Are You A Victim Of Learned Helplessness?

Posted on Posted in Anxiety, happiness, Health, Life

I took my daughter out to dinner this week, and on the way home we ambled into a book store. We browsed for ages. She was sent to the kids section and I browsed around the rest!

I love book stores. Don’t you?  The quietness of people disappearing into different worlds. Everyone is calm in book shops. Even my 6 year old!

I digress.

One thing I always notice is the sheer volume of books on health, wellness, fitness, diets etc. This is an area of interest for me, and so I often check them out…however it also made me think about ‘learned helplessness’.

Learned helplessness was a term introduced by psychologist Martin Seligman, who was known as the founder of positive psychology, although the term had been coined in the 1950’s by Maslow.

Seligman’s famous experiment was where he rang a bell and then lightly (I hope) shocked the dog. After a time the dog reacted to being shocked upon hearing the bell even though the shock had not been administered.

He then went on to put the ‘conditioned’ dog in a crate with a low wall separating the crate into halves. The wall was low enough for the dog to see over and certainly low enough for it to jump over. One side of the crate had a electrified floor and the other side did not.

When they dog received a shock it did nothing to remove itself.  When Seligman conducted the same ‘crate experiment’ with a dog who had not been preconditioned, the dog, naturally removed itself by jumping the wall.

And this brought about the concept of learned helplessness.

“Learned helplessness is described as not trying to get out of a negative situation because past experience has taught you that you are helpless.”  Quote sourced from

How does this relate to ‘us’?

Think about anything that you have tried and ‘failed’ at before. If we link back to the book store then we can go with diets. Something most of us can relate to.

We may have tried a particular diet. And ultimately, failed…and by failed I mean ended up back where we were, or worse off, than when we started.

Then we go into the book shop and we see book upon book offering us the answer.

What this indicates to us, unconsciously, is that we don’t know enough about our own bodies or about how to be well and so we are led to believe, which is further supported by our past experiences (and we want to believe) that this book, this shake, this pill, this plan, is it. This one will be the answer to our problem.

Learned helplessness.

The diet industry, has taught us, conditioned us, that we don’t know enough about ourselves, our bodies, our minds and we have been taught to follow advice (that is largely poor) and ignore what is actually happening, in reality, to our bodies and our minds.

We have lost, through conditioning, the inherent ability to make decisions based on noticing how we feel when we put different foods in to our bodies.

I was the same. I ate predominantly raw veggies, ‘the rainbow’ and raw green smoothies for ages because it was deemed to be the healthiest way to eat. And I totally managed to ignore the bloating, the gas, the bowel irritation that went along with eating like that. Until I was (re)taught to learn to listen to my body.

These days, when I share what I eat most people cannot compute because conditioning – by industry – has created bias in us. Even though I look healthy, I am healthy, I teach people about health….there is so much conditioning that influences us.

Science is…changes all the time. As we are seeing right now experts are moving away from the the ingrained belief that fat causes heart disease and obesity. Science is only as good as the human conducting it!

And, what’s even more interesting, is that people have changed what they eat and they FEEL SO GOOD,  often, they will be influenced to ignore that and go back to eating the way a book, or a friend tells them…

It’s OK to follow the herd… if you make a conscious decision to do so…however stop, if it’s not working for you.

And this is where we have to UNlearn helplessness.

We must learn to check back in to who we are, and what we want, and why we want it.
We must learn. Full stop.
Read the books – but be prepared to do your own research and be prepared to abandon the ideas of they don’t work for you.

To reverse learned helplessness we must continue to educate ourselves with new information, we must take and try what works for us and leave what doesn’t. We must be prepared to be adaptable and change.

And you must be prepared to be accountable for where you are. And you must understand that, for the most part, you can manage your health through LIFESTYLE. You don’t need a science degree.

It’s simple. But not easy.

Cut out the junk food. Cut out the processed food.
Move your body every day. You don’t need to join a gym, fit in a class – just walk.
Stop each day and do nothing. Put away your phone and stare into space, people watch, sit under a tree and read.
Catch the limiting thoughts and swipe them away.

It’s simple. But not easy.

Yet you know.

Look at all the things that are not helping you and change them.

Because you do know.

Re-learn to look, feel and check in to what your body is telling you.
Your body is always trying to be the healthiest it can be – return always to a state of homeostasis – your job is to allow it to.

When you eat or drink something that your body can’t handle – your body will tell you whether it’s through bloating, bowel problems, feeling tired and lethargic all the time, skin breakouts, weight gain, aching joints, right through to the onset of chronic illness and disease.
Your body is telling you that what you are doing is not working!

Get advice, guidance, coaching but ultimately be accountable for your own choices and if you are following someones advice and its not working – question it. Go back. Try something different.  Be open to step outside of your preconditioned learning.

Be prepared to look at what has gone before and learn from it, but don’t accept it as truth.

Do not accept that you will never be something.

It’s simple. But not easy.

You got this.

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