Five Ways to Turn Deficit Into Gratitude

Are you plagued by a deficit-perspective?

A deficit-perspective is the result of thinking, believing, or acting from the belief that you aren't enough, that your efforts are insufficient, or that your struggles indicate you don't have what it takes. Reyna, for example, a former client told me she needed to understand why she continued to struggle to build relationships. "There's obviously something wrong with me," she chided herself in our first session, "Something about me needs to change. I need to be a different person." 

Positive change is the business I've chosen. I'm almost always willing to get on board with a client whose desire to change will produce a better quality of life. In the case of Reyna, however,  her desire to change was catalyzed by a story consumed with "not enoughs" and "less thans."

I never accommodate deficit. 

Our journey was to explore how the story about the woman she saw in the mirror prevented her from being fully authentic in her relationships. The moment she got close, she pulled away because she was afraid of what would be seen. Her deficit-laden narrative kept her isolated. 

Many positive changes can reduce the impact of a deficit-perspective. One of the ways that worked for Reyna was to exchange deficit for gratitude. Anytime Reyna caught herself thinking, feeling, or acting as though she weren't good enough, she created a way to turn "not enough" into "grateful I'm enough." 

If you're struggling with a deficit-perspective, here are five lessons you can learn from Reyna, five ways you can turn deficit into gratitude. 

1. Cultivate a connected spirit.

Reyna discovered that her isolation was only one position in a cycle of self-doubt and deficit. The worse she felt, the more she turned away from relationships. The more she turned away, the more she believed in what she lacked. A connected spirit is a vulnerable spirit. Call two people to whom you feel relatively safe reaching out and tell them why you are grateful for their friendship. Cultivate, rather than wait for, a connected spirit.

2. Activate self-compassion.

When I find a deficit-narrative lurking in my clients' language or relationships, I point it out and ask clients to do the same for themselves. Sometimes, clients unintentionally turn this discovery process into another opportunity to berate themselves. We all do this. "Dang! I did it again, didn't I? I'm so bad at this." Rather than attempt to change your thoughts when you catch the deficit-perspective, start by simply noticing it is there. Don't attempt to change it. Once you've discovered it, activate self-compassion by saying something to yourself that you'd tell a struggling friend or loved one. "It's okay," are two of the most powerful words in any language.

3. Do something for which you are grateful. 

As I studied my weekly schedule this morning, I was disappointed that it was not as full as I'd like. Immediately, I was seized by a deficit-narrative that wanted me to embody failure. It amazes me where I find the deficit-perspective creeping.

In a calendar.

On a scale.

On a paycheck.

In a relationship.

This blog is a result of that story trying to ruin my day. I know that once I save and publish this blog, I will be grateful for having created something that I hope will make a positive impact, effectively silencing the deficit that wishes me to believe I have no ability to influence people.

You can do this too. When you notice the deficit, do something for which you would be grateful, something that will change the day's story from "not enough," to "gratefully enough." 

4. Write a gratitude story. 

A gratitude story is like a mad lib in reverse. Select 10 attributes you'd like to embody, 5 of which should be verbs. For example, if you'd like to run more, choose the word "run." Then, choose five adjectives by which you'd like to be known.

Happy. Empowered. Wise. Patient.

Write these attributes on lined sheet of paper and build a story around those words about yourself. Create a story for which you would be grateful that someone else wrote it about you. Be creative shedding the voices that critique you when you try to do something positive. Research by Brene Brown reveals that creative people struggle less with a deficit-perspective. Write the story as if you've already lived it. Write it as if you're going to live it, or write it as if it reflects how you currently live. Just get it down.

5. Risk.

You could argue that the previous four steps are risks. Certainly choosing to be vulnerable with a friend is a risk. But risk is so important, it deserves its own category. Risk provokes change. We who struggle with a deficit-narrative usually risk too little because a risk that does not return the desired result confirms all the bad things we believe about ourselves. Folks who live free of a deficit-perspective whose risks fail to return the desired effect conclude something about the risk, rather than the risk-taker. Make a new friendship. Go to school. Ask for help. Take a risk.

Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors don't change by waiting. 

You cannot create a deficit-free life, but you may be able to create a deficit-free day. Cultivate a connected spirit, activate self-compassion, do something for which you would be grateful, write a gratitude story, and take a risk. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Dr. Mathis Kennington