Here’s a story that effectively illustrates a psychological condition called Learned Helplessness. I learned this from Brian Tracy in his excellent audio program: “Accelerated Learning Techniques”.

Tracy tells of how he saw young elephants were trained in his travels to India…

“When elephant trainers in India catch a baby elephant, they tie one of its legs to a post with a rope. The baby elephant struggles and struggles but it can’t get free. For days the elephant pulls and strains at the rope. Gradually it learns that struggle is useless and it gives up.

When the elephant grows up, the trainer keeps it tied to the same rope in the same way. And even though it can now break the rope and get away, it stands passively and waits for the trainer to come and get it. It has developed what is called Learned helplessness. It has learned that the struggle is useless as a result of repeated failure experiences earlier in life, the elephant has learned a self imposed limitation.”

So how does Learned Helplessness affect humans?

It’s a condition where a person has the power to change his or her unpleasant situation, yet does not make any attempt to use that power because he or she has learned to feel helpless in that situation. No one is totally free from the trap of learned helplessness. Not even the most successful people. But the difference is those who are successful have used their will power and a clear plan of action to overcome their biggest limitations in life.

Essentially, learned helplessness is a feeling of lack of control. A lack of control over one’s prevailing circumstances. In the worse cases, learned helplessness leads to clinical depression in individuals. You often hear people say: “It’s useless…”, “There’s just no way out…”

In my opinion, it is learned helplessness that limits a person’s belief in themselves. This leads to a lack of self confidence and self esteem, which leads to a lack of self worth, which leads to procrastination and finally settling for mediocrity.

Given any particular situation, an individual would have a fair idea of how to get out of it. Yet most are afraid to take any action. How many of you feel that you’re stuck in a stagnant, unsatisfactory, unchallenging job? You know you could be much happier and earning a lot more, but the fear of change, that things could be worse on the other side, has kept you from taking massive action toward your desires.

Throughout history, there are thousands of stories of individuals who have risen above unimaginable circumstances to live extraordinary lives and become people of great influence. A great example is Nelson Mandela, who after serving 27 years in prison, lead the transition toward a multi-racial democracy in South Africa. These people all took massive action to overcome their limitations, freeing themselves from the trap of learned helplessness.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to contribute to this discussion by leaving me a comment.