Out of the cave and into the jungle
Most of my adult life was about getting a job that paid well and gave me a fancy title, fancy benefits or some other kind of fancy feather to my hat.
Without getting into a predictable therapy lesson let us just agree upon prestige was my guiding star. Until the day, I heard about learned helplessness and realized I wasn’t a Sales Manager. I was a monkey…
This is the third article in a series about how I went from an overworked and overstressed big city woman to a relaxed hill country ditto.
In my previous article, I told you how my husband and I decided to take on a monumental life changing decision. We set out a goal of achieving financial freedom and tone down the frenetic tempo we ran our lives by.
Such as buying designer shoes just because everyone else says they are cool
That meant selling our beautiful house in the suburbs, saying good-bye to my fantastic VW and looking for a house far into the unknown countryside.
What ‘one’ does
One day I heard about learned helplessness and recognized myself in it.
Put very simple learned helpless is when you are passive instead of active – when you let someone else make the decisions for you.
Such as buying designer shoes just because everyone else says they are cool. Not signing up to that education of your dreams because it’s not what ‘one’ does.
Cold water sprays all over the monkey
Or not voting during elections because you think it doesn’t matter because things never change or politicians are evil on both sides or one vote in several million doesn’t count?
That’s learned helplessness.
The 5 monkey experiment
Learned helplessness is something scientists have studied for a long time. In one famous experiment, five monkeys are put in a cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder.
The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. However, as it starts climbing cold-water sprays all over the monkey. Then each of the other monkeys also get soaked.
The other monkeys pull him down and beat him
The monkey on the ladder falls down and all five sit on the floor, wet, cold and surprised. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great and another monkey starts climbing the ladder.
Once again, the scientist sprays the monkey with water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pulls him off the ladder and beat him.
Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he naively begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him down and beat him.
Cold water pours on you
The scientist removes another of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed!
They had all learned never to try to go for the bananas.
By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys was left. And here’s where it gets interesting.
Despite none of the monkeys ever experiencing the cold spray, they had all learned never to try to go for the bananas.
Most of us learn this behaviour very early in our lives. As children, we are told how the future looks like; get an education, then a job and work 5-7 days a week al so in the end of the month you receive the desired paycheck. The key word is job security.
However, you have to realize no matter your education there is no guarantee for a job security.
Instead of being a monkey in a cage get out and explore your surroundings. There are other ways to make money – but first you should lose your independence of the paycheck. What happens if you are fired tomorrow or you hate your job? Make sure you have a saving that you can fall back on.
Wake up and realize that in the modern world you are already out in the jungle.
Dont’t be a monkey
What has this monkey story to do with you, your work and how you live your life? The metaphor is clear. At least it was to me; ideas and suggestions are to often left to die because we are told by our colleagues, family, friends etc. that it can’t be done.
Don’t travel. Don’t speak up. Don’t stop up and consider if life could be different.
Don’t be a monkey. Life can be different.
3 Questions to ask yourself about learned helplessness
1) What is a specific situation where you were ‘helpless’ and what could you have done differently?
I had several entrepreneurial ideas when I was younger. However, I just let them die because I thought I had to get a ‘real’ job.
2) What did you dream about doing as a kid and why did you not follow that dream, as you grew older?
I wanted to be an astronaut but I assumed it was impossible.
3) Think of at least one area of your life where you are in the cave but with some simple steps can come out into the jungle
My life was controlled by an employer and a desire for achieving more and performing the best. I am taking back control of my life by starting over.
Stay tuned. In the next article, I will reveal how to be stuck in a great job. It paid well and got me high on efficiency. Nevertheless, the price as it turned out was too high.
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