article from The Atlantic is the following concept:

People predict that they’re less likely than others to experience illness, injury, divorce, death and other adverse events — even when they’re exposed to the same risk factors.

How might this change the way you approach engagement with your community?

Not only are we bad at predicting the future, most people don’t even think about it (much less act in ways to change it). Consider the results of a survey on future thinking as reported in Slate:

Graphic stating, "The future: lots of ways to say it, but how often do we think about it?" With nine different translations of future listed53 percent of Americans say they rarely or never think about the “far future,” or something that might happen 30 years from today. Twenty-one percent report imagining this future less than once a year, while the largest group of respondents, 32 percent, say it never crosses their mind at all.

Those of us working on systems change need to pay attention to this finding.

Make 2018 a year of abundance and forward thinking.

The challenges we are facing loom large. It’s easy to feel like we aren’t doing enough. But what if, through your own habits, you could create “enough?” The upcoming New Year offers us an opportunity to reset some of the ways we think and work. What we think about, and how we think about it, shapes our view of the world and our actions. As FAC practitioners, our work is about getting people to act in ways that promote resilience. Results rely on our ability to navigate the complexity of human decision making. In 2018, consider how abundance thinking might improve your work and life, and look for ways to integrate how people think about the future into your strategies for change.

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