top of page

The Antidote to Learned Helplessness

Our environmental conditions may lead us to accept the preventable.

Consider this controlled study of two groups of dogs in the 1960s conducted by Dr Martin Seligman.

He placed the first group of dogs on an electric shock pad in an enclosure, rang a bell and applied a small electric shock. This was undertaken several times, and the dogs began bracing themselves for the shock after hearing the bell.

A wall of the enclosure was then lowered, offering an escape route. The first group of dogs underwent the same experiment with the bell ringing and shock applied. They continued to brace themselves, with the majority choosing to remain in the enclosure and wait for the shock to subside.

The second group of dogs participated in the same study without the conditioning of the first group of having no escape route. Almost all these dogs used the escape route immediately upon receiving the electric shock.

Dr Seligman coined the term ‘Learned Helplessness’ because of this study, where people remain in less-than-ideal situations due to their conditioning. He pursued research to help overcome environmental conditions and is one of the forebears of ‘Positive Psychology’.

Five elements comprise PERMA, the founding principle of Positive Psychology, being:

Positive Emotions – looking into the future with hope and enjoying the present.

Engagement – what activities result in a person being in 'flow', being absorbed in an activity?

Relationships – where are their strong relationships? What could be stronger?

Meaning – when are we contributing to something greater than ourselves?

Accomplishment – what are we doing or have completed? 'I did it, and I did it well.'

Many people will consider making changes as the new year approaches; PERMA may be worth considering in some of your decision-making criteria.

This is one of the 200 hundred pieces of useful research within my second book, Finding A Better Way.

It is one of the most popular stories in my workshops and keynotes; learn about these here!

bottom of page