Research has shown that it is fairly easy for most of us to learn to become helpless. When we fail to achieve results we will often give up trying and what is worse we can generalize our failures to other similar types of situations. We basically learn to believe we are helpless victims of our circumstances. You are likely to not even be aware of this effect.
You can learn helplessness by just observing others. I think we often learn helplessness without even trying to do anything about the situation. We just accept it as a given out of habit or conditioning.
The other day driving home from the airport I hit an area of traffic gridlock that I knew was coming. It’s always there in evening rush hour and it didn’t bother me. I calmly crawled my way through it. The drive home was about 50 minutes. While I was sitting in traffic, I pondered how much time people in the sprawling city of Houston spend in traffic and how we have come to accept it as a given. We have learned to become helpless about traffic and our commute times.
I’ve made this exact same trip numerous times and I have alternatives if I get creative about it. I could have cut my trip time in half by delaying my drive home one hour. I could have stayed at the airport and read a book or worked on my computer (things I actually did after I got home). I could have put on my headphones and meditated in my parked car. This was a Friday evening and I shop at a supermarket every weekend. I could have stopped at a supermarket along the freeway and done my weekly grocery shopping. I could have investigated alternative routes. I came up with a lot of other possibilities but I won’t bore you with them.
What about the time people spend in morning and evening regular commutes? It is very often the case that you can cut massive amounts of time off of a commute by traveling earlier or later in the rush hour. The following is a little brainstorm of mine on alternatives to being stuck in traffic for people in a regular commute.
- Move closer to work.
- Take mass transit and read or do something productive during the ride.
- Carpool and do something productive when you aren’t driving.
- Adjust your work hours to earlier or later and avoid the worst traffic.
- If you can’t adjust your work hours you can still travel earlier to the office or stay later and do something at the office or close to the office instead of home. You can meditate in a quiet conference room or your car, read, work on your computer, work on your writing, work-out at a gym close to the office, eat breakfast, study, think, shop, etc. There are almost endless possibilities.
- Listen to inspirational, self-development, or recreational audios during your drive.
- Speak into a digital voice recorder during your drive. You may just be taking notes as reminders of things you need to do. But you can also acquire voice recognition software that will transcribe recordings into text and then with minor editing you are done. You can record your to-do lists and get them out of your head. You can journal. You can record emails that you need to send. You can compose blog drafts. The possibilities are numerous once you start thinking down this path.
I spent all these words on drive time just as an example of what you can do if you get creative with something that you have accepted as a helpless given. You may not have a traffic issue at all, but the same process can be used for any helpless “have-to”. I’m doing this with all my “have-to’s”. I’m amazed at all the possibilities that I’m coming up with as alternatives to what I’ve been accepting as givens.
Put your creative mind to work on ways to end your learned helplessness right now.
What do you think? Leave a comment and join the conversation.
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