Learned helplessness

classes     qigong     tai chi     kung fu     about us     reviews     a-z

No time

It is quite common for people to tell you that they have no time. This is an interesting admission.
There is a certain helpless quality in such a statement; as though fate had short-changed this person.
Or apportioned an unfair degree of responsibility? Or perhaps given them fewer hours in the day than anyone else?

Beyond my control

If you live your life feeling like events are beyond your control, then the chances are that you are correct.
In lieu of taking personal responsibility for how, why, what, where and when you use your time, you have abdicated responsibility.
And if you do not make a choice/take control/manage yourself, somebody else will choose for you. This can result in a sense of powerlessness, impotence and stress.

Not my choice

There are many things in life that we cannot necessarily control: the weather, the situation of our birth, our nationality, how tall we are, being made redundant...
However, many features of our lives are directly within our control. The question is whether or not we choose to assert ourselves.
Making choices affects everything in our lives. We can decide that we will do something or that we won't. We can say yes and we can say no.

When people believe that their efforts don't matter, they tend to respond in one of two ways. Sometimes they check out and stop trying.

The other response is less obvious at first. They become hyperactive. They accept every opportunity presented. They throw themselves into every assignment. They tackle every challenge with gusto. They try to do it all. This behaviour does not necessarily look like helplessness at first glance. After all, isn't working hard evidence of one's belief in one's importance and value? Yet on closer examination we can see this compulsion to do more is a smokescreen. These people don't believe they have a choice. They believe they have to do it all.

(Greg McKeown)

What do you want?

Recognising that you can make a choice is a powerful realisation: it prevents you from feeling helpless and weak.
Instead of being at the mercy of circumstances, you begin to choose deliberately and consciously. Your choices will reflect what you personally deem to be of importance.
Choosing presents options, variables, possibilities and consequences.


In selecting one thing you may well miss out on something else. Invariably some sort of trade-off is involved. This is a yin/yang process:
You buy a new car and it is great to drive, there is a warranty and you enjoy the new purchase.
The trade-off is the cost of the car, the 5 year repayment of the car loan and the worry about getting your new car scratched or bumped.

Who are you?

Our lives are shaped by the sort of person we are. Our regrets are formed by the choices we made that run contrary to who we want ourselves to be.
If you feel that you are not living the life you want, then change. Make a choice. Even the smallest changes can lead to more significant things unfolding: a snowball effect.

Observe how you use your time

If you want to have more time, ask yourself what you spend your leisure time doing. What do you do in a traffic jam? How is your weekend spent? Where do you go on holiday?

Wiped out

People often do things that sap their energy. How they sit, stand and move is tiring and unhealthy. The way in which they talk is wound-up and fast.
Hours are spend thumbing mobile phones, scanning flickering screens, window shopping, drinking coffee and inanely watching TV. The
brain is hammered by light, sound and ideas.
It never gets to rest.

The neuro

Many people slip into neurotic patterns of behaviour without even realising that it has occurred. Often the people closest to them do not notice the change. It happens gradually over time.
Often their peers, friends and family are wound-up too. Life is a continual emergency. Everything that happens to them is more important than the events affecting other people.
They are the hub of
hurried activity, the loci, the nexus... the hero, the martyr. Their minds are a cloud of erratic thoughts, opinions, notions and received information.
Life has become an upward climb, a battle, a struggle for recognition and success.

The power of the negative

The ability to defend yourself is predicated by the act of saying no. Refusal. This simple word is the ultimate statement of freedom. It indicates that you have chosen. You are asserting your power.
By declining to do the majority of things that you are presented with, and focussing upon the things that you deem important, you are taking control of your own life.
You are focussing upon the essentials.

Short-term/instant gratification

We live in an era when people seek short-term goals rather than plan ahead. They react rather than respond. This may be caused by diet, lifestyle, habit and/or poor mental discipline.
Instead of being patient and looking ahead, people choose not to think things through. They opt for an easy short-term fix.

Long-term gains

Instead of opting for instant gratification, we can pause and plan ahead. This is akin to saving money rather than spending it.
The advantage of pausing and planning lies with the fact that most things in nature take time to grow, develop and mature. There are few examples of instant results. Usually things take time.

Why not read more about this?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
The Willpower Instinct
The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking
50 Secrets of the World's Longest Living People
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
Your Erroneous Zones

A balanced perspective

A person may go to the gym and really hurl the weights around, or they may run hard down the road every night. Their approach to getting fit may result in a rotator cuff injury or a knee injury.
In-between training the individual slouches over their laptop or mobile phone. They play games, scan the web or look at their playlists.
Maybe they smoke, eat junk food and ignore their high level of stress. This is not balance.

The tyranny of television

Once you switch off the mobile phone, the TV, the videogame, the MP3 player and the computer you will find that life offers many other activities. Suddenly you have more time than you imagined.
There are many things that you can do:

  1. Massage

  2. Have sex

  3. Tai chi

  4. Cuddle

  5. Meditate

  6. Walk

  7. Constructive rest

  8. Undertake hobbies

  9. Clean the house/chores

  10. Gardening

  11. Write

  12. Cycle

  13. Dance

  14. Prepare healthy food

  15. Have meaningful conversations

  16. Constructive reading

  17. Qigong

  18. Learn to play a musical instrument

  19. Read for pleasure/leisure

  20. Draw

  21. Learn a new language

  22. Sing

  23. Socialise

  24. Relax

Once a slave...?

A final word of caution: Once you have switched off all those devices that use up your time and distract you from living, you may now invest your time in new endeavours.
This is good. However, be careful not to replace one problem with another. Choose your commitments and responsibilities with care. Do not burden your time.
Time is not a commodity to be spent or wasted. Time is life and life must be lived, not employed.

school database

Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 04 May 2023