My friend, Dawn Ferguson, in my hypnotherapy course, explained a very helpful concept the other night called Learned Helplessness (LH), a coined term in positive psychology. LH is where a person/animal perceives they are unable to change a situation even if the situation IS changeable, based on their perceptions of the event and their lack of ability to alter the event. The feeling of helplessness is expanded to future similar and even not similar encounters based on past failures.
A study was done in which subjects were trying to take a test and concentrate, and they were told an alarm would be going off. After the alarm went off three times and they were interrupted, they felt hopeless that they’d be able to concentrate. Then they were told they could press a button to stop the alarm once it sounded. Just knowing they could do something about the alarms helped them to concentrate, even though the alarm would still go off. It was their perception of their ability to control the alarm that made the difference.
The key number was three times that it took for someone to learn hopelessness. Learned helplessness is maintained long after the circumstances that created it are gone. As a result, we will fail to take advantage of opportunities because we figure they are a futile waste of effort. If, through repeated dieting, losing weight and regaining it, I learned that permanent weight release is impossible, I’ve taught myself LH. I then feel out of control regarding weight release.
I can’t change what I tolerate. So what can we do about LH? The great news is that LH can be “unlearned.” Another study confirmed that it only takes FIVE times of practicing a new behavior in order to “unlearn” the old behavior. This is very hopeful indeed! It also helps us a great deal on our road to recovery and wellness if we observe others who are already demonstrating the healthy behavior we want to model. So if we’ve learned helplessness around our weight, food, body image, poverty, relationships, and so forth and we are depressed in certain areas of our life, we can begin to immediately re-wire our minds and begin to achieve different results.
Just becoming aware that we are in charge of our lives and actions and that we can foster new hope is very empowering! Here’s to your awakening!
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Peace & Blessings,