Learned Helplessness: The Secret to Being Poor

Last Updated Jun 2, 2011 2:53 PM EDT

Everyone and their brother has the "secret" to being rich. Countless books, articles, and late-night infomercials have revealed how we can all live in palm tree lined mansions and drive bright red Ferraris. So why are so many of us struggling? Because we have learned to be poor. It's time we changed this...

Many poor people -- and by "poor" I mean financially but also living below your true potential -- 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 and personal straight-jacket they are in. They may look at investing the other 8 hours and think it can work for others but that it will never work for them. 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're not going to try.

Psychologists call this phenomenon "learned helplessness." Dr. Martin Seligman coined this term and it comes down to one thing -- control. The cause of learned helplessness is being repeatedly exposed to an uncontrollable event. After many repeated and failed attempts, your brain "learns" that success is beyond your control; that you cannot affect the outcome. Basically you get to the point of thinking, "Why bother?" Once "conditioned" in this belief, you give up hope and effort, even in situations where you actually do have control and the ability to change the outcome. In effect, you've learned to become helpless.

If there are areas in your life where you think your actions do not influence the future, chances are you do have some control. Break the rut of learned helplessness with these five ideas:

  • Embrace change. You must first open your mind to the possibility that your life actually can improve. If you are still having a hard time accepting this, ask yourself if it is possible for your life to get worse because of steps you take. If your life can get worse as a result of your actions, there's no reason it can't get better.
  • Get perspective. If your friend were in your situation, wouldn't you encourage her to think about her situation objectively and take whatever action 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.
  • Achieve success. One of the best ways to overcome the belief that your actions don't affect your future is to start seeing some results -- no matter how small. While big goals can be motivating, make sure you have smaller and more easily achievable goals along the way.
  • Consider a different viewpoint. According to Dr. Seligman, "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.
Don't have the time? Don't have the money? Don't have the energy? Don't have the resources? Enough! Don't focus on the 1,000 reasons why you can't do it; focus on the one reason why you can. Your Ferrari is waiting...

Are you ready to create more money, time, energy, and passion in your life? Learn how to live your best life now with these free resources:

Get the "Achieving Peak Performance" ebook and video now! (free for a limited time)
You can also join a community of passionate people at Richer Life who want to achieve more in life and at work. With your free membership, you can participate in conversations I have with experts, celebrities, authors, and thought leaders that are laser-focused on practical ways to drive more money, motivation, and meaning into your life. Take the first step toward creating a better life by joining Richer Life for free now!
Read More
* Bad Day? 5 Tips to Keep Your Motivation * Is it Too Late to Improve Your Finances? * Make Money From Your Hobbies
(Ferrari image by emrank, CC 2.0)

  • Robert Pagliarini On Twitter»

    Robert Pagliarini is obsessed with inspiring others to create and empowering them to live life to the fullest by radically changing the way they invest their time and energy. He is the founder of Richer Life, a community of passionate people who want to learn and achieve more in life and at work. He is a Certified Financial Planner and the president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors, a boutique wealth management firm serving sudden wealth recipients and affluent individuals. He has appeared as a financial expert on 20/20, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew's Lifechangers and many others.