4 Ways to Overcome Learned Helplessness

4 Ways to Overcome Learned Helplessness

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

– Colin Powell

Not all people are aware that helplessness is something that is learned. When a person believes they can’t do something, there is often a past experience that has made this belief a reality. But, there’s hope! Just as as helplessness is learned, it can be unlearned and you can create new patterns of thinking that will help you change. Today, let’s define learned helplessness and learn four ways for how you can overcome it.

The Great Success Destroyer

Many people don’t realize that they live in learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is the feeling of “I can’t” that builds from past experiences or failures. What if you really could do it, but simply have been taught or taught yourself that success is impossible?

Let me share with you an experiment carried out with dogs. The dog was placed in a room with a door that had a doggie door. A piece of meat was placed on the outside and the dog pushed open the door, got the meat and ate it. Next, the doggie door was locked and the meat was then placed there. The dog came running only to hit its head and fail to get the meat. The dog barked and banged, but nothing opened the door. This was repeated a few times until the dog simply stopped trying. Even when the lock was opened and the meat was placed there, the dog did not take the bait, simply knowing and expecting the meat to be inaccessible. This is learned helplessness.

The same is true for the elephant in the zoo. Many elephants are locked up at night via a small string that connects them to their shelter area. If they were to use their 2 ton body they could break through after a few swings, but they don’t. You see, part of the problem is that elephants don’t forget. They remember how they were weak and small baby elephants and how they tried time and again with all their might to escape that string and were unable to. And so years later as adults, when they actually have the strength, they simply have learned that it is impossible to break free.

There should be a moment when people realize learned helplessness is indeed a part of their lives. Look at your own life and reflect—is there any learned helplessness in you?

Make Changes

1st way to overcome learned helplessness: Change it up

Start with a fresh perspective. Get out of the ‘I can’t do it’ mindset.

2nd way: Look at your past successes.

You have done stuff in the past, let that inspire you forward.

3rd way: Do it anyway.

Face your fear, say, I can be afraid and I can do it anyway.

4th way: Join a group.

Learn from others who are struggling with your same challenges. You will be inspired and you will inspire them.


Learned helplessness is a part of almost everybody’s life. Can we recognize it? Start with a new perspective and look forward to a different outcome—this is the first way you can overcome learned helplessness. Don’t believe that you can’t do something. Instead, believe that you and then do it.

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