Are You Addicted To Less?

On The Money Psychology of Scarcity

David Krueger MD

The story of addictive behavior is not always one of more: it can also manifest as the relentless pursuit of less. The flip side of money addiction is addiction to scarcity. This dynamic ranges from an opposition to wealth, to maintaining a comfort zone of focusing on what can go wrong, and even to the idealization of poverty as spiritual. Examples include gifted people who can’t convert their talent into sufficient income, or otherwise dependable people who ignore financial matters until serious.

A comfort zone is a familiar pattern of behavior—one that’s predictable and automatic—so you always know the outcome. It’s a gradual process, but once established, resists change. Think of a comfort zone like your home thermostat. If the temperature increases or decreases, it signals an adjustment to return to the set point—the comfort zone. Our minds and brains both contribute to this default mode. We even have a comfort zone with our weight, what we order at our regular restaurant, or the difficulty of starting a savings program.

Most lottery winners manage to spend or give away their newfound winnings. In the U.S., 80% of lottery winners file bankruptcy within the first five years. Their money changed but their mindsets didn’t.

A “Yes” answer to any of these suggests examination of a pursuit of less:

1. Do you believe it is more virtuous or admirable to be poor than to be rich?
2. Do you believe being poor is more spiritual than being wealthy?
3. When you have an influx of money, do you tend to spend it quickly and/or impulsively and return rapidly to a familiar state of poverty?
4. Do you often refrain from making needed repairs on your car or your home, or from getting medical care for yourself (such as regular checkups or dental cleaning), because you don’t feel you can afford to spend the money?
5. Is it more comfortable for you to spend money on others than on yourself?
6. Do you undercharge for your work or your skills?
7. Do you fail to collect money due to you?
8. Is it uncomfortable for you to collect on fees that people owe you for your work?
9. Does it seem like whenever you are about to get ahead financially, some crisis happens in your life that gets in the way and stops your progress cold?
10. Do you persistently focus on what can go wrong, or on what you can’t do?

A belief is the mind’s command to the brain. With the same belief, you will continue to have the same results. If you change your belief, you can have different results. The beliefs within us—our own internal map of reality—determine our perception of what surrounds us, including what and how we select, register and process. We construct our storylines from these premises.

We have to bring our beliefs about money, finances, and wealth into conscious focus to assess how well they work in present time.

Excerpted and adapted from The Secret Language of Money by David Krueger MD (McGraw Hill, 2009)