People can remain trapped in debt, poverty, lack of job satisfaction, abusive relationships, become addicted to harmful habits and stop taking action to escape those conditions because they had tried repeatedly to escape in the past without succeeding. As such they simply gave up.

An ambitious professional who tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to attain a particular position in their organisation may after a time simply quit trying having concluded that the system is designed to disfavour him or her.

A graduate job seeker who has tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to secure job in a particular field may over time feel helpless, resign to fate, and stop taking the actions that will enable them to secure the job opportunity.

These cases aptly describe learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when people have learnt to believe that they have no control over a situation, even when they do have some control. Their minds have been conditioned to conclude that they are incapable of changing an unsatisfactory outcome they find themselves in.

This phenomenon usually results from having repeated experiences of being unable to avoid negative or unpleasant events, such as punishment or painful stimuli, despite attempts to do so. As a result of this experience the individual may come to believe that whatever action they take cannot change the outcome. Thus, they feel powerless in similar situations in the future. This can lead to a sense of resigning to fate, losing their motivation to forge ahead, and even becoming depressed.

The phenomenon was first described by American psychologist Martin Seligman in the 1960s after conducting experiments that involved subjecting dogs to electric shocks that they could not avoid. Seligman discovered that the dogs eventually stopped trying to escape, even when they were presented with opportunities to do so.

Human beings act in this way too – they eventually stop trying to overcome an unpleasant situation after trying repeatedly unsuccessfully. Learned helplessness explains why people give up since they believe that regardless of the actions they take, nothing would change. It is such a powerful demotivator.

Cultivating a positive and winning mindset is critical to avoiding the onset of learned helplessness or breaking it if the signs are already evident. It is important to recognise that there is no problem without a solution even if the solution is seemingly unknown.

Learned helplessness is one of the reasons that explains why people remain poor. Studies from different countries have shown that poverty makes people feel powerless and weakens their aspirations. In that state of mind, they may not try to improve their condition. When they do try, they encounter obstacles everywhere they turn to making them to stop trying further.


I always love hearing from my readers and to learn from you too. Feel free to leave your thoughts, suggestions, testimonials and questions about any of the topic discussed in this blog in the comments section below. Thank you!

Written by : Ayo Adebamowo


About the Facilitator – Ayo Adebamowo Ayo Adebamowo is an Author, Speaker and Tech Entrepreneur. He is the founder of MyMedicalBank, a health technology company promoting digital access to healthcare through creating innovative digital solutions.

A Nigerian-British national, Ayo has been named as one of the 70 Most Outstanding Healthcare Professionals in the United Kingdom.

Having started and run various businesses himself in healthcare, technology, agriculture and publishing, Ayo very much understands from a practical point of view the pains, struggles and mistakes aspiring and established business owners often make that delay their success. He therefore brings his wealth of experience coupled with years of experience and research to help other entrepreneurs succeed in their journey.

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