How To Break Through “Learned Helplessness”

We’re just a week away from Memorial Day Weekend. And just a month later, in July, Hallmark Cards will unveil their 2018 Christmas ornaments collection! We’re quickly approaching the halfway point in this “new” year.

What about those New Year’s goals you set up for yourself?  Where are you in bringing them to life?

If you’re feeling frustrated because you’re not along where you thought you’d be in developing those goals, consider this. . .


If you want to change something in your life, it’s common to try to stop the behavior you don’t like. While seemingly logical, the plan seldom works.


As I explain to my communication coaching clients, the reason is simple – stopping a particular behavior actually creates a vacuum where that old behavior used to be. More times than not, we fill-up that vacuum with the very behaviors we’re trying to stop – because they’re so familiar!

Instead of stopping a certain behavior, I urge my coaching clients to focus on the new behavior they want and need to develop. Eventually – with practice – the new will replace the old.

Jessica (names changed), a senior VP at a financial firm, was brash and condescending with her direct reports. She heard the feedback and actually wanted to change how she interacted with them. She hired me as an executive/communications coach and in our first session asked for my advice – in what I thought was a condescending tone!

The first question I asked was, “Instead of coming off as superior and stand-offish, what do you want to be? How would you like to be perceived? What do you want to be known for?”

She looked at me blankly and said, “I’m not sure. I never thought about it quite that way.”

How do you want to be perceived?


There are five steps to help you answer that question and so help you set the right communication goals:

  1. Notice any pattern (in either your personal or professional life) where you want to stop communicating in a certain way.
  2. Think about the way(s) in which you want to start communicating in that arena.
  3. Why do you want to communicate in that way?
  4. Be specific. Write down the exact things you want to do – and why you want to do them.
  5. Experiment. Don’t be afraid of “messing up.”

In his book, Learned Optimism, Dr. Martin Seligman wrote about a psychological phenomenon that he discovered: virtually every one of us has one or more areas where we feel unable to do something that we really want to do.

We’ve developed habits of thinking that hold us back from reaching our full potential. Seligman called this “learned helplessness.”

He conducted dozens of experiments to demonstrate how animals can be trained to feel that they’re helpless. In one, he put a dog into a cage with a glass wall that separated it from a bowl of food. The dog was hungry and tried to get at the food by banging its nose on the glass. After several hours, Seligman removed the glass.

What happened then?

The dog, still hungry, sat only a few inches away from the food and never even attempted to eat it. The animal had become convinced that it was impossible to get the food. Even when the obstacles were removed, the hungry dog just sat there – feeling hungry.

Are you stuck in trying to name your communication goals?

Are you convinced you’re incapable of reaching a goal – no matter how important it is to you?  

Why give power to the lie?

Here’s the truth –

Negative thinking is nothing more than a bad habit you developed somewhere along the line.

And all dysfunctional habits can be replaced with smart, healthy and effective ones.

That’s what the Business of Confidence is all about!

Do you want to break through the negative thinking that is preventing you from being influential and heard?


To explore how one-on-one communication skills coaching can help you present you with enhanced confidence,

contact me at:


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