Working Our Way Out of A Deficit Mindset: Identifying The Mindset

Photo by Arthur Brognoli on

Our society encourages us to view ourselves from what we can reasonably identify as a deficit mindset. For those of you not familiar with it, a deficit mindset is a way of thinking that focuses on what you can not do, or what we ‘need to’ improve on.

Its a mindset that is surprisingly pervasive in our society if you know where to look for it:

  • The DSM-5 (the book that psychologists use to diagnose mental disorders) is focused on the deficits of a patients. (that means if you have all of the symptoms of a mental disorder, but it is not causing your distress or an inability to care for yourself – a deficit – you technically cannot be diagnosed.
  • Evaluations in education in the work place. Instead of focusing what areas of growth/successes a period and how to grow on those, they tend to focus on what is not going well and what the person needs to do in order to “fix” themselves.
  • Advertising, this is the first use of the deficit model that I can trace. The entirety of advertising is about convincing a consumer that your product will solve a problem or meet a need that they have. It has become pervasive.

For a lot of products that means creating a need. In order to convince someone that they have a problem. That is where deficit thinking becomes something that you have to push.

If you want someone to dye their hair, you need to convince them that the natural process of going grey is something to be considered a flaw. If you want to convince people to buy your luxury car, you’re going to have to convince them that they need to signal wealth. If you want to get people to watch your TV show/movie you’re going to have to convince them that it will give them a (preferably intense) emotional experience missing from their lives.

And advertising is everywhere. Its pervasive in a culture of late stage capitalism, normalized, accepted. But just because the well is poisoned, does not mean that we should accept the poison water as inevitable.

Maybe next time, I’ll work on identifying an alternative.

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