English: selfmade image of U.S. Unemployment rate from 1890-2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(MoneyWatch) We've been told that one of the keys to becoming a successful leader and to creating a successful life is to see things as they are and not worse. But if you've been beaten down and suffered setbacks such as unemployment, it's hard to see the positive. ... [There] is ...[a] nefarious consequence to your life that can result after you suffer a setback -- maybe ongoing unemployment -- and then only look at the negative.
Psychologists call this phenomenon "learned helplessness." The cause of learned helplessness, according to Dr. Martin Seligman, is being repeatedly exposed to an uncontrollable event such as going on interviews or auditions and not getting a call back. 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.
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. Keep the following six concepts in mind to eliminate learned helplessness:
1. Change is possible. If you don't think your finances or life can improve, then you won't take any steps to make them better. ... If you are still having a hard time accepting this, ask 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 too.
2. Think big. ... 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.
3. Get perspective. 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?
4. Set goals. Just the act of setting goals will help you overcome the feeling that you have no control over your future. ...
5. 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.
6. 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. In his book, Authentic Happiness, he writes that, "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.
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.
View all articles by Robert Pagliarini on CBS MoneyWatch »
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.