The Abundance Mindset vs Scarcity Mindset for Physicians


Have you ever noticed how two people can go through a similar journey (like residency) but have radically different attitudes and experiences by the end of it?

As the saying goes, you may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it. In a way, you’re responsible for how things in your life affect you internally.

I’ve learned that mindset is everything in life. It can truly change the way you handle stressful situations, how you learn and create success, and even how you find happiness.

Many years ago, Stephen Covey wrote about this concept in his classic work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey says that most people have one of two mindsets; they see life through the lens of either scarcity or abundance.

I read Covey’s book years ago, and since that time, I’ve come to realize how spot on he really was.

So, let’s dig a little deeper into these mindsets, and how they truly can impact our lives.

The Scarcity Mindset

The scarcity mindset is what Covey calls the “zero-sum paradigm of life.” Basically, life is like a pie, and there’s only so much to go around. Some get bigger slices, which leaves less for others.

This type of thinking manifests itself in various ways. People with the scarcity mindset often have the following thoughts:

  • Since there is only so much to go around, they try to hoard resources.
  • Competition is more important than collaboration.
  • Any sharing of knowledge will only help their competition beat them.
  • Others should be helped, but only if they receive something of equal or greater value in return.
  • They’re worried that people are always after them, seeking to tear down their accomplishments.
  • Fear of risk often paralyzes them from making big moves and decisions.
  • They truly fear change.
  • They may feel deep anxiety about budgeting and saving, taking frugality to the level of deprivation.

Needless to say, this mindset is, at its core, all about serving one's own interests. It’s all about getting a bigger slice of the pie, no matter the cost to one’s peace of mind.

The Abundance Mindset

In stark contrast, Covey says that those who see life through an “abundance” mindset feel that there is not only enough of the pie to go around, everyone can have seconds or even thirds.

This type of thinking manifests in the following ways:

  • An understanding that life is less about competition and more about collaboration.
  • They’re generous with their time, knowledge, and support.
  • They freely give more of their finances to worthy causes.
  • They gain the trust of others and develop valuable relationships.
  • Risk is seen as a necessary part of growth as well as change.
  • They are adaptable and optimistic.

People with this mindset are generally happier. Helping others is seen as the way to get ahead, not only for themselves but for their peers as well.

Physicians and Their Mindset

Well, I believe that we weren’t really trained to go through life with an abundance mentality. Whether or not you agree, it’s clear that it took a lot of competition to get where we are.

If your school was graded on a curve like mine, you know there were only so many “A” grades to be given out. There were then only so many spots in medical school, in residency, and there were only so many jobs. It’s a cutthroat world, and we knew we had to be the best to beat out everyone else.

My own college had the reputation of being an extremely cutthroat school, and at times, I definitely felt that people were trying to put you down to lift themselves up.

So when it comes to financial freedom, I can understand why physicians might feel the same way. The journey to financial independence must be similar to the one that brought us to be physicians, and we think we have to outthink and compete against everyone else.

However, I believe that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Abundance Mindset and Financial Freedom

I believe all physicians have the opportunity to reach financial freedom. Sure, some of our paths might be a little bit more difficult, as some have higher student loan debt, lower paying specialty, or live in higher cost of living areas. But with smart investments and by creating businesses, I think we can reach it regardless of these obstacles.

However, that does involve taking on some level of risk. It takes venturing beyond what’s safe and thinking that there’s hope out there. Most importantly, when it comes to risk, you have to be willing to take it.

Reaching financial freedom also takes learning from people and collaborating. It takes being vulnerable and asking people for help. (These are some of the reasons I created the group, Passive Income Docs!) These are pillars of the abundance mindset, and those who have it are always willing to share how they reached their own levels of success–not because there’s always some immediate gain for themselves, but because they know that what goes around comes around.

Collaboration is the key. In this game of financial freedom, “the rising tide lifts all boats” as they say. People can help each other by sharing knowledge and resources and in the end, everyone wins.

Again, this concept is foreign to a lot of physicians. Despite the competitive nature of our profession, it’s important to realize that the more we can share information, support one another, and educate one another, the faster we can all get where we want to be.

The road to becoming a physician isn’t easy, but it is fairly clear-cut. But there is no one path to financial freedom. There are twists and turns, and adaptability and resourcefulness are key attributes of successful people. Having that abundance mindset helps you stay open to opportunities, and you’re better able to spot them when you come across them.

How Do You Change Your Mindset from Scarcity to Abundance?

If you find yourself adopting the scarcity mindset, or wondering if it applies to you, the initial step to progress is to recognize the signs. Take a look at that list of manifestations a few paragraphs up. Do you fall more in the scarcity or abundance mindset?

If it’s the scarcity mindset, realize that change is necessary, and, most crucially, make a determination to change. Here are some practical steps to make it happen.

First, practice gratitude and generosity. This can be in the form of money, time, and/or knowledge. Try to give to others and you’ll realize you have more than enough and are quite fortunate in life. That’s a huge step in finding the abundance mindset. This method has worked wonders for me.

Second, share your experiences and create a community with like-minded people that share that mindset and can offer support. Be active members of Facebook groups (like our group, Passive Income Docs or one of the ones I recommend), or go to meetups with colleagues and friends. Talk with people who are also trying to better themselves and others.

Third, push yourself to try new experiences and educate yourself on other methods of building the life that you want. Broaden your horizons, and you’ll see how much there is to go around.

Fourth and finally, focus on the end goal and realize that failure will only help you achieve your goals. As Edison put it while trying to perfect the light bulb, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” Realize that there is hope and there are great possibilities. Look to others for inspiration, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

As physicians trying to achieve financial freedom, having a mindset of abundance makes all the difference. it’s very important to realize that it will not only help you reach your goals, but it will help you enjoy life far more when you do get there.

Do you have a scarcity or abundance mindset?



  1. Well spoken Peter. One of the great things about being a part of the physician financial blog community is indeed the collaborative effort.

    Jim Dahle of white coat is one of the best examples of the abundance mentality. He has helped many bloggers starting out and rather than viewing them as competition sees them as helping to spread the word (sort of like his disciples).

    I too have tried to help others in blogging with suggestions or mentions but of course since my platform is nowhere near the size of yours and Jim’s it obviously has a much smaller impact. But I still do it because you do derive satisfaction knowing you have helped someone try and achieve their dream.

  2. Hate to get political, but I read scarcity vs abundance similar to conservative vs liberal. A lot of the traits you mentioned for both seem to align with those political ideals. This is based on having lived in deep blue and red States as well as having friends/family that lean either way. Of course it’s not an absolute and there are variabilities. As a culture, I feel that Americans lean slightly towards the scarcity mindset. Likewise, I think most physicians lean that way as well. I tend to lean towards abundance mindset but it can be tough to find the right balance when others aren’t of that same mindset.

  3. Well PIMD,

    I am Canadian and during our first day of medical school they told us to look to our right and then look to our left. And then they said “Take a deep breath cause you will all make it through!”

    I’ve always felt abundance even when I had negative numbers in my bank account.

    I agree that it is all a mindset. But for many folks, if you have to waste all that energy explaining it to them, they likely won’t get it or accept it anyways.

    It’s sort of like all those empathy courses during Med School. If I need to teach you how to have empathy as an adult, something went really sideways in your development already.

    • Agree with your comments MB! I have tried to explain scarcity and abundance mindset to a close relative with not much luck. It amazes me how even close relatives can differ so much in scarcity versus abandance mindset. I also trained in Canada at University of Manitoba and once we entered medical school, there were no grades. Just pass or fail. The med school felt that lack of grades fostered collaboration versus competition. I think it was a huge success!

  4. That was a very well written blog—but more importantly, a much NEEDED blog in our physician-sphere. 😉 I *try* to write in a small gratitude journal daily and it’s been such a mental benefit, as I view myself as a blessed person throughout the day after having started off “counting my blessings.” Thanks for writing that!

  5. A great way to see what kind of mindset we live in is to look at our charitable giving, either via time or money. So many people trumpet their personal financial success but admit to only giving a percent or two away.

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