Learned Helplessness, Unlearn Me

Here’s one we are all guilty of. Don’t try to deny this. You’ve been duped into believing you are doomed to failure in one way or another.

When you are able to succeed at easy tasks, hard tasks feel possible to accomplish. When you are unable to succeed at small tasks, everything seems harder.

Today I was introduced to the concept of Learned Helplessness. Not only does this capture what I think Alex goes through every day, but I can’t help but draw linear conclusions about my own life. Specifically the last 20 years or so. K said to me one day when the two younger kids were ignoring my repeated requests to stop some insanely annoying activity: It’s like you have just given up.

The other night I sat with Alex while he tried to finish his nightly 30 algebra problems. Nevermind that I GAVE UP on algebra my Freshman year of college and I am no good to him for problem solving. I sit there to remind him every 45 seconds or so that he needs to keep at it. His eyes are drooping and he looks absolutely miserable. Is he playing me? I think. I push a little harder and he is suddenly close to tears. Now I know he’s had enough. It’s 8pm, he’s been doing school work since I dropped him off for academic support at 7 a.m.

I’d cry too. I think we feel the most helpless when we are tired, discouraged and frustrated. Duh. But I know it doesn’t take Alex 13 hours to get to that point. Watch the video and see how one teacher got an entire half of the room to that point in five minutes.

The lesson for me is to help Alex break his challenges into small tasks that he can be successful at. Five problems tonight. In the morning, we’ll do another five. With hot chocolate.

Link of the day: Learned Helplessness


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