Learned helplessness: Why you don’t live your dream-life (yet)

BY  Louis M. Morgner
June 13, 2021

Take a deep breath.

How is your life going?

Take another deep breath. Close your eyes (After reading the next line).

What do you want your life to be?

Not realistically. Imagine your perfect life in your wildest dreams. Be honest with yourself. Dare to dream. How big can you go?

Now write that down.

Chances are, your current life is nowhere close to what you just dreamed up.

Maybe currently, you are happy. Maybe not.
Maybe you are satisfied with what you have achieved. Maybe not.
Maybe you would not want to change a thing. Maybe you do.

In any case, there is one thing that is holding you back from where you currently are (status quo) and where you dream of going (aspirations). And that thing might not make sense at first, but stick with me.

Introducing the concept of learned helplessness, and what it has to do with you.

Learned helplessness is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a person stops trying to change their current circumstances even if they have the ability to do so. The reason for this are past experiences that led to the person not believing in their ability to control or change their situation. If you’re interested in learning more about the phenomenon, read up here. Let’s see why this matters to you and your life.

Remember the questions from the beginning of the article? Compare your status-quo to your aspirations. Where you currently are to where you want to go (if you dare to dream). The only thing that is standing between the status-quo and your aspirations is you. And only you. Not society. Not the broken school system. Not your parents. Not your friends. Not the business world. Not your demographics. Not your race. It’s you, and only you who stands between the status quo and your aspirations. Yes, the world can be “unfair” and we don’t all start in equal positions. Some people will have a much harder time getting somewhere than others. Inequality and systemic segregation are problems, but in the end, you are the person who is in charge no matter what your background is.

We need to have the courage to challenge the status quo through our actions. You are in control. You are in control of the actions you take every day. You are in control of your life. And just because you get stuck after a while over and over again is a poor reason to give up. Stop learning to accept the status quo and don’t view it as something that is uncontrollable. Start to figure out a way to do it. Over and over again. Relentlessly. Until one day, you start seeing results and come to the realization that you are in control.

It always seems impossible until it’s done. — Nelson Mandela

What you can do about learned helplessness.

No one besides yourself can help you with overcoming your version of learned helplessness (and we all have our own version in our life). You need to figure out a way to overcome the status quo. Yes, outcomes are seldom controllable, yet your actions definitely are. With this knowledge, you can start provoking change.

Becoming aware of the concept of learned helplessness and that everyone experiences it at some level might be enough for you to actually start the process of combatting it. How? Through the realization that you are in control and that you have the skills it takes if you commit to the right determined actions.

There is the famous serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr which resonates quite well with the idea of learned helplessness:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
-Reinhold Niebuhr

Remember your bold dream about your life? It might seem harder than it actually is if you were to try. But for this to work, you need to make a conscious decision and devote your energy to it. Every day. Accept what you cannot change while having the courage to realize what you can change and control. If you hit a roadblock, don’t give up because that’s the comfortable way. No, try again and figure it out. Figure it out.

As a reminder to take control and combat learned helplessness, I created a background for my phone and laptop. Feel free to download (phone, laptop) them and be reminded. Every. Day.

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