What is Learned Helplessness

The official definition is a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. I learned about learned helplessness from a study on dogs by Seligman.

The study took place in 1965, in which Martin Seligman and his colleagues were doing research on classical conditioning, or the process in which an animal or human associates one thing to another. In the classic experiment, he would ring a bell then give a light shock to a dog. After a number of times, the dog reacted to the shock even before it happened. AKA – even without getting shocked, the dog would react as if it were shocked after hearing the bell.

Then, he took the experiment to another level. He divided the large crate down the middle with a low fence that the dog could jump over. The floor on one side was electrified, but not on the other side. Seligman put the dog on the electrified side and administered a light shock. The expectation was for the dog to jump over, however, the dog laid down. It was from the first part of the experiment that there was nothing they could do to avoid shock, so they gave up in the second part of the experiment.

But, then something unexpected happened. Seligman put each dog into a large crate that was divided down the middle with a low fence. The dog could see and jump over the fence if necessary. The floor on one side of the fence was electrified, but not on the other side of the fence. Seligman put the dog on the electrified side and administered a light shock. He expected the dog to jump to the non-shocking side of the fence.

He found that if he had placed dogs who had not been previously shocked, they would quickly jump over the fence to escape the shocks. This indicated to Seligman that the dogs who lay down had acted on helplessness. He described the condition as learned helplessness, or not trying to better oneself in a situation because you are taught there is nothing you can do.

You can read the full study here!

How To Overcome Learned Helplessness

Thinking back to my life to situations where I felt there was nothing I could do to improve, one of the biggest factors that helped me was getting a mentor or guide. There are a ton of self-help books that can help you see an alternate side to your thought patterns that may help you overcome this. One exercise that helped me was taking cold showers in the morning.

It seems like a silly exercise, but after some time it built up some mental toughness. Essentially what I found, was that the mind and body do not want to place itself in an uncomfortable situation. This can be seeded from irrational thoughts for survival – such as if I get in cold temperature, I will not be able to survive. Totally illogical in the 21st century. You would simply get out of the shower, dry off and warm up. However, when I coached clients and people on this subject, you can see the dread and resistance to performing such a simple task.

How to Apply this to your business

One of the biggest push-backs I have received from clients is the feeling that they cannot do anything to generate business. I believe this is in part due to learned helplessness. When presenting clients with the information of Facebook Ads or SEO or creating content to generate demand all to INCREASE WEBSITE TRAFFIC , there was a lot of doubt and pushback to taking action and creating content. As I quoted in the beginning of the video – one such user seemed to have a big victim mentality to why the courses or content creation wasn’t working.

At the end of the day, the biggest thing that will help you out of your situation is to take MASSIVE ACTION and get in the action-oriented mindset. Alot of times – what held me back early in my career – is having everything be theoretical. Keeping thoughts in my head or learning of different ideas helped in the beginning. But there are two parts to life  – Theory and Results. The only way I have found to get results is to get first-hand experience and reference points and to EXPERIMENT.

One of the biggest resources not utilized today in today’s business world is Digital Marketing. Whether its YouTube, Instagram or Facebook – You need to leverage these tools to build a relationship with your customers and audience.  People buy based on WHO YOU ARE and WHY you do things. The easiest way for people to gain trust is to provide value and get yourself in front of a camera!