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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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