You Aren’t Helpless.

In a well known study in the 60’s two sets of dogs were subjected to an experiment using an electrified floor. The first set of dogs were held in an enclosure with two areas separated by a partition. For this group, only one side of the enclosure would be electrified and when shocked, the surprised pups could easily escape by jumping over the partition to safety. Which they easily did. 

The second group of dogs weren’t so lucky. Their enclosure had no partition and therefore they had no escape from the shock. These poor pups at first would try hopelessly to jump out of the enclosure all together. Eventually though, they gave up and submitted to the shock. They would just lay there and whimper until the shock ended. 

Learned Helplessness

Next, both sets of dogs were brought together in the partitioned enclosure to be shocked. Not surprisingly, the first set of dogs easily hopped to the other side. The other group, however, just laid there whimpering. They had learned helplessness. 

What’s interesting is that no matter how long they sat in the partitioned enclosure, the puppies who had learned to be helpless wouldn’t jump to other side. Even seeing the other dogs jump to the other side wasn’t enough to convince these dogs they could escape their situation. But something did work to restore hope for the dogs. The lab workers physically picked up the dogs and moved their legs to mimic the escape. Only then did the relearn to help themselves.  

I recognize that people are not dogs.

But the point is this, sometimes we act as though our circumstances can’t be escaped. Sometimes we can quickly find our way out when we look for it. Other times we lay there helplessly whimpering. Of course we aren’t helpless even though we might think we are. No matter what situation you’re in, you can change it. You can leap to safety, but it takes effort. Take a lesson from the dogs.

  1. Look for the Root Cause — Look for the root cause of why you feel like you can’t escape. What lies beneath the circumstances you are trying to leave behind?

  2. Commit to Act — Like the dogs, they could have just leapt the partition and escaped the shock. The helplessness the dogs felt was false, and unless you are reading this while physically chained to something really heavy, yours is too.  No matter what the circumstances are, COMMIT to ACT on three ideas you think might set you free.

  3. Ask a Lab Worker — We can all relate to the dogs in the final experiment who are feeling great pain while the first set of dogs are leaping to safety all around them. Who do you see in your life who seems to be always leaping to safety? They are the lab workers who can show you how to escape. So ask for help.

There’s never a shortage of difficulty in life. But if we stay focused on the problem, do our best to control what we can control, and use the resources around us, you’ll never be helpless.

Greer Method Complete Coaching provides one on one coaching for executives and business owners. Through expert coaches, habit locking technology, and proven processes we help leaders create, manage, and sustain personal and professional performance.

Jared J. Greer is the founder of Greer Method Complete Coaching. He is an executive coach, 6-time Ironman finisher, marathoner, ultra-marathoner, husband, and father of four.

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