We're Not Helpless We have power to change our destiny BY: Troy Murphy |July 2016
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Life is complicated. When scientists conduct experiments, they painstakingly eliminate outside elements to properly isolate the single factor they are studying. Even with great efforts, using double blind studies, the results rarely are stated in definitives; instead the results conservatively are presented in associations. The results aren’t conclusive; the tests reveal tendencies and probabilities—exceptions exist, deviating from predictions and defying the norm. Reality is complex. In real life, numerous factors, mostly unknown, blur the predictableness of outcomes. We may do everything right, at least what we know to be right, and still fail. Or, sometimes, someone may haphazardly stumble through life and succeed. Wisdom helps us sort through experience and draw valuable lessons. But because of the multitude of unknown contributing factors, we easily misinterpret experience, giving too much attention to the most convenient factors—the factors outside our realm of control. We assign blame, complaining of unfairness. Unproductive misassignment of blame, largely an unconscious process, blinds us to further investigation, ignoring factors we influence—personal behaviors partially responsible for hurt.
We dismiss responsibility for struggling relationships, stagnating careers and a disappointing life by conveniently focusing attention on outside factors—blaming the world. By dodging responsibility, we hinder power to change. Life complexity requires a wider view; a view that includes acceptance of unpredictable obstacles. We will be surprised and success demands effectively responding to surprise, not justifying failures because of them. We still have control of our direction, creating the futures we seek; just not absolute control of the path required to get there.
I have heard it said, “Whether we believe we have a choice or believe we have no choice, we are correct.” When we believe we have no choice, we become helpless to surrounding circumstances, depressed, fearing the unknowns, we give up.
Through learned helplessness studies, Martin Seligman demonstrated that animals conditioned to be helpless would helplessly endure shocks they were capable of escaping. When conditioned to blame, we endure the shocks of life, failing to identify personal resources available to escape. When we believe we are empowered to change, we creatively respond to difficulties seeking control. When obstacles interrupt or delay goal attainment, instead of blaming, successful people respond with effective action. Confidence is personal power to change gives the resilience to respond, even when plans are disrupted. When personal responsibility is accepted, we become the captain of the ship. We don’t have control over the wind but we effectively adjust the sails to capture the driving force, pushing us towards our destination.