When was the last time you felt the deep peace that comes from knowing that everything is taken care of, that you can let go and relax because your work is complete? When was the last time you could let your brain and body just wander, without thought of the next task or worry over what was yet to be done. When was the last time you felt deeply satisfied with your beautiful life?

When did you last dance for joy because there were no pressing emails, no people you needed to reach, no follow up tasks, no endless to-do lists or relentless obligations? When did you feel you had plenty of time or money or fitness? When did you, at the end of the day, feel enough, feel satisfied with all you accomplished in this day?

We are all in a squeeze play of monumental proportions. Our lives are busy beyond imagining. We are connected – in real time or virtually – to vast numbers of people. The amount of information we are bombarded with and have ready access to each day is mind blowing. The number of choices we have for food, clothes, music, movies, books, classes, toys, teams, shopping…. I can’t even begin to scratch the surface in describing plethora of possibilities in our lives.

Yes, indeed, much of this endless, so-much-ness comes from delightful things and sought after opportunities. This time of so much – abundance, opportunity, choices, information, people – comes with built in sense of scarcity. There just isn’t enough time, money, calories, psychic or physical energy, attention span, to engage with it all in the way we want to.

gas gage on emptyThe buzz of all that we interface with each day keeps us in a nearly constant state of overwhelm (too much) or constant scarcity (not enough). Deep peace, a true sense of accomplishment, and a contented sigh of satisfaction don’t usually await us at the end of our busy days.

In the middle of all this abundance of opportunity and choice, many of us really don’t have enough. We don’t have enough money or time or support or other desperately needed resources. And our dedicated nonprofit organizations that step in to fill this need also don’t have enough. We feel the fierce sting of scarcity every day.

What neuroscientists and human behaviorists are telling us is that this constant pressure impacts our brains, our creativity, and the way we are able to make decisions.

In their book, Scarcity Why Having Too Little Means So Much, authors Mullainathan and Shafir tell us that when we feel this overwhelming sense of scarcity – whether it’s not enough time or money or food or any other limited resource – our brains are significantly impacted.

In some ways we get more efficient and attentive. Think about how good you get with money when you are on a very fixed budget or how attentive you are to calories when you’re on a diet. We all know how much we can get done right before a pressing deadline. In the short term we can feel some benefits to the scarcity.

While we might be really good at meeting that pressing deadline, it comes at a huge cost to us. We narrow our focus to succeed in one particular area, while everything outside of that one focus is abandoned. Parts of our minds are always intent on the scarcity, leaving us with less overall mind, or bandwidth, available. Our insightfulness, our creativity, our impulse control, our ability to process information, and our ability to make decisions are greatly reduced reduced.

Yikes! Right? Just when we need more of our brilliant thinking capacity we have even less of it available for us.

I see this happening to almost all of us, almost all of the time. In over 15 years of coaching I also know this is the perfect set up for our dastardly inner critics to tear us to shreds, while we’re exhausted, down, and dazed.

While we’re overwhelmed and not thinking at our best, our absolutely rotten inner critics jump in to convince us that we’re not enough, and that if we only tried harder we might be able to prove we are, but we never will be able to, because we never ever will be enough. (Check out my thoughts on the inner critic as a devious extraterrestrial plot to keep humans weak and small.)

Here’s the bottom line:
Overwhelm and scarcity are intricate parts of our culture and our individual lives now.
Our brains get high jacked so we have less capacity to find our way out of scarcity.
Our inner critic convinces us it’s all because we’re not good enough.
We work really hard and still stay stuck in same old patterns of scarcity and overwhelm.

We need a radical paradigm shift to quit running on empty. Really. There is no way to just run faster to get out of never enough-ness, to get out of being overwhelmed by scarcity.

I’ve got some ideas and proven strategies that are part of this radical shift out of scarcity thinking that I’ll be sharing these next few weeks. It starts today with naming the squeeze play we’re all in. The new paradigm starts with getting our bearings and seeing the big picture of the challenges we face. We start with telling ourselves the truth. We are enough. Our grand dreams and our big hearts have us setting high standards for ourselves. Our to-do lists will never be finished and that’s just fine. It will take a lot to get past the combined challenge of an endless culture and a badgering inner critic, and we have plenty of resources and support to do just that.

More of said resources to follow. For now, here’s something I wrote way before reading about scarcity and overwhelm – Feeling Overwhelmed? Engage Your Inner Warrior Goddess. Or check out my class for dedicated nonprofit leaders – Survival Training for Nonprofit Staff.

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