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Learned helplessness

By Sonia Salfity , Family Flavours - Dec 20,2021 - Last updated at Dec 20,2021

I love psychology and learning about the tricks we can use to empower ourselves asdesperate dieters.

One of the fascinating things I read about recently wasan experiment done in 1974 that studied “helplessness” as a learned behaviour. The study split people into threegroups where: The first group was exposed to annoyinglyloud noise and could press a button four times to stopthe sound. The second group of subjects were exposed to the same loud noise, except their button did not function, so they weren’t able to stop it. The last groupwas not exposed to any noise.

Then they tested the three groups a second time, except for this time, all of them had a working leverthey could pull to stop the noise successfully. The findings were remarkable.

In the second part of this experiment, the subjects in the second group seldom tried to stop the loud noise. Theyhad developed learned helplessness so didn’t bother trying even though the lever was working and could have helped themselves.

Overcoming helplessness

We can easily fall into the pitfall of learned helplessness from years of trying to lose weight and not keeping it off. We unconsciously give up without even realising we have stopped believing that we can do it. If we believe we can’t succeed, then we won’t. 

The same is true for exercise. We don’t know how strong we are until we expose our body to a tougher workout instead of giving up before we even start. When I first started with my trainer in a semi-private setting, I couldn’t even imagine myself pulling my body on the pull-up bar. Not only am I afraid of heights and falling, I don’t have much grip strength to hold on.

Thankfully, my trainer didn’t put up with my “helplessness” and he made me do it with the group whenever it was part of our workout. I kept thinking he’d give up on me and letme do something easier. But like any good trainer, hewasn’t going to let my helplessness get in the way of what my body could learn to do. I’m proud to share thatnow I can hang onto that bar and lift my knees towards my chest, even if for a short time.

Progress, not perfection

If we aim for “perfect” then we will be helpless. But if ourgoal is to keep improving, then we have an opportunity to keep trying to do just a little better than last time.This is how we grow but it can’t happen if we are busy comparing ourselves with others. Only YOU can do YOU! So give it your best shot and pat yourself on the back every time you challenge yourself and discover just howstrong you are mentally, emotionally and physically.

Take the “less” out of helpless and live with “more” instead;More commitment, more strength and more energy totake on whatever life sends your way!

Reprinted with permission from Family Flavours magazine

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