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Why Positive Thinking attracts Fear and Sabotage

It’s slowly becoming common knowledge amongst business owners: Stay positive and believe in “Abundance”. It’ll make you more successful. The Secret, ya know?

You’ve heard it. Hopefully you’re waking up to the gratitude and abundance movement and using it to make your life and business better. Or has something not quite clicked yet?

Brace yourself for a shocking truth: You can focus on abundance all you want but if you don’t take care of the flip side of the coin, your efforts will be about as effective as “positive thinking” in a war zone.

Are you doing battle with Scarcity?

I often gleefully tell clients that I am “Officially not a fan of Positive Thinking”. Why? Because it’s been over done. A relentless commitment to positivity actually means you’ll develop a form of emotional numbness. The numbness is a blind spot, preventing you from receiving the signals your unconscious mind sends you. The signals telling you something is wrong. 

The very same thing is happening with the abundance movement. Entrepreneurs have convinced themselves they have to believe in an abundant world. They have to visualize great success and a shiny Ferrari in their future. They have to “invest in themselves” now and not worry about the future.

All this is good stuff. There are good arguments to be made in support of these ideas. But there’s something you need to know…

Simply committing to an attitude of Abundance doesn’t equate to defeating Scarcity.  

Scarcity runs deep. It’s conditioned. It lies close to that most lizard-ish part of your brain. It speaks through cold sweats, stomach jolts and pinhole pupils. It’s a devious and cunning adversary that slithers silently on it’s greasy belly.

When you’re blasting your mind with heavy metal abundance, it’s almost impossible to hear that scarcity slither. But it’s there.

I know this because positive thinking, enlightened and smiley entrepreneurs are feeling the lash of Scarcity’s forked tongue in spite of all the Abundance they believe in.

Recently, a client told me a tale of Scarcity killing a huge opportunity dead in it’s tracks.

Details are obfuscated to protect identity, but here’s the story:

Sandy, an entrepreneur rocking a B2B business model in a highly publicized industry was pitching key decision makers at an organization she was hoping to acquire as a client. 

She had been invited in to consider pitching for a project that was being “put out to market” to 2-3 of her competitors plus her. The best pitch would win the deal – a sizeable chunk of work and a shot at forming a long term vendor relationship with this (big deal of a) client. 

Sandy is new at this game – she’s only been in this business for a few years. Client contracts are thin on the ground and she starts feeling the (reality!) of really needing this win. She tells herself she needs it bad. 

The thought of the three other competing vendors eats away at her. She thinks of them as bigger, better and more experienced. She starts to realize the truth: She doesn’t have a shot… unless… she wins the deal by being the cheapest! 

So Sandy makes a decision based on scarcity. To put in a bid well below 30% of what she knows the market rate is. She tells herself she has to do this, to win the contract and a shot at building a relationship with a client. 

If this story resonates, its because it’s the tale of Joe Entrepreneur-Everybody:

You have a shot at the big time, feel afraid of missing out and listen to the fear lizard. More often that not, this results in entrepreneurs woefully underselling themselves.

The lizard believes there’s no other way to compete besides “cheaper” – a belief based on the flawed idea that you can’t possibly be better

In the case of this client of mine, the prospective customer actually came back to them to ask if they had understood the scope of the project brief. They said that they were willing to go ahead with them as the preferred vendor but checked: Are you guys sure you can deliver at this price point?

The response couldn’t have been scripted better. The customer themselves couldn’t fathom how far down the lizard had dragged this particular entrepreneur down.

This is a cautionary tale, because my client almost missed out on the contract entirely by lowballing themselves so much they almost weren’t taken seriously.

They forgot the truth that there is a price point known as “too expensive” and another that’s “too cheap”. Both will stop a deal dead in it’s tracks but only the former gives you any possibility to backtrack on your initial proposal.

Scarcity is the enemy here.

It drives business owners to doubt themselves and the value they offer. It convinces you to lower your prices by doubting any insulation you have from competitors, other than bottom line cost.

The point here is that it’s hard to be immune to this stuff. I seldom tell stories this direct about my clients, but I couldn’t resist this one because the person in question is normally so positive and abundant in their mindset.

We all are. You are too. Right up until that moment when you aren’t.

If you want to be truly abundant, you can’t just focus on positive thinking when it’s “business as usual”. You must also condition yourself to identify and destroy scarcity based thinking that strikes at the most pivotal moments of your entrepreneurial career.

Because the lizard is conniving. It’s smart. It knows not to attack your abundant thinking on a day when you’ve not got much going on, you’ve worked out and you’ve said your affirmations. Instead, it waits until you’re tired, desperate and at the negotiation table with everything on the line. Then it pounces.

To truly adopt an abundant mindset, you have to be prepared for such moments. You need to roll with the scarcity punches and learn to anticipate them.

Last week’s post about making effective decisions has everything to do with this. The secret to being ready for a scarcity attack is the planning you do, when you are your best self.

A terrible side effect of positive thinking leads people to believe they’re “on a roll” when they’re feel good, so they almost enter into a state of denial. They don’t want to think negatively, so they go into denial instead – they pretend nothing bad will ever happen again.

The smart entrepreneur (that’s you) prepares for the scarcity lizard when they’re skipping on cloud-nine. 

You know that all states are transitory, and Newton told you that everything that goes up must also come down. So don’t try to pretend your mojo won’t.

The simple strategy I encourage my clients to follow is this: Be “emotion savvy” about one month out.

That means having a one month projection of where your business is going. What important (scary) meetings will you have in that time? What big bills will hit you? What risks of being derailed are there?

Now, how can you prepare for those scary events that would otherwise summon the scarcity lizard?

For sales meetings, it’s often as easy as physically printing your pricing chart on physical paper well in advance. Having your prices beautifully laid out and committed to your marketing collateral does wonders for your self confidence. It’s a purely psychological hack and it works!

For all the other stuff, just being conscious of what is coming up will actually help you be more mindful of the lizard. Less scary surprises = less opportunity for it to leap from the shadows.

By shining a light on the financial reality of your business, forecasting sales and overhead, you can give the lizard far fewer places to hide.

Most people will never take the above advice though, because it requires you to swap big scary shocks for a little bit of “negative thinking” every day. If your business isn’t in great shape, it’s kinda uncomfortable to know that all the time. 

But it has to be done.

If you want to beat scarcity, you need to lean into the discomfort of knowing your business’s financial reality.

Denial followed by (inevitable) panic isn’t a sustainable or effective strategy. 

Forget positive thinking and get real instead. Success will follow, and then you’ll have something to be really positive about.


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  1. Peter, yet again you hit the nail on the head. I swear your posts follows my situations so closely. I walked around in the Positive Thoughts, “I’m a winner” attitude for nearly 6 months. I just knew that the great project I was working on would be longer term than it was. When the client did not renew the contract (lack of funds, not anything I was doing wrong.) I was devastated. I basically did exactly what you are writing about here. Head in the clouds, no real plan for the future. I rocked back on my positive energy without doing the work. I allowed my pipeline to dwindle. In sales, that’s one of the worst mistake anyone can make. I pulled my head out about 2 weeks before the end of the contract. (I had a feeling it was going away.) I began doing the work. Enter the scarcity lizard.

    Yesterday I pitched the biggest project of my career. It took every single bit of my inner strength not to low ball it. I mean, every ounce of my fortitude to price it according to the Value of the service. I wont find out till Friday if I get it or not, but I am 99% certain I will. I landed the presentation, stood in my own power and explained the value. I am now, unable to eat, sleep or focus with the anticipation. (Fear) But either way, I did the right thing, I presented my true value. I feel really good about that.
    A huge lesson learned and thanks to you and your posts, I am able to walk through this fire. I must say, that while putting the presentation together, I went back and read many of your posts in order to gain the strength and belief in myself.
    I am working this project. It is mine. I am perfect for the job. That’s the positive thinking that I am doing, while waiting for an answer. But while putting the presentation together, I was thinking those things, while doing the work. I will never get sloppy and lazy again, just because I believe in the “Secret” process, I must remember, that it does not work, unless you do the work. NOTHING is accomplished without the work that goes with the positive thinking.
    Thank you for what you do Peter! Your the best!

    1. Wow Wendie, you are right on about that Lizard. I just lost 3 big jobs I needed because my clients picked up on my fear and hunger.

      I didn’t save enough for the winter (I’m in garden and landscape maintenance) and really “needed” these jobs. I followed up with these people numerous times and didn’t get any response. Just ignored me completely and these are people I have over a year rapport with. They didn’t unsubscribe from my mailings so I may be able to win them back in the future, but still embarrassing. I’ve faced this hunger thing before with self esteem issues and now it is really in my face making me realize I need an emotional growth facilitator and a part time job so I have something underneath my business. I think this will give me more space around my business and I can work through the places I’m stuck and scared.

      Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Hmmmm….interesting spin on the topic Peter.

    Sure, too much positivity is an issue.

    Then again, I’d say that too much ANYTHING is an issue.

    I’d much prefer to be positive, or even a bit too positive, than negative or a bit too negative.

    I would have loved to have seen this in a two part post – because I think scarcity is a big issue with many small startups and service providers.

    It’s one of the reasons I don’t compete on price – EVER.

    I’d much rather provide a high quality service for my customer than have to rush to produce crappy content in order to make my time profitable.

    In that case, being positive about there being more fish in the sea will actually DECREASE your scarcity based fears, because you believe that there are other people who will be willing to pay decently for product.

    Thats my two cents anyway!

  3. Peter hits the nail right on the head with this one! I spent many years in the “new age” movement, and now it makes me cringe and often just pissed to see people act all “positive” while they are screaming and really pissed. A beautiful and sweet x-girlfriend of mine was doing the new age positive thing and I began to feel how sad it was for her and she wasn’t even feeling the sadness… I ended up holding the relationship for both of us before I walked away. The numbness you spoke of in your article was right there.

    I’ve grown more in my business recently by getting more real and also working with a coach to help me learn in the areas I’m uneducated. This month is turning out to be the most lucrative month in my entire life! It has come from being real… feeling my rage/hurt and then the positive (like you said) comes organically after that. It isn’t forced whipped cream on shit… it’s real joy/positivity that I earned by being willing to feel my anger/frustrations and face reality.

    A teacher once taught me that if you want to feel the depth of real love and joy, you have to unpack the full depth of your hatred and rage. When I started unpacking my anger in psycho/emotional growth work… this was when I really experienced love and joy to depth beyond my wildest dreams! It arose organically the moment the anger was felt all the way.

  4. Hhmmmm. Timely food for thought again Peter, thank you.
    I am in the midst of forming new conclusions about the efficacy of maintaining positive expectation regardless. The “numbness” you rightly name is key I think, promoting what can turn into a head in the sand approach at the expense of a pro-active approach.
    Its really useful to read your helpful and clearly explained insights and to be reminded I’m not the only one figuring my way through this.

  5. Wow, yes we have had that exact same thing happen to us before – where a client actually called to ask whether we understood the brief.

    Even something as simple as printing a price chart makes it real. Even if there’s still a discount applied in some cases, there’s still a baseline comparison to create a higher level of awareness of the lost money/time.

    Thanks Peter!

  6. Jim Rohn once said that “Affirmation without discipline is the beginning of delusion.”
    I don’t see anything wrong in keeping your mind positive, and like with all things, it’s just a case using of common sense and not taking things to extremes. You don’t have a meltdown when times get tough – but neither do you bury your head in the sand when times get tough.
    Positive thinking and realism are not mutually exclusive.

  7. There is a predominant negative action in our brains that if not balanced with positive thought, or just being mindful of this negative bias has on our health both physically and psychologically, we will be put into a tail-spin of negativity.
    I do appreciate your scarcity examples. We should never sell our souls in business or life. Thank you for this thought provoking post.

  8. There is something to be said for having normal and appropriate reactions to the world around us. We don’t all need to be the most positive person in the room, we don’t need to be a rock star, we don’t need to be celebrities. And we don’t need to ignore reality in order to experience success.

    We can stick with being ourselves, having specific goals, and doing the creative and rational things that lead to achieving those goals.

    Thanks for the article, Peter.

  9. Hi Peter,
    I’ve come to your blog via a newsletter and I am interested in your thinking and approach.
    I love anyone who takes the who “secret” and “positive thinking” and “Law of attraction” worlds to task because the hype is insane and damaging.
    I would go even further than you do in your article. I recently read “The Soul of money” by Lynne Twist as well as Brene Brown’s books and they gave me an absolute ‘aha’ moment. I’d felt uncomfortable with the whole “Let go of the scarcity mindset and embrace abundance” war cry and had never been able to put my finger on it until Brene Brown and Lynne Twist both made the same point… Abundance isn’t the opposite of scarcity… the opposite of scarcity is “sufficiency” or “enough”. Abundance thinking is actually really dangerous… it sets up the seeds of depression and feelings of inadequacy… Abundance is the flip side of the same coin as Scarcity. Powerful stuff.
    So thanks for opening the can of positive thinking and looking inside it… I don’t think there is anywhere near as much in the can as we are told by the business and personal development gurus.
    Roland Hanekroot
    PS another great book in the vein is “The antidote… happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking” by Oliver Burkeman

  10. Just want to let everyone know that I did land that huge account, (Nov. 2013) based on the figures I pitched. I am getting ready to pitch this account again based on needs I see they have. I am going to extend this contract out another 6 months. (Positive thinking…yes… Reality is I am am doing the work and going to land the presentation.) They have a need, I have the solution.

    Scarcity Lizard…. Since I booked this account… my positive thinking has been in overdrive… yet, I am still taking a chunk of each check and putting it away for a rainy day. That way, I will not have to be “HUNGRY”. Clients can smell hunger from a million miles away. No Hunger = Confidence in my experience. You can pitch exactly what your value is without fear.

    Thank you Peter for your abundant wisdom. You are always an inspiration!

      1. I second that!

        And to boot I just landed a part time job to put underneath me and my business so I can start doing the same. I think when I have something steady to pay my bills with and I don’t quote “need the work” it will be so much easier to stand for my value and work for who I want to work for. I work for so many people I don’t want to work for because I need the money and was unwilling to get a job and restructure my business until now. No more!

        Wendie and Peter you fucking rock… thanks again!

        1. Thank you Peter and Ian. There have been several times that I have thought that I might get a “real” job. But I feel I cant separate my focus. I have been offered jobs, really good money and benefits, but I just cant make myself do it, I am afraid to lose the progress that I have made establishing my business, because I become focused on creating someone elses business. I know this is Peters site, but I have to ask Ian. Is getting a part time job putting a band aid on the the Scarcity Lizard or is it overcoming it? And thanks again for the great compliment!! (NOTE: I am not judging or even saying there is a right answer…heck I am learning as I move through owning my own business… I have no idea how hard it would be to have a seasonal style business. I think I am looking for additional dialog and content from a fellow business owner.)

          1. Of course Wendie!

            I have a longer backstory I’m leaving out which explains why it’s different for me, but in short I think (along with my closest freinds) getting a part time job is a step forward in overcoming my scarcity lizard at the moment.

            I didn’t get this as judgement at all and glad you challenged me to ask this question.

  11. Hi! Interesting Topic Peter. Yes too much positive thinking is an issue but i rather be at positive side than negative side. I read an article about business coaching It said there that don’t let our fear holds us back.
    Yes too much positivity can attract fear and might sabotage us but we need to learn how to let go of our fear and do things in positive way.

    Thank you for sharing this articles


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