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Establishing a Process of Change – Overcoming Learned Helplessness

In the “Learned Helplessness Banishment” trilogy…
Read the first post (to understand the Concept of Learned Helplessness), the second post (to identify and ascertain the existence of Learned Helplessness), and this of course, is the third and final post (to establish a process of change and overcome Learned Helplessness).

In the previous post we learned to recognize the issue of learned helplessness. Have you identified a symptom in your behavior? If you haven’t found even one instance of learned helplessness, I suggest you look again. All of us have our apprehensions, our doubts, our beliefs about our inabilities – and they derive their sustenance from LH (Ah – I finally broke the chains and used an abbreviation.)

So let’s be good and review our own actions and corresponding justifications more objectively. Stop for a moment; pick up a pencil and a paper (or whatever else you use for jotting down your thoughts in the e-savvy environment of today.) Don’t tell me, and don’t tell anyone else – but be honest and put down the one thing that you’d really like to change.

Before you move on, remind yourself that life is a thousand times more beautiful when you are in-charge:-)


Photo by YimHafiz
  • Apply the litmus test – Confirm the Need to Bring About a Change
  • Identify/Establish a Motivator and a Process for the Change
  • Review & Fix the Motivator & the Process
  • Repeat the Process
  • Measure Results

Apply the litmus test.

Do you suffer from a physical, objective inability to achieve your specific objective?
Yes>>>Stop. Get help/resolve the real issues impeding your progress towards your objective.
No>>>Good. The issue can be resolved then – merely by controlling your runaway thoughts. Now answer the second question.

Do you attribute the issue to external factors?
Yes>>>Read ahead, apply, and get a life.
No>>>You have a genuine issue. Talk it out with someone – get help from friends – or learn to accept the reality. (I have been suffering from a back problem for about five years now; the pain and the resulting unease aren’t the product of an external factor. So I’ve learned to accept the reality of pain, and I live accordingly.)

(Note for the Instructional Designer Audience: In Instructional Design parlance, you’ve just confirmed the need to learn (to unlearn an attitude that’s bordering on a belief.)

Identify/Establish a Motivator and a Process:

Let us now begin the process of uprooting the unhealthy belief that “you can’t” do something.
The first step that you need to take is – do a physical activity that will help weaken the LH.

Here are a couple of illustrations courtesy Sloth and Froth:
Sloth: “I can’t talk to strangers.” >> Create a situation where you need to speak to strangers. (ride a bus to an unknown place in the city and get lost.)

Froth: “I can’t lose weight.” >> Create a tangible motivation for losing weight. (Spend half your salary on buying a pretty dress (or a handsome suit) that’s one size too small. )

It is quite possible that you are an internally motivated individual and you might not need the external motivation generated by these actions – Nevertheless most of us (even the internally motivated ones) are happier when we can “see” a tangible, achievable, motivational factor.

Now decide upon the process.

Sloth: I’ll get lost in the city and speak to at least five strangers, at least once a week.
Froth: I’ll not eat chocolates on weekdays, and I’ll jog a kilometer at least four days a week.

Review & Fix the Motivator & the Process:

The next step is to analyze what worked and what didn’t. Let us continue to follow Sloth and Froth.

Sloth: “I tried getting lost in the city, but the fear of having to talk with strangers made me get down the bus.” (Corrective Action: Sloth can tell his friends and relatives, that they should “dump” him in unknown locations, without prior warning.)

Froth: “I bought the dress…I spent a whole month’s salary on it! But I still weigh 65 kgs and I can’t keep off ice-creams and chocolates!” (Correction: Froth, I advised spending half-month’s worth of salary on it and not full-month’s…any way, here’s the corrective action you may want to take. Froth can keep the dress in a place where she sees it every day. She can also try it on (I know what it feels like to put on a dress a size too small – You feel like you are reborn when you peel it off.)

So the process changes to accommodate your problems:
Sloth: I’ll ask my friends to help me get lost in the city and speak to at least five strangers, at least once a week.
Froth: I’ll wear the new dress for an hour every weekend. I’ll not eat chocolates on weekdays, and I’ll jog a kilometer at least four days a week.

Repeat the Process:

After you’ve cleaned up your process, and got your motivational factors in place; now apply the process repeatedly, and after each repetition revel in your success, however minute it may be. Remember that every learning (or unlearning – as in this case,) experience has three fundamental phases: knowledge transfer, reinforcement, and assessment. The first phase is akin the identification of the issue, determination of the motivator, and establishment of the process (of learning/unlearning). The second phase is about practicing the learning/unlearning, and the final phase is about figuring out whether the learning/unlearning was successful.

So now you need to practice through repetition of the process. To get rid of your LH you need to go through your specific process again and again – and with each repetition, you’ll feel more confident of having kicked the demon out of your system.

I still remember the day, when in my final year of graduation, I faced my demons (read: LH) of not being able to speak formally, and I spoke (about something that I’ve now completely forgotten,) in front of the entire class. A year from that day, I had got over my fears. I addressed about 200 executives and senior executives of the organization I worked for, without getting the jitters – though what I said was undiplomatic…yet, my confidence came from the knowledge that there was no external/internal reason that should inhibit my ability to speak my mind – in front of everyone!

Measure Results:

When you begin to feel confident of having exorcised your demons, put yourself to test. If you have a close confidante, design the test with him or her by your side. Let’s see what Sloth and Froth would do at this stage.

Sloth: I’ll visit all those heads of marketing; all those I’ve been avoiding like plaque, and make them a presentation to wow them.
Froth: I’ll wear the new dress to the party that my colleague is throwing.

Assessments not only confirm whether you’ve achieved what you had set out to achieve, they also help you determine the lacunae in your approach – and if they succeed, they instill you with the confidence required to bring about other positive changes in your life.

So we’ve reached the end of this trilogy of posts. I know that the only bright points in this lengthy monolog must be Sloth and Froth…but I hope you found them useful. Try working out a process of change for your own brand of LH – and see it work:-)

In the “Learned Helplessness Banishment” trilogy…
Read the first post (to understand the Concept of Learned Helplessness), the second post (to identify and ascertain the existence of Learned Helplessness), and this of course, is the third and final post (to establish a process of change and overcome Learned Helplessness).

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Learned Helplessness – Identifying and Understanding it to Eliminate Depression!

In the “Learned Helplessness Banishment” trilogy…
Read the first post (to understand the Concept of Learned Helplessness), and the third and final post (to establish a process of change and overcome Learned Helplessness). This is the second post in the series.

Understanding an attitude isn’t easy and identifying it in someone else could be simpler than identifying it in yourself. If you look at “learned helplessness,” this attitude borders on belief. You begin to “believe” that you are helpless due to external factors, and that you can’t do anything about it. “What is, is and so it will remain,” becomes your mantra – your justification for feeling helpless. This feeling then leads to depression.


Photo by P0psicle

Depression is characterized by a mental state where you feel worthless and trapped. Obviously this mental state can only reinforce your feeling of helplessness. Thus, the situation becomes really difficult. What feeds upon itself to grow, can grow endlessly.

The first step towards vanquishing the demon of depression along with its mistress, the learned helplessness; is to “understand” (very cognitively and not at all emotionally) that the feeling of helplessness is an illusion. It isn’t real, as it is not supported by a physical inability to achieve what you want. This excellent post by Lex manifests this stage of learning to recognize and understand learned helplessness.

Lex did a self-analysis and realized that the “I can’t” attitude towards improving her health could be weeded out, because there was no real (root) cause supporting it. I realize that this step may be easy for some individuals (because their locus of control is more internal – they feel that they can control the outcomes of a situation) than some others (who have an external locus of control and who feel that external factors are more potent and they have a strong bearing on the outcome of a situation.)

As you read through this post, your mind will shift gears and go into high-drive. For example, you will probably say “learned helplessness? Big deal. I already know about it – but what I feel is much deeper.” Ask yourself whether your defense isn’t a result of the phenomenon itself.

Here’s an example:
“I don’t think I can drive, I am clumsy.” However, a closer look reveals that I can’t be qualified as clumsy. I don’t break things often and only rarely smash my little toe against the open door. And nobody I know has that clean a record that I expect of myself before I begin to learn how to drive.”

Now I tell myself (and others, who might be interested,) “I know I am clumsy and don’t tell me that I am not. There are other examples of my clumsiness too. I can’t risk my life and the life of others – just so that I may drive. I am clumsy – I am one in a million (because million minus one can drive,)”...and so on and so forth.

The good news is – driving is no big deal. So I can revel in not driving without experiencing drastic consequences. But then there are certain big deals too.

Let me illustrate:

  • I can’t do Math (Science, English, Geography…you name it.)>>>Result: Poor Grades
  • I can’t cook (And I can’t understand how the best chefs in this world are men?)>>>Result: Poor Health
  • I can’t exercise (I don’t have the time.) >>>Result: Poor Health
  • I can’t find a job (People don’t want my skills.) >>>Result: Low Income
  • I can’t write (I speak well – and my job needed spoken language proficiency) >>>Result: Reduction in possible career opportunities
  • I can’t make friends (Nobody likes me.) >>>Result: Loneliness
  • I can’t do anything (Everyone hates me, I don’t have a job, I can’t quit smoking)>>>Result: A lack of interest in life and thoughts of suicide.

Review the results. They all lead to depression, and they all have their origins in “learned helplessness” or unsupported “I can’ts”

All these are big deals! They impact us, and they impact our loved ones. I recommend that you first identify the symptoms (you can see them in the “Results” of the above list – such as Poor Grades, Low Income, Loneliness and so on.) Then figure out why you aren’t taking steps to remove those symptoms. If you find yourself giving “external factors” as excuses, you are suffering from Learned Helplessness in that arena.

If you have identified the problem, you are now ready to oust it from your life. In the next post, I put forth my thoughts on how we can “unlearn” learned helplessness, and lead a happier, more fulfilling life.

Additional References:
Belief” for understanding the concept of Belief.

In the “Learned Helplessness Banishment” trilogy…
Read the first post (to understand the Concept of Learned Helplessness), and the third and final post (to establish a process of change and overcome Learned Helplessness). This is the second post in the series.

 

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