Are Learned Helplessness, Complacency and Fear Keeping You Stuck?

October 30, 2023 |

A friend, who is a recent immigrant to the US, related to me how she refused to take her son home from the hospital three days after he had surgery to repair a broken leg he sustained while playing football. I was shocked. Can you really refuse what the hospital is telling you to do? I was scared for her – would she be billed for any additional time in the hospital?

She explained to hospital staff what would happen in her country and the hospital personnel agreed that her son remaining in the hospital with his leg suspended was the right thing, but they were at the mercy of her insurance company.  Still refusing to take him home—he is a large 14-year old boy, much bigger than his mom or dad—the hospital worked with the insurance company and he remained in the hospital for three weeks.

Not long after that I injured my knee while away from my home state and before even seeking care, I called the insurance company to see what was the “best course of action” not for me and my injury, but to ensure that my insurance would cover any care I received out of state.

As I thought about these two scenarios, I realized that I had been taught, through my knowledge of the American health insurance and health care systems, to be satisfied with whatever they were offering me.  We’ve all heard of people going bankrupt due to health care costs and I certainly didn’t want to incur costs outside of my standard co-pay or deductible.

That made me start to think about how we do this in other areas of our lives. We are dissatisfied with our job, our salary, our commute, or our supervisor, but we remain with it because we have been taught that jobs are more secure than having your own business or that most new businesses fail in the first five years.

Are these businesses just doomed to fail or are they failing, at least in part, due to learned helplessness and complacency?  If I have been taught that my business is likely to fail and expect it to fail in the first five years, do I turn that into a self-fulfilling prophecy or worse, never try to start my own business at all?

Are you dealing with learned helplessness? Are you not trying to start something you’ve been dreaming of because you fear you might fail?  What if you succeed?

If we can learn helplessness, we can also learn optimism. Today is as good a day as any to start planning for the thing you have been dreaming about and putting aside the False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR) that has been keeping you complacent.