Problem: Learned Helplessness
What is Learned Helplessness?
Learned helplessness is a state that occurs after a person has experienced a stressful situation
repeatedly. They come to believe that they are unable to control or change the situation, so they do not
try — even when opportunities for change become available.
According to the , learned helplessness occurs when someone
repeatedly faces uncontrollable, stressful situations, then does not exercise control when it becomes
They have “learned” that they are helpless in that situation and no longer try to change it, even when
change is possible.
Once a person having this experience discovers that they cannot control events around them, they lose
motivation. Even if an opportunity arises that allows the person to alter their circumstances, they do not
Individuals experiencing learned helplessness are often less able to make decisions.
Learned helplessness can increase a person’s risk of depression and greatly reduce productivity.
- Disengagement costs companies between $450-500 billion annually
- 67% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged while at work
- 85% of employees are either actively looking or open to looking for new employment opportunities
- 69% of HR professionals recognize that employee disengagement is a significant problem
Why is this happening?
- The distraction epidemic (with so much technology and opportunities for employees to “put off work”) they are easily disengaged and interrupted
- Learned helplessness – a person’s sense of powerlessness and a persistent mindset of having an inability to succeed
- Lack of appreciation (usually due to leadership inability to understand difference in motivation (intrinsic/extrinsic and how to apply effective incentives)
- Poor communication (usually due to a very reactive instead of responsive environment at work)
- Lack of autonomy (most employees struggle making decisions i.e. decision fatigue and paralysis by analysis so they can feel “helpless”
The symptoms of learned helplessness and depression are very similar, including sadness, anxiety, and
alternating passivity and hostility. Some believe that learned helplessness and depression are so
entwined that there is even a “hopelessness theory of depression.” In fact, there are a growing number
of clinicians who believe that depression does not exist on its own but is a culmination of many
disorders, such as learned helplessness. This would explain why some forms of depression are so difficult
to treat, as different disorders stem from different causes and require varying forms of therapy.
How Boost Helps
Learned helplessness can improved through mindfulness, emotional intelligence and cognitive fitness
training that Boost provides.
- Mindfulness at work
- Emotional Intelligence
- Improve mental health and wellness
- Time management
Boost provides innovative, affordable and accessible training that helps disengaged employees in a
multitude of ways. Our innovative courses train employees on how to be more present, confident and in
control of their professional and personal lives by understanding and improving
While it is difficult to overcome something as complicated and serious as learned helplessness, the first
step is to be aware of your struggles. Once you realize the symptoms in yourself, try to discover what the
cause might be.
Because learned helplessness can result from one situation where you were put in inevitable emotional
or physical harm, no matter how large or small, it can be difficult to discover the origin point. It is helpful
to think back to childhood events or developmental events that may have caused the problem.
Sometimes speaking with someone who knew you at a younger age can help you find the source.
Common causes are abuse, neglect, or seeing someone else with learned helplessness and adopting it
Whether or not you can identify how your learned helplessness began, the next step is to be aware of
your current negative beliefs and how learned helplessness is following you throughout your day. Try
examining your behavior and questioning the beliefs behind how you behave. Examine your language to
detect helpless or self-harming words. Keep track of all the negative thoughts you have throughout the
day. Being aware is the first step in being able to stop.
Now that you are aware of your helpless tendencies, it’s time to get out of them. If you have found that
your thoughts are constantly negative, it can potentially lead to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
To stop this spiral, do a “reality check” on every thought. For example, if you think “no one will ever love
me,” ask yourself if this is factual or not. Thinking rationally about the fact that you could meet someone
at any minute negates that debilitating thought. Approaching many other fallacies in the same way will
help you to think more clearly.
If the reality check doesn’t work, try to look for other explanations for your worries. If you are convinced
your boss is mad at you and you’re going to get fired, you won’t be able to do your work properly. So,
think about any other reason that she might have ignored you this morning. She could be busy, she could
be having a bad day herself, or she simply could not have heard you say “hi.” Not only will this be
empowering, but also your stress is likely to decrease as well.
When you do encounter issues in life that are not simply events of learned helplessness, it is crucial to
use them as learning experiences instead of reasons to give up. Give yourself daily affirmations of what
you are good at and what you want to improve. Don’t let the “improvement” process be debilitating.
Frame growth as a movement toward strength. For some, it helps to write out a list of things they like
about themselves or even to ask others what they admire about you. They might say something positive
you didn’t realize previously.
If you spend a lot of time with others who also have learned helplessness, it may be time to take a break,
as you can have a depressing effect on each other. Once you are both on your journey of recovery,
3. Take Control
Moving past helplessness can begin by setting realistic and achievable goals. For someone who is
accustomed to feeling helpless, setting goals can feel like taking control – especially when you achieve
them. Try setting small ones throughout the day that you can achieve, but also larger long-term goals
that you can constantly be working towards. Use the “SMART goal strategy” to ensure your goals are
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.
Next, celebrate! Be sure to reward yourself during your path of recovery. If you accomplish a small goal
throughout the day, let yourself have a break, a sweet, or any other type of small reward. If you
accomplish one of your long-term goals like getting a new job, throw a party! Many people who suffer
from learned helplessness believe their accomplishments are not valid or worthy of praise, but they are.
So, make sure you celebrate!
Research shows that simply doing just 15 minutes of mindfulness-based meditation such as
concentrating on breathing can lead to more rational thinking when making business decisions and help
to mitigate the feeling of learned helplessness. Studies investigate the effects of mindfulness on a
phenomenon known as sunk-cost bias. Sunk-cost bias occurs when you’ve invested so much into a
hopeless project, you can’t bring yourself to stop for fear of losing all that was invested.
Mindfulness is associated with higher quality relationships because mindful people are fully present.
Employees can usually tell when their managers are zoning out or daydreaming–possibly indicating they
don’t want to be at work with them. Whether they realize it or not, employees pick up on this
disengaged behavior, and feel not only peripheral, but also allowed to be just as disengaged at work.
When managers are fully present, not just physically but with their entire being in their interactions with
employees, employees feel valued and respected. Feelings of value and respect translate into a sense of
interpersonal justice in the workplace, the studies found. This leads to higher job satisfaction and
- Boost training reduced staff disengagement by 25%
- Improved confidence by 40%
- Motivation increased by 20%
- Improved Focus by 30%
- Mitigates risks and liabilities within the organization
- Data from Boost MTLA pre and post assessments 2017-2018
Just imagine what that type of improvement can do for your employees, your customers and your
“My experience with Boost has helped me a lot! My self-confidence has gone up. It made me think
outside of the box a lot. I used to struggle with me being the hardest person on myself, but I don’t do
that anymore. I had a great experience with Boost & I hope we do it again next year!” – Rosa M.
“As a CEO and business owner you want top performers and this is the BEST tool you can give them”
Dr. Rich Berkowitz (CEO Carolina Chiropractic Plus)
“Dr. Hickerson and Boost have identified and created an incredible resource for one of the biggest
problems human beings have. His mental health education system is second to none. In your business, if
you are suffering from inconsistent performance you will benefit from the system he and his team
created. I’ve seen average teammates turn into high performers. I’ve seen one person go through his
program and the whole team benefit. I’ve seen underperforming salespeople close $250 million in assets
within a few weeks. I’ve seen the benefits of his program affect every area of people’s lives.”
Jesse Miller – CEO Integrity Enterprises
Article What Is The “Learned Helplessness” Psychology Definition? From betterhelp.com
Article “what is learned helplessness” from Medical News Today
American Psychological Association