Do you suffer from Learned Helplessness?

by | Feb 13, 2018 | Entrepreneurship, Mindset, Video, Weekday Wisdom

Weekday Wisdom, Episode 30

Vanquishing Mind Goblins #6: Failure Syndrome or Learned Helplessness

Do you believe that if you failed in the past, that means you’re necessarily going to fail again in the future? That’s what we’re going to talk about in today’s Weekday Wisdom.

Vanquishing Mind Goblins #6 - Failure Syndrome or Learned Helplessness
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Past failure does not equal future failure. Let me say that again: Past failure does not equal future failure.

For today’s Weekday Wisdom, I did some research and what I uncovered was really quite fascinating. There’s not a lot on the Internet that you can find because most of it is really academic. But I’ve been able to come up with ideas of what this Mind Goblin is, why happens and how you can vanquish it.

Right up front, I know that the belief that “I’ve failed before, therefore I will fail again” is false. Because if it were true, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have failed repeatedly in my life. I’m constantly failing. It happens all the time. But, conversely, I am also experiencing lots of successes, as well.

If you think about it, a lot of the big, famous people experience lots of failures before they experience success. Of course, there’s the famous example of Edison. How many times did he fail to invent the light bulb before he finally invented the light bulb? And a lot of famous people have talked about this concept of failure.

Here is what Winston Churchill has to say about it:

“Success is going from failure to failure
without losing your enthusiasm.”

Inherent in that quote is the fact that you’re going to experience failure as you move toward success. I say again, just because you failed before doesn’t mean you’re going to fail in the future. That said, you do need to accept that failure is a part of success.

Here’s what Beverly Sills says:

“You may be disappointed if you fail,
but you doomed if you don’t try.”

So, just keep on trucking.

I don’t know who this guy is, Sven-Goran Eriksson. Cool name. He said:

“The great barrier to success is the fear of failure.”

And that’s because there’s this thing called Failure Syndrome. It also goes by other names such as low self-concept, defeated, frustrated, or if you really want to look this up on the Internet, Learned Helplessness.

Learned Helplessness is the concept whereby — and it happens in both animals and people — someone or a creature of some sort, experiences a negative event, or failure, repeatedly. At some point, this individual just gives up.

Probably the best example of this is a story you’ve probably heard a million times about elephants. In order to train elephants to stay put when they are big and hard to deal with, you start training them as a little one. You put these big, heavy chains on their ankles. They learn that they can’t break those chains. After a while, you’ve got a grown elephant being held by a simple rope. A grown elephant could easily break through this rope, but he or she has learned helplessness.

Apparently, this is common in people, too, especially around education (that’s where most research is). Let’s say you’ve sucked at math in elementary school. No matter what you do, you keep sucking at math, and sucking at math and sucking at math. Finally, you get to a point where you just give up and you don’t even try to do well in math anymore. The thing is, I know that that’s a fallacy too — not the fact that it happens, but the fact that just because you sucked at this kind of math, means you’re going to suck at that kind math — because math was never my strong point. Still isn’t.

I remember when I was learning multiplication tables, Oh my Gosh, they were so hard! The teacher would give us timed tests, which is the worst thing to do to me because I don’t do well under timed anything, and I would fail and fail and fail again. For some reason 6 times 7 was my nemesis! I never got that one right. In an effort to help me, my teacher would hold me back after class and drill me with the multiplication tables, and drill me some more. You know? That’s what calculators are for!

Anyway, when I got to higher levels of math in high school, I actually got into an accelerated math program because I did extremely well in Algebra. Algebra is supposed to be this higher level of math. However, for some reason, algebra just made sense to me. But 6 times 7 didn’t! Go figure.

Again, just because you failed at something like this before doesn’t mean you’ll fail again. You never know that this thing could be different enough that it’s in alignment with how your brain thinks.

This is how psychologists define learned helplessness: It’s a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It’s thought to be the underlying cause of depression.

Now that is fascinating stuff, right? Apparently learned helplessness has been associated with several different psychological disorders: Depression, anxiety, phobias, shyness, and loneliness. All of which can be exasperated by learned helplessness.

Bottom line, if you have failed in entrepreneurial ventures before, you can learn one of two things from those experiences. You can learn,

A. I’m a failure and I’m always going to be a failure. I should stop trying to be an entrepreneur.

NOT! Don’t learn that lesson. Or

B. You can learn that “Well, I learned how not to do it there.” And figure out why that didn’t work for you.

For example, I’ve been a science writer for many, many years. Back in the late 1990s, I got fascinated by the Internet, so I joined an Internet company and then the dot-com crash happened. At that point, I was frustrated. I thought to myself, “I am fed up being a writer for other people because writers are the first people to be fired. I’m going to strike it out on my own.” So I started off trying to be a copywriter. Copywriting is not really my forte.

So then, I thought, “I’m going to start a gift basket business!” You should see the gift baskets I create! They are beautiful. I had created a gift basket for my then husband that was just absolutely stunning. And people were saying to me, “Oh Carma, you do that so well, you should do this for a living.” So, I researched how to do a gift basket business. I even got into Mary Kay because I thought it would be really cool to do gift baskets with Mary Kay products in them.

Now, I’m really, really good at creating gift baskets. They are beautiful, and I can do them so that they aren’t very expensive, but look fabulous. What I am not so good at is going up to people and saying, “Would you like to buy my gift basket?” And, at least with Mary Kay, there’s a lot of in-person marketing that goes on and that’s not my thing. I’m not good at that. No matter how hard I tried, it’s just not my thing. And there are a lot of reasons why it’s not my thing. Just to be clear, it’s not because I failed before, and I’ll fail again. I don’t like in-person sales. I don’t enjoy it. It’s not my thing.

So what I learned from this experience is that although Mary Kay is a great business for some women — some women thrive at Mary Kay because they’re very outgoing, and they’re people people and that’s great. However, I’m an introvert. I prefer to be on my computer writing (or shooting videos, these days). So, this was the wrong type of business for me.

Now that was a big, costly failure. I lost several thousand dollars when I closed that business. And, I could have gone away from that experience saying that I just suck as an entrepreneur.

But I didn’t.

I kept going. Main lesson, just because you failed before doesn’t mean you have to fail again.

Combatting Failure Syndrome and Learned Helplessness

There are ways to combat learned helplessness or the fear of failure or the belief that I failed before therefore I’ll fail again. First of all, you have obviously succeeded at something in your life. OK? Probably lots of somethings. Focus on those successes in your life. That way when you find yourself saying, “Oh, I’ve failed,” you can counteract it with, “But I’ve really succeeded in this, this and this.”

Another way is to do things that build up your confidence. Do something that you’re good at. Start a gratitude journal. Find an exercise in forgiveness and release that works for you. In fact, I sell a meditation that is about releasing fear. There are plenty of spiritual practices that can help you.

Another would be think bigger picture. What I mean by this is don’t get too caught up in little details. Yes, you may have failed at this one thing. Well, maybe you need to delegate that thing. Think bigger. Think broader.

Set goals that are achievable. Take baby steps. I’m a big, big proponent of baby steps. Instead of saying I’m going to go from here to the moon in the next nine months. That just leaves you with this big undertaking. I mean, how do you get to the moon? Oh my goodness! That’s a big thing.

Break it up into tinier steps that are much more doable. For example, rather than say, “I going to write a book and I’m going to publish it,” break that big project into smaller steps. What’s the first thing you need to do? Come up with your idea. What’s the next thing you need to do? Figure out what about that idea are you going to write about. So mind maps. Do an outline. Flesh out the outline. Before you know it, you’ve written the book. But you did it in baby steps. And you’ve had small successes along the way.

Another thing is to understand that you are growing and you are changing. Just because you had failures in the past, doesn’t mean you’re always going to be a failure. You can grow and you can learn and you can change.

Look at failure in a different way. And I’ve written about this on my blog a lot. (See links below.) I heard this speaker once, he was a World Champion of Public Speaking in Toastmasters, and he spoke about using the acronym F.A.I.L. He said that F.A.I.L. meant Failure Always Inspires Leaders. I really loved his take on failure. What I loved about his ideas was that if you’re going to be a success, failure doesn’t stop you. It inspires you. It motivates you to figure out what went wrong, and how to avoid it the next time.

I hope that I’ve given you some really good information that can help you overcome and vanquish this particular Mind Goblin because it’s really one that is keeping you tied to a rope while you’re thinking you’re tied by chains. You can break that rope. I know you can. Don’t let past failure stop you from your future success.

Don’t box yourself in.
Spread your wings and fly.
Because you — yes you — are capable of more than you know.

Additional Reading

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If you liked this video, like it on YouTube! Comment below. Let me know what you thought of this episode. If you have ideas or questions for future videos, please comment below. I will get to it as soon as I can, possibly next week. I really want you to value the Weekday Wisdom and look forward to watching it. And I can only do that if you join in the conversation.

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