The Starvation Mentality
As part of our self-compassion diet, we try to be aware of what creates unhealthy, disempowering behaviors around sleeping, eating, waking, and living. One of the greatest obstacles we face is our fear of starving. We fear there will not be enough food, when we get home or go to the grocery store or to the restaurant. You should be in Boston before a storm. It looks like a milk and bread famine. We fear there not being enough money at work or in the world. We fear that there will not be enough jobs, not enough romantic partners, not enough experiences of joy, not enough tickets at the movie theater or clothes in the clothing store.
Black Friday should be called Vengeance Friday for the aggressive manner in which most people pursue this one-day of discounted shopping. Can you blame them? What if there is not enough? Sometimes, there really is not enough, but most of the time there is.
The problem with the starvation mentality is that we have a tendency to search for surplus, which leads us to overspend, overeat, to choose romantic partners willy nilly, to overcommit to work and friend obligations, but most importantly to be driven by fear rather than free will. I love to hear the people, who talk about how strong fear is, and what a great motivator it is.
The truth is that fear is an effective short-term motivator, but it creates long-term damage, and inspires us to make decisions based on survival. So, here you are bloated, overworked, strung out, and with a romantic partner who is driving you absolutely mad with a closet full of clothes you may never get the chance to wear. You may be saying, but isn’t this what people do? You are right. They do that, but it is not helpful. In fact, it creates an endless cycle of suffering. Who wants that? Not me!
The 4 Big Forces Driving the Starvation Mentality
The way we break out of this cycle of starving is to first understand it. There are 4 important explanations.
I. Evolutionary Psychology
Evolutionarily speaking, thousands of years ago we all searched for food, and the nomadic struggle was real. People actually starved to death. Similarly, during the great depression, which was a mere 100 years ago, people also searched for food without success on many days. They do today, as well, but far fewer in numbers. Because we starved longer than we have had ample resources, we have a starving mentality deeply embedded in our genes and in our culture.
One of the saddest things in the entire world is how much we allow marketers and advertisers to use what we know about psychology. The great majority of these companies use fear and loss to motivate people to buy their products. Perhaps there are times during the day in which you are aware of this attempt at persuasion and can fend it off, but at some point, you will be tired and this persuasion will come through the peripheral route (that which you are not actively attending to) and you will not be able to catch it in time. And voila, you will find yourself starving for whatever they are offering.
III. Social Media
Social media needs you to see it as a vital part of your day, so they also use fear and loss to persuade you to utilize their services. Want to be cool? Want to be socially accepted? Want to be connected to the people you care about, to important things happening, and not be left behind? Then, subscribe to social media. We fear this starvation and subscribe.
The more you consume the more money restaurants make. American restaurants provide more options to buy food and bigger portions than almost anywhere else you will travel in the world. Because this business model is successful, other countries, like France, have begun to adopt it. One of the key recipes to a successful restaurant is making you starve. Ever notice how long you have to wait before receiving your meal, and that most restaurants offer bread while you wait? Carbohydrates make it seem like they are satiating you, but lack the protein and nutrients you get from meats and vegetables, which means that they are a great way of fooling you into thinking you are being fed while your appetite builds and you buy more food.
Freedom From Starvation
With so many reasons to starve, no wonder we have a starving mentality, and end up suffering as a result of overconsumption. Who wants to starve? Who wants to be left out or miss out? Who wants to not experience the delight of eating out? None of us do. That is what makes us such good marks. As soon as we bite on the bait, somebody somewhere is celebrating an “I got you, sucker!” moment. Of course, this same person is suffering from the starvation mentality themselves, so it is not like they are actually winning. I tell people all the time, you spend enough time hustling other people, and you will eventually hustle yourself.
So how do we break out of this mess? First, we recognize the aforementioned drivers of starvation in our culture. It makes no sense to puff out our chests and pretend we are unfazed. This just makes us more apt to fail under the burden of all of that pressure, which leaves us with self-criticism and shame. You cannot overcome something by trying to avoid it. You just give it more power that way. It is an implicit acknowledgment of fear. Instead, we acknowledge it.
When these feelings come up, we say: This is starvation. Can I make room for starvation? Can I soften around the idea of starvation? Can I let starvation pass? Notice how it manifests in your body like a keen, interested, and compassionate observer. Name it. Make space for it. Allow it to pass. Acknowledge how hard it is on you to be compelled by fear, and then choose an action that brings you well-being, and draws you closer to your goals of living a meaningful life.
The two greatest weapons against fear are self-compassion and a deeper purpose in life. If you are unsure of what you want to do with your life, fear can always show up and push you around. It senses the vulnerability, and uses that to steer you its way, but when you are full of purpose fear is a distraction. When you are truly passionate about something, you will be full of love. Being full of love means that you are much more prone to pick an action that guides you towards meaningful goals because a meaningful life will always be more attractive than fear.
These conversations are easiest with people who have kids. When I ask them if they have ever thought about not showing up for their kids when they are sick, or have trouble in school, or are burdened by problems the parents are unfamiliar with, nine times out of ten they say no way. When we look deep into their reasoning, the truth that they find is that they love their children more than they fear failing their children.
Freedom from Starvation Mindset
You are your own child. That is something with which you need to come to terms. You are charged with the same responsibilities of taking care of yourself, and wishing yourself a good life that you would accord to any other child under your charge. You must decide what you need to live a meaningful like (like you would for a child), and choose to put that meaningful life before fear because you love yourself more than you fear failing yourself. Try as you might, if you look hard enough you will realize the truth in that.
We are all adult children. When we suffer, we need care. When we lack direction, we need to be able to set our sites on a goal that promises well-being and meaningfulness. As we could give our children permission to change goals as life changes around them, give yourself the same permission.
Let go of starvation, so long as you are committed to loving yourself, seeking out your genuine truths, and developing an action plan that pursues a life according to these truths with compassion to steady the ship on your journey starvation will have no hold on you.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 85. In the Books.