My name is Tony Rossi. I suffer from learned helplessness.
I actually forgot this was a thing. I’ve had a plethora of stretches lately where I keep thinking there was something wrong with me for having so many negative thoughts. Then I feel more guilty when I realize that I’m actually allowing myself to be a victim to my circumstances, thoughts, and destructive behavior patterns.
What the heck is learned helplessness?
Two smart dudes named Martin and Steven did this interesting experiment with some dogs. I’ll spare you the details (though you can quickly read about it here), but they concluded that sometimes animals refuse to take action to better their situation, even when there are options available. This is based on previous experiences which lead to negative emotions. (Seriously, read about it here. And know that I totally stole some of their words for my free blog, so give this article all the credit.)
I’ve done this a lot lately. I think how much I can’t stand a job I’m working, but that I have to keep working it because “there’s no other option” that will help me with my acting career. I want to spend more time socializing with friends, but sulk as I stay indoors because seriously, how am I supposed to stick to my health goals when there’s always beer and snacks lying around? Or I want to work with a particular theatre company, but “I just don’t have the availability” so I give up even submitting to them.
In Tony Rossi terminology, here’s what I’ve discovered with my own learned helplessness: When we don’t have an answer to our pain, we decide that there’s nothing we can do about it. And the scary thing is….there’s often a payoff: We don’t have to take action! In our silly little brains, we think there’s literally no answer. So why waste any energy on taking action that won’t do anything? “It’ll just be a waste of time and I’ll end up more frustrated and disappointed,” we tell ourselves. “Why would I want that?” Then we have a wonderful excuse to get attention from friends, eat as much chocolate as we’d like, and head over to the Jewel-Osco to pick up a discounted pack of Old Style. It’s cheaper there, and we all know that we’re not worthy of buying the Goose Island beer that we actually long for…
So….what can we do about this?
Fortunately, yours truly over here has failed at this a lot over. And fortunately I’ve also learned from some of the best authors, life coaches, and personal development leaders since learning about these concepts a few years ago. So allow me to help.
For starters, know that there is nothing wrong with you. Your brain is feeding you lies. These lies likely include…
a) There is no action to take
b) If you do take even the smallest action step, it won’t do anything anyway
c) You now have have a perfectly valid excuse to eat ice cream and sleep in.
With all clear indications pointing this way, why would you do anything but this?!
“The Entrepreneur Rollercoaster” by Darren Hardy is a great source of inspiration
How to get out of it: The F word.
Hear me out, friends. We’re about to get a little “woo-woo” here. While I’m not going to google an official definition for you, there are countless books and personal development leaders that will tell you that “faith is the confidence and certainty of the not-yet-seen.” (Source: Anyone and everyone I’ve quoted in my previous blogs in the past three years. And probably Courtney Rioux, just to give her another shout out.) When we have faith, we don’t need evidence that things are going to work out. We just believe it. This of course takes practice. It also takes surrounding yourself with people who think this way. If you spend your time with a bunch of nay sayers, skeptics, or indulge in the plethora of media sources telling you how terrible things always end up, then you’re going to have a difficult time with this one. Otherwise, start to switch up your routine. You might find my #SundayVideos are a good start!
Finally, remember this: Even after you get really freaking good at this faith thing, you still might fall back into your learned helplessness trap. After all, you probably have more money at this point and can afford some better beer, so the incentives are going to be enticing. Just know that there is still nothing wrong with you. You’ve gotten out of this before. You’ll get out of it again.
I like to start the day journaling and writing positive intentions. Most of them stolen from mentors 😉
Have faith. Believe that you’re awesome. Spend time with awesome people who also know you’re awesome. And with that, I have complete faith that you will live an awesome life.
Let’s go get ’em, friends.
Tony is a theatre and film actor living in Chicago, just up the street from Wrigley Field He loves helping others to become the happiest version of themselves so that they can live more fun, fulfilled lives on their terms. Contact him for a free one-on-one to see if he can help you with your own mindset and happiness in life at
PS – Rumor has it that he loves when you share his content with friends and family.