Have you heard about the centuries old rope technique that elephant trainers will use to control their elephants? The trainer takes a baby elephant and ties one of its legs to a post. The young elephant will then naturally try to escape. It will struggle for days, pulling at the rope with all its might to try and break free. Eventually the young elephant will realise that this rope is too great an opponent and so will simply stop trying. It concludes that the length of this rope is essentially the full range of its motion and freedom, and that there is nothing further that can be done.
Then later, when the elephant is fully grown and at full strength, it won’t even try to escape even though it would now have the strength to easily break free. This is because the now fully grown elephant doesn’t believe it has the capability to break free. As such, it won’t even bother trying. In the field of psychology this is referred to as learned helplessness. Basically, the elephant was taught early on that the struggle against the rope was useless, and so is now convinced that this same obstacle that defeated it years ago can still defeat it today.
While human infants are helpless in numerous ways, they also get to show off their great resilient nature as they begin to transition into toddlers: They crawl, they stand up, learn to walk, fall down, pick themselves back up and learn to walk better. They are determined. But unfortunately for many people this resilient nature gets undone and a learned helplessness, acquired through certain life experiences, begins to form.
With that acknowledged, it’s important that we make the time to pay close attention to what is going on inside our heads. So do that now – pay close attention. What is the running commentary that is being spoken inside your head? Are there any proverbial ropes from the past that you are still allowing to keep you bound? While helplessness can be learned, it can also be unlearned. Remember that.
Is it time for you to start unlearning something?