Avoid “Learned Helplessness”

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.



14 thoughts on “Avoid “Learned Helplessness”

    1. You know tbh from what I’ve read from books in relation to this question, it really is up to the individual to just go into a room, sit down and think extremely hard about his situation of whether he should move forward or quit. And hopefully after all his thinking, he comes up with the right conclusion. People can usually tell though when something is working and when something isn’t. There are times when people lie to themselves that it’s going to work and they waste time going down the same path, but also people need to be adaptable and adapt to their situations. It doesn’t mean you give up on your dreams, you just change the path to get there.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I appreciate that:) That’s exactly right too. I truly believe that everyone has limitless potential, but potential doesn’t mean anything really if you can’t break through your own mental barriers to reach it

      Liked by 1 person

  1. good timing for me on this one. Our reality sometimes changes by how we think about it. Sometimes none of our choices are what we desire but we still have choices and that give us back our feeling of power instead of helplessness. Good article!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Vincent,

    You are always on top of things! In Psychology, we learn that learned helplessness is the result of a person who is taught external locus of control. These people have the tendency to believe that they don’t have control over their own lives.

    I think what really keeps people in this mindset is the idea that every bit of life is supposed to be fun, happy and perfect. We must realize that life is a rollercoaster. Walking around thinking of what could have, would have and should have happened does us no good. In fact, the aforementioned behavior is quite harmful to our mentality.

    This is why it is so important to focus on Now. Focus on the moment! Stop living in the past. Allow yourself to experience life and know that in any given moment you are doing your best. Stop beating yourself up over these mundane little things.

    If you have trouble getting out of a negative or dark space (mentally) you should consider doings things that are calming. Listen to Buddha Radio on Pandora. Burn a scented candle. Start a gratitude journal. Meditate. These are all things that are simple and effect ways to boost our mood and foster emotional stability.

    But of course, if your situation is one that is more than stress and may deal with something more psychological you may want to consider therapy. A lot of people cringe at the notion of seeing a psychologist but it is so important to realize that everything cannot be fixed by ourselves. Some times we need help.

    Awesome Post!

    Kyanna K.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I appreciate that! Thank you:) I can definitely see how the expectation that life is supposed to be perfect can affect this mindset. If you think life is always supposed to be good, but then something bad happens, you’re probably gonna blame it on outside controls, instead of taking responsibility. I agree with you that the past is the past and if someone is feeling negative, they need to just do what’s in their control which is like you said, meditate, grateful list, and listen to music. Too many people if they’re unhappy, won’t do any of that though, so as a result they may feel like they can’t control it, which a state of learned helplessness

      Liked by 1 person

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