Before there was a lot of conscientiousness among animal testing, psychologists did an experiment where they put dogs inside of a box they couldn’t escape out of. And then what the psychologists did was they would shock the dogs.
Initially, the dogs would bark and jump, but eventually the dogs would stop trying to avoid the shocks and would just lay down as if they were utterly helpless to change the situation.
The psychologists then took those dogs out of the box and put them in a different box that didn’t have a roof on it. It was a box that the dogs could easily jump out of and escape from if they wanted to.
But when these dogs were shocked again, they laid down instead of trying to escape.
This is what Dr. Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, calls “learned helplessness.”
Even when opportunities for the dogs to escape the box presented themselves, the dogs’ learned helplessness prevented them from escaping.
Like the dogs in this experiment, most people throughout history were usually put into a box that had a roof on it.
If you were born a peasant, for example, you had a roof on your box, meaning there was no possible way for you to get out of it.
Today however, the roofs have been lifted, but many of us still trap ourselves into mental boxes that we can escape from, but choose not to.
This is “learned helplessness.”
Even when people can escape from the mundane tasks of their day to day work to pursue their dreams, they don’t.
Instead, they constantly feel overwhelmed by circumstances they feel they can’t control.
When people feel they have no influence over their situation, they begin to behave in a helpless manner and this inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for change.
If you feel for too long that you can’t fix your situation, you will eventually just lay down in your box.
It’s not the environment that hampers us, but the mental box that we put ourselves inside of.