When elephants are young, an animal trainer will tie a rope around their leg to keep them from escaping. After furiously trying to escape for a period of time, the young elephant will eventually give up. Trained elephants, once they’ve been broken, don’t try to escape anymore. They give up and accept their lot in life. Addictions or things that enslave us are a lot like this. We come to believe that it’s helpless to try or tell ourselves that anyway, and so we give up and we acquire a disposition of learned helplessness. We can be addicted to or controlled by many things without even knowing it. Some of the usual suspects:
- Porn / Sex
- Illegal Activities
On the other hand, some things we don’t think about which can have a controlling effect on us, which might not be addictions per se are:
- Other people – narcissists, controlling people
- Jobs, Bosses
- Consumer Debt
- Social Status
- Social Media
- Political Systems
- Thought Police / Political correctness
- Peer group
- Our thought patterns- neurotic, negative
- A negative self-image
We will more than likely have to deal with some of these things in our life, so it’s good to be aware of their influence. We may want to change, but feel helpless, or maybe we aren’t even aware that we have a problem with one of these.
The problem with learned helplessness is that it is highly related to mental illness and depression. We don’t want to be someone who has learned to be or feel helpless. I’ve written about this before, but like a lot of college kids, I was in to the binge drinking scene for a time. I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t fun sometimes, but it also was a bad habit and a bad way to deal with stress. I was never an alcoholic but you tend to do dumb things when you binge drink. I still enjoy drinking in moderation, but have learned that I do better and am healthier and happier drinking in moderation and with periods of abstinence. The controlling aspect started in college when I associated going out with drinking a lot. It took a while after college to learn that wasn’t the best way to do things, particularly as a means of dealing with stress. This is an example of learned helplessness, in that I was unaware that I had a limitation on health and happiness until I taught myself to moderate.
Our habits become who we are, and we feel helpless to change.
Part of learning to have a healthy view of alcohol (which is actually good for you in moderation), or anything else for that matter, is to learn to change if it causes you problems.
The Stages of Change
We are in the Precontemplation stage, and I am raising your awareness about something you may want to change. For example, you may have a bad temper and take it on your husband. He may be a nice guy but he may be getting fed up. Or maybe you are very jealous and controlling of your wife. These are behaviors which are not very helpful in the long run and so it would be helpful to become aware of them. Another example of the pre-contemplation stage is a trip to the doctor when he raises your self-awareness about how unhealthy your lifestyle of fast food, stress, and smoking is.
I like to focus on the Action & Maintenance stage, because I find that a lot of people don’t have the skills or discipline necessary to:
- take the correct action
- maintain the correct action
The Place for Structure
Over the past year, I’ve studied heavily and read dozens of books on classical and current philosophy, technology, psychology, and other subjects in order to develop a model which will help people change. Soon, I’ll be revealing a model which you can use to structure a program to help you change so you don’t get bogged down where most people do in the Action phase of change.
Structure is one of the keys to change.
If you place yourself in the proper structure, you will be forced to change. You won’t even have to think about it. It will happen. Structure can come in many shapes and forms but let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. With the previous things I listed which can trap us, drain us, and make us less healthy and happy, there is an equal and opposing force which will create a different structure.
A great example of what a structure actually does would be an apprenticeship, let’s say a cabinetmaker. If you have a cabinetmaker mentor or teacher, as an apprentice all you need to do is show up and learn, because the structure is in place. Unfortunately, because we have rejected most forms of authority in our society – parents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, older family members, mentors, senior experts, etc- it is difficult for most of us to find the structure we need to become who we could become.
By rejecting all authority and structure in our lives, we threw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak, and this left us helpless to grow into who we should.
We can’t mature and learn and grow and be healthy without authority and structure. So what happens? We get stuck in the first stages of change. We contemplate but we don’t take consistent action. If you don’t believe me consider this. The military is one of the few institutions which the general public has a high amount of respect for. When a young, directionless, immature, and undisciplined young 18 year old joins the military, he or she gets what they need to become a responsible adult. We can apply this same concept to our own lives too.
Here are some other examples of how to use structure using the above list of things that control or addict us. The idea is to create a structure which is the opposite of what you’re already doing, or that locks you into a new healthier system:
- Alcohol > Moderation App or Log Book, Complete Abstinence, Tea Aficionado, Coffee Connoisseur, Fancy Carbonated Water
- Drugs > Healthy Drugs (exercise, green tea, healthy food)
- Food > Food Tracking App or Log Book, Dinner Guests, Fasting
- Media > Media Fast
- Porn > Intimacy, love
- Social Media > Lunch with friends, coffee with friends, social groups
- Gossiping > Complimenting others, encouraging others
- Work > Hobbies
- TV > Reading
- Smoking > Running
- Infidelity > Radical Honesty, New Peer Group
- Illegal / Unethical Activities > New Job or Peer Group, Confess
- Gambling > Saving, Pay yourself first
- Shopping > Creating or producing something of value, entrepreneurship
- Other people, narcissists, or controlling people > Positive, kind, honest, supportive people, radical honesty
- Anger Outbursts > Healthy outlets for anger like exercise, writing, creative work, journaling, prayer
- Jobs, Bosses > Mentors, teachers
- Consumer Debt > No debt, savings, investing
- Social Status > Independence, Virtue, Empathy, Altruism, Civic Mindedness
- Laws > Political Activism
- Political Systems > Political Systems
- Thought Police / Political correctness > Radical Honesty, Writing, Political Involvement, Political Organization
- Expensive Lifestyle > Minimalism
- Destructive, negative, unhealthy peer group > likeminded friends
- Our thought patterns- neurotic, negative > Journaling, Self-Awareness Training, Daily Morning Affirmations
- A negative self-image > Behavior Change, Makeover, Counseling, Prayer, etc.
- Depression > Volunteering
- Anxiety > Hobbies, Affirmations, Repeated Prayers
- Laziness > Financial commitment, military service
I really like the example of smoking. If you’ve tried and tried to quit smoking, which is extremely bad for you, why not go to the exact opposite extreme: start running, which is one of the very best things you can do for your heart and lungs. Find something else you love.
Find new structures which oppose the old ones. Find new healthy habits to replace old ones.
The bottom line is that if there are things about your life which aren’t healthy, and you want to change, put structures in place which are the exact opposite, or which have the opposite effect. These new structures are the actions you can take in step 4.
I’m going to write more about this subject soon, because it’s so important, but that’s all for now.
Don’t be helpless.
Consider all possible options.
Choose structures that guide you towards health.