Learned helplessness is the belief that one has no control over their experience.

It is a limiting belief that comes from the negative experience of attempting to do something but seeing it fail to have any effect. It was observed in an experiment involving dogs: one group received shocks and learned a lever would stop it, another learned the lever had no effect, and a control group had no shock.

In a subsequent test, the dogs merely had to step over a small barrier to escape the shocks—while most dogs did this fine, the group with shocks but a non-functioning lever were resigned to having no control and made no attempt to move. In human organizations, giving up control usually looks like checking out, as no voluntary choices seem to make a difference; or giving up the right to decide by saying yes to everything, frantically believing there’s no choice in what is worthwhile.rM4

  1. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, First Edition (New York: Crown Business, 2014). (See notes.)