Today I went for a walk on the beautiful beach at Carrownisky near Westport. This has got to my one of my favourite Sunday activities, and this time it was even better because I had the company of my very wise son, David.
We walked as far as we could in once direction and then turned and walked as far as we could in the other. It was quite rocky and I was walking barefoot. I walked along, looking down to make sure I didn’t turn my ankle. I was taking care, but I was also chatting, taking photos and simply but also enjoying the day. It was windy and a little wet but that didn’t stop us.
I remarked to David that years ago I wouldn’t have even tried to walk on the beach. Since I was a young child I have always been told that I wasn’t sporty, fit or thin. I was basically programmed to think that I couldn’t. If I had visited that beach years ago I would have either sat in the car or found a bench. I didn’t think I could manage a long walk and would have been conscious of getting back, every step I took away from the car. I would have also been told, be careful, mind your weak ankle, don’t fall. None of these things happened today (and any other day I have walked on the beach).
David told me about a concept called learned helplessness. You can read about it here, but basically it is a story that starts with an experiment with dogs. (Not very humane, but huge lessons to be learnt)
The concept of learned helplessness was discovered by accident by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier. Dogs that had been conditioned to expect an electrical shock when hearing a tone, became helpless even when there was an option to escape the shock.
I think many of us are the same. We believe we can’t so we don’t. Perhaps it is a case of failing a few times. Or in my case twisting my ankle a few times.
Learned helplessness in humans can been seen in so many instances. As soon as David explained the concept to me I could think of so many circumstances. Imagine a child who does badly on a maths exam. After repeatedly receiving low scores for maths, he will begin to believe that he will never master maths.
I am so glad that I have overcome the feeling of helplessness that was once a huge part of my life. These days I act first, and think of my limitations later. Perhaps, of course some sort of balance would be better.
I may not be ready to climb Croke Patrick, but I am not going to feel limited about taking a nice long beach walk.
Thank you so much for reading.