Warning: This belief is extremely dangerous to your wealth and is guaranteed to cause financial paralysis.
It would be easier to sprint to an Olympic gold medal while carrying a bag of groceries than it would be to succeed financially with this debilitating mindset. Like the massive elephants secured by a tiny rope, people who have tried but failed to get ahead, gain control, or succeed can also give up and resign themselves to life on a tether.
Psychologists call this phenomenon “learned helplessness.” Dr. Martin Seligman coined this term and has researched and written extensively on the subject. It comes down to one thing—control.
The cause of learned helplessness, according to Dr. Seligman, is being repeatedly exposed to an uncontrollable event. After many repeated and failed attempts to accomplish something while in an uncontrollable event, your brain “learns” that success is beyond your control; that you cannot affect the outcome. Once “conditioned” in this belief, the individual gives up hope and effort, even when later exposed to an event where control is possible. In effect, you’ve learned to become helpless.
This is one of the reasons why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Many poor people may have developed the belief that no matter how hard they work and how much education they get they will never get out of the financial straightjacket they are in. It’s no wonder why poor people play lotteries in greater numbers than any other income class. The middle class surely wants and needs the money too. The difference is that some of the poor see the lottery as the only way they can get ahead. If you truly believe that regardless of what you do today, it won’t positively impact tomorrow, you are destined to fall short of your potential.
In life, we all experience situations where we seem to lack control.
It can be very easy for us to believe that we are powerless over certain aspects of our life. Worse yet, if we have this sense of defeat and powerlessness in certain areas of your life, it can bleed over into other areas of our life—where you do have considerable control—and infect your success and happiness like a virus.
If there are areas in your life where you think your actions do not influence the future, chances are you do have some control and you need to break free from this limiting belief.
Keep the following six concepts in mind to begin eliminating these limiting beliefs:
- Change is possible. If you think your finances or life can’t improve, you won’t take any steps to make it better. You must first open your mind to the possibility that your current financial situation actually can improve. If you are still having a hard time accepting this, ask if it is possible for your life to get worse because of the steps you take. If your life can get worse as a result of your actions, there’s no reason it can’t get better too.
- Think big. Think outside of your self-imposed restraints. If you think big enough, you will have the motivation to take the initial steps and the fuel to keep progressing even in the face of challenges and disappointment.
- Get perspective. If the elephant looked at his situation objectively, he would surely see the weakness in the small rope. If your friend were in your situation, wouldn’t you encourage her to think about her situation objectively and to take whatever action that is appropriate? What would you tell her?
- Set goals. Just the act of setting goals will help you overcome the feeling that you have no control over your future. The energy and thought process required to set goals will get your mind thinking in a whole new way.
- Achieving successes. One of the best ways to overcome the belief that your actions don’t affect your future is to start achieving small successes. While goals must be big and motivating, there should also be small and achievable goals along the way.
- Consider a different viewpoint. Dr. Seligman’s research on learned helplessness inspired him to look at optimists and pessimists and examine how both types of people explain good and bad events. He writes in Authentic Happiness, “Optimistic people tend to interpret troubles as transient, controllable, and specific to one situation. Pessimistic people, in contrast, believe that their troubles last forever, undermine everything they do and are uncontrollable.” In short, if we can change the way we explain the events that occur in our lives, we will be less likely to suffer from learned helplessness.
The conditioning of learned helplessness can take years to develop, so if the problem is severe enough, you should seek the advice of a licensed therapist or personal coach to help you break free from this paralyzing limiting belief.
You do have influence over your life. Even if you don’t believe it right now, act as if you do. Start small so you can begin to see how your actions produce results.
The proceeding blog post is an excerpt from The Six-Day Financial Makeover: Transform Your Financial Life in Less Than a Week!, available now on Amazon.
About the Independent Financial Advisor
Robert Pagliarini, PhD, CFP®, EA has helped clients across the United States manage, grow, and preserve their wealth for the past 25 years. His goal is to provide comprehensive financial, investment, and tax advice in a way that was honest and ethical. In addition, he is a CFP® Board Ambassador, one of only 50 in the country, and a real fiduciary. In his spare time, he writes personal finance books, finance articles for Forbes and develops email and video financial courses to help educate others. With decades of experience as a financial advisor, the media often calls on him for his expertise. Contact Robert today to learn more about his financial planning services.