In 1975, the American clinical psychologist Martin Seligman coined the term ‘learned helplessness’.
Simply put, it means that when someone believes they can never improve their situation, they’ll eventually give up trying and accept their fate.
What’s more, even if the barriers to success are lifted, the feeling of learned helplessness remains.
This psychological condition is a common trap that people can fall into.
Seligman made his discovery following an experiment in which his subjects were randomly divided into three groups.
Those in the first were exposed to an annoying loud noise that they could stop by pushing a button in front of them.
Those in the second heard the same noise, but couldn’t turn it off despite their best efforts.
Those in the third, the control group, heard nothing at all.
Later, the subjects were faced with a brand-new situation again involving noise. To turn the noise off, all they had to do is move their hands about 12 inches.
The people in the first and third groups worked it out and readily learned to stop the noise. However, those in the second group typically did nothing.
Due to their previous failure, they believed they had no control and became passive. As they expected to fail again, they didn’t even try.
Seligman discovered that around a third of the people faced with the inescapable noise did not become helpless. The reason for this, he and his colleagues found, was due to optimism.
People who are optimistic are able to keep trying. They won’t be put off or discouraged by initial failure, and can keep trying until they are able to succeed.
Our Developing Resilience eLearning course shows how negative thought patterns can be identified and replaced with optimism.
The course also includes the Resilience Routine. This allows you to practice these techniques to they become stronger, allowing for ‘learned optimism’ rather than helplessness.