If you’ve ever taken a psychology class you’ve probably heard about Martin Seligman’s theory of learned helplessness.
Essentially, the idea is that over time, if one experiences painful events that are out of one’s control, eventually one stops even trying to avoid the incident.
Characteristics of learned helplessness include decreased motivation and negative emotions like sadness and anxiety – even anger and frustration.
Eventually, one believes that no matter what they do, things will not get better. They believe they have no control over the situation’s outcome.
I believe I have over my lifetime developed the opposite of learned helplessness.
I call it learned fearlessness.
I haven’t always been this way. And there are plenty of things I am afraid of – the death of my children, incapacitating illness, heights, spiders larger than a dime. #especiallyiftheyarehairy
And yet there are many things that no longer fill me with dread, like saying “I am a writer.” or “I quit.” or “No.”
Much of my progress has been made over the last 10 years. It began when my mother died of early-onset dementia at the age of 61. Watching her take her last breath and knowing that there is a highly genetic component to early-onset dementia, made me consider the state of my life at that time.
It wasn’t good.
I can clearly recall my therapist rejecting my idea that I should stay in my toxic marriage out of my fear of getting sick early like my mom, who was diagnosed at age 55.
“Who will take care of me?” I asked.
“What will happen to my children?” I worried.
She looked me squarely in the eyes and asked, “If you only have a limited time left, how do you want to spend it?”
In other words – in guaranteed misery, or with the chance of happiness?
Dear Reader, I left.
I said, “No more.”
The irony here is that all each of us has is a limited time. Early-onset dementia or not.
After I left the toxicity I was living in, things didn’t miraculously change overnight. #dotheyever?
But it did get easier, little by little, for me to become brave. To cultivate courage.
I learned to recognize choices I made out of fear sooner. (Notice I said, sooner.) I still made – make – choices based out of fear sometimes. But as I began to flex my bravery muscles it got easier to recognize what I was doing. I was able to gain clarity and focus on what I really wanted my life to be like, and how to get there.
I still made – make – choices based out of fear sometimes. But as I began to flex my bravery muscles it got easier to recognize what I was doing. I was able to gain clarity and focus on what I really wanted my life to be like, and how to get there.
Sure, I stumbled. Took wrong turns. Said yes to what I thought I should say yes to.
Still do, from time to time. #human
Yet, increasingly I began to hear things like, “You are inspiring!” and “I admire your bravery!” from people I look up to and friends whose opinions I value.
The only thing I fear now is not trying.
Keep on Keepin’ On,