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How to unlearn a learned behavior


I received a very interesting question today and I thought I would share it with you along with the answer I gave. We all have learned behaviors that at the time we adopted them served some sort of purpose. Now that the situation has changed those learned behaviors might not be supporting who we have become. It would be wise to see what behaviors you have adopted that no longer serve you in a positive way and begin to change them. The good news is any behavior learned can be unlearned.

How do you deal with the effects of learned helplessness?

That is a difficult one for me to answer because I didn’t learn helplessness. Just the opposite. I learned extreme self sufficiency. I learned that no one was going to help me and if I didn’t take care of it myself it wouldn’t get taken care of. I have had to work through this because this causes severe control issues, not trusting anyone and looking for opportunities to be disappointed when people do try to help me and of course it doesn’t work out.

I think overcoming anything that we have adopted is a process. The first step is awareness. I have always been a proponent of choices however most recently have come to realize that there is no choice without awareness. Until you are aware that you have adopted learned helplessness, you can’t change it. Now that you are aware you can begin to make different choices.

First start noticing where the learned helplessness shows up. For me when I was looking at my extreme self sufficiency I began to notice where in my life I wasn’t allowing others to help me, which was in just about every area. Once I realized that I began to let go of the control and let others help. It started out with small things first and then I gradually have built up to larger things.

Keep in mind that the behavior has been learned over time. You are not going to change it overnight. I would also suggest keeping a journal and making notes in it each day of what you noticed and how you will do things differently in the future. Or even a win you had around changing the behavior. This will provide you with increased awareness and feedback.

At times we need to get support when we are changing behaviors. My current coach is working specially on changing my old learned behavior patterns and beliefs. He calls them “the old stories” in our lives. We adopted these old stories, mine being “I can do it myself.” It helps to have a different perspective and someone that can point out things I don’t notice.

The good news is that anything learned can be unlearned. Indeed you can learn new behaviors that are more positive and reflective of who you have become.

I hope this was helpful.


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