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Learned Helplessness

learned helplessness

Learned helplessness is a behaviour in which an organism forced to endure aversive, painful or otherwise unpleasant stimuli, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are escapable – From wikipedia

There are days I wake up struggling to get out of bed. A list of tasks from laundry to office projects line up my day when all I would rather be doing is reading a book under the shade. Do I do much to change this lifestyle, no, how can I? It’s not in my control, is what I tell myself and carry on through the day.

A chance conversation with my office colleague led me to this video. What I suffer from has a name it seems. Learned Helplessness. The acceptance of the inability to change and continue to endure.

“grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

You are studying; there are exams, tests, projects, but are you learning? You want to learn all sorts of eclectic stuff, but your brain is dulled by what you read and you forget that you could use the internet or the library to read about how Tesla invented their solar power battery or how Auther Conan Doyle penned down those mysteries.

You hope to grow up as fast as you can, imagining a free world, a life not bound by timetables. You enter your first job and realize there will never again be summer holidays or winter breaks (unless you are lucky to be teaching, but even then you would most probably spend these free days on term paper grading). The guitar that you had planned to learn to play, the heart you wanted to give away and the painting that begged to be drawn will remain as impossible targets, as you concentrate on achieving the projected quarterly targets.

Do you even dare to try something new?

A house to look after, kids to spend time with, a body that gets tired, a mind about to give up in fatigue. So, where is the time to do the thing you feel like? When weekends go in dusting the house or grocery shopping, how to go about kite flying or trekking in the wilds. Perhaps, you have wanted to learn salsa or golf or just wanted to watch a television show from the start. A part of you always wanted to learn acting. You gave up because you never knew how and you didn’t really try further.

You are bound by the fact that one day has twenty four hours and your to-do-list has atleast thirty items on it. You scramble to finish tasks and push out the ones you mark least important. What gets kicked out is usually what you would have liked to do for yourself. A spa maybe? Or just enjoying the sunshine on the porch. Keeping the phone aside and blowing bubbles in the wind while your daughter runs about catching them and delightfully giggling.

“Everything seems impossible until its done”

That cookery class by the corner that you long to join. The brewery you want to visit. The walks you plan to take. The new project idea you want to consolidate which isn’t in your current sprint, but something you want to prepare and present. Is the thought of trying to find time for meditation making you more tense? Do you add that to your list and never get around to it?

We accept the way things are and give up on a lot of things. Watching this video of eight minutes told me Rizwan Khan (K from the epiglotis) wasn’t crazy to want to go meet the president. The same way you and me are not crazy to want to do things. Sip coffee alone, feel the breeze, the heat of sun, hear laughter or the twitter of birds. And if I am to believe the video, I too can take control.

Now, as optimistic as I can be, I am still realistic enough to know there are obviously things that I can’t fix today, but I plan to tackle the helplessness within –  that there seems to never be enough time. Cleaning my house could probably wait for a few hours and replying to office mails could probably wait for the weekday. Join me as I shrug away the duties and grab time for myself today without feeling guilty about it.

I plant to write, read and streak my hair burgundy today. What about you?

Video credit Veritasium channel on Youtube.




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  • Reply
    May 3, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    Wow Rhea, this is a discovery. Never knew about Learned Helplessness. Thanks for bringing it forth. This really is an eye opener. I understand how unknowingly we expect someone else to come and change our lives. Whereas in reality the power lies in our own hands. The things that we want to go and achieve, it is we only who need to strive for it. No shortcuts there. It really is a simple thing. But then, we get entangled in a thought process that’s been brainwashed into our minds for years and years together and then we find ourselves thinking that things are not in our hands.
    Lots of things needed to be done, and it is upon us to set things in order.

    • Reply
      rhea sinha
      May 4, 2015 at 9:01 am

      Glad you found it eye opening too Durga di. You are right brainwashed we are. I find it strange when I realize that everyone is some way or the other goes through similar challenges in this day and age. This video felt relevant in work and in daily life.

  • Reply
    indrani robbins
    May 3, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    wonderful thought piece. too much doesn’t get done. sold as we are on a way of life which is essentially, and i am now convinced, full of flaws. actually kids think smarter. and only adults could have complicated things so much. it’s an art to identify what is essential then lighten up and leap toward what one wants to. you help me leap often he he, so thanks, sir. hope you had a great day reading and being aarwen. whenever i look at our world, emperor’s new clothes comes to mind.

    • Reply
      rhea sinha
      May 4, 2015 at 9:11 am

      Thank you Indi di. And I help you leap? That makes me smile.. hope so.. catch my hand and we will leap high together..
      we all have to see whatever others are seeing and say things that everyone expects.. but time and again something helps me break free just that tad bit.. when I write or think such stuff I wonder if am naive, but if you all are willing to join then what the..
      you say that about kids.. that reminds me of that education Ted talks by Ken Robinson you shared.. want to write about that one?

      • Reply
        indrani robbins
        May 4, 2015 at 10:53 pm

        about ken robinson? maybe… but maybe not, i know too little and beside people are so sold on a way of life… and when it comes to children the hyperness is at another level. let ’em enjoy… thinking what i’d like to write about next. i may be wrong but i would rather listen to my gut and mind than a thousand prescribed norms. but it’s a risk. i think i am meant to take those. and maybe you too?

        • Reply
          rhea sinha
          May 5, 2015 at 12:27 am

          yup listening to our gut is the ingredient for the magic potion we brew at writersbrew.

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