How to Break Free From Feeling Helpless

January 29th, 2015 by Nick Notas 17 Comments

Helpless Man

 

When I began coaching, I expected people to come to me with all sorts of problems. 

But I never expected so many to tell me, “Nick, I feel totally stuck. I’ve tried everything but I just don’t have what it takes. My life is hopeless, so why should I bother trying?”

These people feel completely helpless in their lives. They feel like they have no control over achieving their goals or finding fulfillment.

The first time I heard this, it hit me hard. Because I remember how trapped and powerless I felt years ago. 

In the span of months, my dad had a heart attack and was forced to close our family restaurant. I had to drop out of college to support my family. My friends all moved to colleges out of state and my social circle disappeared. Then my girlfriend of two years dumped me.

It seemed like there was nothing I could do to stop the shit storm. I believed I was destined for unhappiness.

So I blamed myself. I blamed others. I wallowed in self-pity. For a long time, I did nothing and nothing changed.

I was experiencing a mindset called learned helplessness. And it kept me miserable and from getting what I wanted out of life.

What is learned helplessness and where does it come from?

Learned helplessness is the belief that you have no control over changing your situation. You think that no matter what you do, you’re headed for failure. It usually stems from negative experiences from your childhood or adolescence.

Maybe you tried to make friends but were constantly picked on instead. This taught you that you’re bad at socializing and no one will ever like you. 

Maybe girls rejected you when you asked them out or made a move. This taught you that you’re unattractive and doomed to be forever alone.

Maybe your parents unfairly compared you to other kids who were smarter, more athletic, more beautiful, or more motivated. This taught you that you’ll never be good enough and other people will always be more successful.

Whatever it was, you learned that it was pointless to try. So what did you do instead?

You protected yourself and gave up. And why wouldn’t you? Nobody wants to endure pain, rejection, and defeat on a regular basis.

But what you didn’t realize was that you were setting yourself up for even more failure in the future.

Why learned helplessness is a lie

By avoiding action, you never strengthen your emotional resiliency. You never try different methods that could yield better results. And you never gain positive reference experiences that could disprove your helplessness.

And now, even when there’s a chance to cultivate success — you don’t take it.

So let’s face it, YOU are the one creating your helplessness. YOU are the one who’s not doing anything to improve your situation.

This shouldn’t scare you, it should LIBERATE you. There’s nothing wrong or broken with you. You just haven’t put in the effort that’s essential to growth, getting results, and seeing that you are capable.

How do I know all this? Because in 8 years, I’ve never met a truly hopeless person.

My clients who have taken consistent action improved their circumstances, hit their goals, and experienced more fulfillment. Suddenly, they weren’t so helpless. 

It’s extremely rare that someone takes a passive stance in life and comes out winning. But when you take control of your life, you create a new reality of abundance.

9 steps to becoming self-reliant

  1. Realize you’re not a victim. The world is not conspiring against you, I promise. We all wish we could change something about our situation.

    But however screwed you think you are, there are people who are worse off. And they still work to overcome adversity.

    Let’s take dating, for example…

    Too ugly? I used to work with a “ginger” who had facial ticks and a cleft lip. He now has as a beautiful fiance and daughter.

    Too boring and lame? I have friends who spent all their time on Everquest and Final Fantasy Online. They met attractive girls on those games and had amazing sex with them — in real life.

    Too short? One of my best friends stands at 5’4” and is the ultimate ladies man. I’m short and could have been taller if I wasn’t an idiot.

    Wallowing in self-pity is unattractive and unproductive. Every time you think…

    – “What don’t I have?” Ask yourself, “What can I gain?”

    – “Why does bad stuff always happen to me?” Ask yourself, “What can I do to change it?”

    – “Everyone is better than me.” Tell yourself, “I have so much to learn from others.”

    Before you can help yourself, you need to change your perspective.

  2. Accept that you will continue to stumble and fall. It’s normal when you’re undertaking any new endeavor. You’re learning. You’re experimenting. It will be uncomfortable and even painful.

    But you cannot expect to be great at something without practicing it.

    Stop thinking everyone else has something you don’t. Or that they just “get it”. You are diminishing their accomplishments. They didn’t just magically become fit, social, or successful.

    At some point in their life, they had to put in the hard work and effort. They failed. They faced rejection. They felt stupid. They endured. And they came out better for it.

    You have to want to help yourself bad enough to tackle life’s inevitable obstacles.

Yo Adrian!!!

Did Rocky give up? No, he got hit and kept moving forward!

  1. Stop defining yourself by your lack of success. My girlfriend of two years dumped me on our anniversary. A week later, I found out she was already seeing a new guy.

    I’ve had two girlfriends cheat on me, one with my best friend. I’ve had a girl choose another guy while on a date with me. I’ve had multiple girls laugh in my face when I approached them.

    I’ve been rejected by hundreds of women and screwed up with several girls I liked.

    So I should think of myself as a total loser, right?

    No way! I love myself more than ever. I’m more self-confident now than at any other point in my life. In hindsight, I’m glad to have gone through those experiences because they helped me become a better man.

    Self-esteem is an internal belief that you are worthy. External factors or circumstances don’t affect that unless you believe they do. You’re not less worthy because of your past or current failures.

    Even the leading researcher on self-esteem, Brene Brown, found the ONLY  correlation between high and low self-esteem was people’s internal perception of themselves. There are poor, uneducated, “traditionally unattractive” individuals who are still confident.

    Those with high self-esteem simply chose to believe that their opinions, wants, needs, and personality were valuable.

    You are faced with the same choice in order to become a confident, successful person. You just have to answer the question:

    How will you define yourself?

  2. Stop being afraid to ask for help. Just because you need to become self-reliant, doesn’t mean you should avoid outside support.

    The strongest people in the world collaborate, seek mentors, and gain insight from others about their struggles. It’s not shameful to need that support, even with the simplest of things.

    People who care about you will want to be there for you. They will appreciate that you valued them enough to ask for their help. Because guess what? They’ve probably been there themselves. You’re not the first person in the world to feel helpless.

  3. Recognize you’re not helpless in all areas of life. I guarantee you there’s something you’re good at. Whether it’s your career, programming, video games, lifting weights, cooking, playing guitar, working on your car, there’s something.

    Therefore, you’re not completely helpless. So call yourself out and think: why do you succeed in those areas?

    Did you get frustrated when your code couldn’t compile, call yourself a failure, and give up? Or did you fix your bugs, tinker with new ideas, and scream in joy when it worked?

    Were you a guitar virtuoso from day one? No, you learned chords, practiced your strumming, and eventually strung a few riffs together.

    That same process applies to your areas for improvement. You just feel more insecure about them and therefore more helpless.

    When you had trouble remembering guitar chords, you treated it as a temporary hurdle. When you hit the wrong note, you said, “Ahh I screwed up.”

    When you had trouble getting up the courage to talk to a girl, you treated it as the most shameful thing you’ve ever done. You thought to yourself, “I’m screwed up.”

    Start treating your current terrifying obstacles like the ones you’ve already conquered. View them as temporary and again, not a reflection of your self-worth. It’s the difference between feeling guilty vs feeling shameful.

  4. Set small attainable goals and hold yourself extremely accountable. We all want to achieve our big dreams right now. But the path to major breakthroughs is riddled with consistent small steps that lay the foundation for success.

    Take your big, long-term goal and break it down into manageable chunks. Then work through them consistently.

    Maybe you want to be be more create romantic connections but have extreme sexual anxiety.

    Rather than overwhelming yourself and trying to flirt with a dozen women, why not start with some simpler exercises?

    The important part is to make sure you’re challenging your comfort zone often, even if it’s a little at a time.

  5. Be patient and think long-term. Forget about instant gratification. Any major goals you have will not be accomplished overnight.

    You have to recognize your small victories every step of the way. Praise yourself for the effort you put in instead of focusing on the end result. That is how you will stay motivated.

    Enjoy your forward progress because there will always be more room for growth in life.

  6. Change your methodology if it isn’t working. Of course, if you’re taking the same steps and not seeing progress, you should try a new strategy. There are countless paths to success.

    Whenever someone tells me, “I’ve tried everything, Nick!” I always challenge that notion. I hit them with dozens of ideas that they’d never even thought of.

    Many guys come to me frustrated with meeting women through online dating. They send out a few messages, don’t get responses, and then give up.

    Instead, why don’t you try sending out 10 or even 20 messages per week for a month? Switch up your messaging style (length, tone). Try a different dating site. Take some new pictures or choose better ones.

    If that isn’t working, start approaching women during your day. Go out to a local event or meetup group. Take a dance class. The possibilities are endless.

    See how your results change and keep experimenting. This is how you discover what works and what doesn’t – and then focus on the best way to keep making progress.

  7. Forgive yourself and let go of your past. Whenever somebody starts to realize they aren’t so helpless after all, they also realize that they’ve been holding themselves back for years. And that’s not a good feeling to get hung up on.

    You blame yourself for not taking action earlier. You’re frustrated that you listened to your self-doubt for so long. And you’re angry that you should be so much further ahead and fulfilled by now.

    But that regret will do NOTHING good for you. It will only eat you alive and make you feel even more isolated. You can’t go back in time or change the past, so there’s no point in obsessing about it.

    We all have something we wish we did earlier. I wish I ate healthier before I became hypoglycemic. I wish I had been a better friend and partner before I hurt the people I cared about. I wish I bought Apple stock when I was 18.

    There’s only so much time in life and perhaps you spent your time gaining other valuable lessons. You also didn’t know better in the past. Now you do.

    The amazing thing is we all have the ability to shape our future. The actions we choose to take will dictate who we become.

    But it starts with telling yourself the right story. A story that says you are capable enough to get what you want.

    So please, don’t let the stories of your past create the stories of your future.

Our job as individuals is to fulfill our needs. No one can else do that for us. The only way to accomplish this is to become self-reliant and learn to help ourselves.

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

  1. Linda on January 29, 2015

    this is empowering….I feel like I could run a marathon! Although its probably smart if I start with a small run like you suggested 🙂 I just want to take control of my health again.

    • Nick Notas on January 29, 2015

      Happy to inspire you Linda. Definitely be careful with running if you haven’t done it in a while — it’s REALLY easy to get injured.

      Have you heard of couch to 5K? It’s a great beginner program that safely works you up to 5K runs in no time.

      Good luck!

  2. Rick on January 29, 2015

    It’s so interesting that you can feel helpless in one area of your life and not in others. I’m freelance graphic designer working from home and I love my job. But when I think of going up to a stranger, male or female, in real life and striking up a conversation, I feel terrified. So I don’t do it, ever. I enjoyed your previous article about exercises so it looks like I’m starting there

    • Nick Notas on January 29, 2015

      Much of that will come with exposure and experience. You probably worked hard to learn graphic design, researched techniques, applied them, then reworked your methods, etc. You were also likely nervous about your work but still dived in.

      Approaching a stranger feels much more intimidating because it’s a biological response. We’re scared that we could get hurt (physically, too) or be judged and actually have to see it. But if you start simple and work your way up, you’ll see that you’re capable and the fear is just in your head.

  3. Jon on January 29, 2015

    Interesting, I just finished reading The Obstacle is The Way and found it invaluable in terms of advice. Seems like it fits right in with this post.

    • Nick Notas on January 30, 2015

      I really enjoy Ryan Holiday’s writings and I hadn’t even heard of this before. The book looks great! Thanks for the recommendation Jon.

      • Jon on January 30, 2015

        It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

  4. Greg on January 29, 2015

    I could not have asked for a better read right now. Thank you so much for the motivation I’ve been lacking in my life right now.

  5. Paul on January 30, 2015

    Nick, I’m so impressed with your great content. Thanks for the well thought out and inspirational message. Keep up the good work!

    • Nick Notas on February 2, 2015

      You’re welcome and thanks for being so supportive Paul!

  6. N on January 30, 2015

    Great stuff. Taking responsibility is the first step towards creating an amazing life for you and everyone else around you. People need to know that their actions already have power, and that ironically, they are the only ones creating their ‘miserable, lonely’ experience through the sheer conviction that they are ‘hopeless’, and ‘losers’.

    Do you have any idea how powerful your beliefs have to be to consistently, minute-by-minute create the identity of a ‘loser’? You have to ignore all the things in your life that you do (almost) flawlessly; like reading, writing, walking, brushing your teeth, your command over one spoken language (or more!), cooking, and so much more. You have to convince yourself that these skills are nothing special; ignoring the fact that, as children it takes us a decade or more to learn them well.

    Then you somehow manage to convince yourself that you aren’t capable of anything. Being a ‘loser’ is quite exhausting.

    • Nick Notas on February 2, 2015

      Thanks. And that’s some incredible insight.

      I’ve often told people to recognize all their accomplishments and successes to disprove their limiting beliefs. But even I overlook telling them about the smallest daily victories (as you wrote) for inspiration. Thank you for the wonderful reminder.

      Speaking against yourself really is a full time job. One that we should all retire from asap.

  7. Dunban on February 10, 2015

    I’ll admit, this was definitely an interesting read and this will help a lot of people who have given up and stopped trying.

    My situation is seems to be a tad different though and I’m having trouble relating this to my own situation. I basically feel the way you’ve described, and I don’t feel that will ever change. I don’t think I have what it takes and I feel like I have 0 chance for success. That said, just because I feel that way, I don’t let it stop me from trying. I try a lot, and fail every time. I still try, and I don’t feel any different. Simply trying doesn’t make you feel any less helpless.

    Individual failures don’t even really get to me anymore. In general, I feel like shit and that I don’t have a chance, but I used to get my hopes up a lot, then felt worse when those hopes were crushed. Now it’s like “Yup, that’s pretty much what I expected” Even if I expect to fail, I still give it my best shot, but ultimately end up proving myself right. I’ll try things that friends suggest, even if I don’t feel like it’ll make any difference.

    So even though I feel like I’m hopeless, I still at least make the attempt. I feel like it’s a waste of time, and it’s been so each time, but rather than letting my thoughts tell me what the outcome would be, I find out what the outcome actually is (just so happens they always match up).

    Looking at the steps, I can’t really find many of the applicable either. I don’t feel like I’m a victim. No girl is required to be interested in me and I don’t feel like I’m owed anything. I simply chalk it up to each person has their own interests, and the girls I’ve been interested in didn’t feel the same. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Even as far as self-esteem goes. I used to have a huge problem with self hatred. I don’t anymore. Despite thinking that I’m not compatible with anyone else’s desires, I do like myself. I just realize that not everyone is going to like the same things, so while I like myself, that doesn’t mean I expect someone else to be interested in more than friendship, either.

    I could go on, but I’ve already typed a giant wall of text as it is.
    I agree 100% though with your write up. If you’re doing nothing, it’s always better to change that and do something.

  8. Tinder Madness on February 10, 2015

    This was really inspiring. I wish more people had access to insights like this.

  9. Glenn on February 13, 2015

    Nick,
    Thanks for the advice & pep talk. You are so right about how we can be strong in some aspects, yet feel so weak and helpless in others. Thanks for reminding me to remember my strengths & successes, and to realize that my weaknesses aren’t as insurmountable as they sometimes feel.

  10. Jay King on March 7, 2015

    Being helpless is a mental state, and that state can be changed, it can be because of your childhood, your past experiences, the experiences of others, etc. But it is most important that we overcome this helplessness state and remember that others have done it, therefore we too can do it.

    This advice of yours, Nick, are really great. It can inspire even the most helpless man I know.
    Thanks.