I’ve written about this feeling many times: the sense that nothing that you do really has any effect on the what is happening in your life. I’ve experienced it many times as well—during a break up, when I learned about having Hashimotos Thyroiditis and never seeming to find a way to ‘feel better’, or at times in my career, or lack thereof when it seemed like I worked hard and nothing came of it, and even in trying to find a mate. There’s a sense of powerlessness as you realize that you can try to solve a problem but that all you are doing is banging your head against a wall that does not seem to move. That sense of powerlessness is learned.
Life can teach us that we are ineffective and that our behaviours don’t have any effect on what happens in your life. And if we learn that lesson, we give up trying. We have learned to feel helpless and take on the behaviour of a learned helplessness. We retreat to bed and just give up on trying to impact the world. We give up our sense of purpose, and feeling of hope and find ourselves deep in a hole. Once we are down that deep, it is hard to dig our way out of it—especially if we don’t even try to dig. So learned helplessness can maintain that feeling of helplessness ~ you beat yourself up and give up trying.
So how do you dig yourself out of that hole?
1) Do not accept your helplessness. You must attempt to climb out of the pit of despair even when you feel as though you have no solid footing. It may be clumsy and feel awkward and it may take many attempts to get out, but the only way out is to try. If you simply accept what you believe is your fate, you won’t go anywhere. The only way to unlearn the behaviour is to learn that you can affect change. If you cannot do it alone, ask for help. A coach can teach you skills to combat learned helplessness so ask for help if you need it.
2) Change your thoughts. If you believe that you cannot affect change, you will not even try. So if you find yourself saying “I can’t,” or “There’s nothing that I can do,” try changing your thoughts to “I can at least try,” and “This may not work, but I’ll try it.” That at least allows the possibility that you can affect change.
3) Try and try again. Once you try to make a change or to find a solution to problems in your life, don’t give up if the first solution doesn’t work. Try something else and if that doesn’t work, try something else. Perseverance may be the key to you unlearning your learned helplessness because if you only try once and it doesn’t work, you may have only strengthened your learned helplessness. So try anything that you can think of, no matter how little you believe that it will work. Any attempt, even if it fails, is better than no attempt.
Throughout my life, when I have felt helpless or found myself thinking that nothing that I could do will affect change, I have looked for ways to change my way of thinking and in affect the way I feel and then act. And I have asked myself what would life be like it I didn’t try?