Freedom from the trap of mastered helplessness (2)

Happy birthday to Uncle Jimi Solanke, one of the living legends of the creative arts in Nigeria, an accomplished thespian whose interpretation of roles made him bestride the stage of live theatre with ease and aplomb. He turned 78 last Saturday, 4th of July.

Children don’t have a sense of what is impossible until adults begin to interfere with their thought processes. A child would dare to touch a flame or even attempt to play with a snake, oblivious of its venomous propensity!

How could big elephants be domesticated and conditioned for circus performances instead of roaming in the wild, their natural habitat? The elephant is captured in the wild when it is still young and tied down with a big iron chain or very thick rope. Several times, it would tug at the restraining rope in obvious rebellion against its new restricting reality. But of course, it would feel pain and give up trying until it becomes convinced that it is not worth the struggle. As time goes on, the rope is changed to something less thick. As the elephant grows, the rope becomes thinner until it is so thin that minimum effort on the elephant’s part would have seen it walking away free. But the elephant is oblivious of that. Its mind is already conditioned by the referenced experience of pain that it had stopped trying to escape. At that point, its domestication for the circus begins. The chain has effectively moved from the leg to its brain! Mastered helplessness has become framed hopelessness.

Once we conclude on what constitutes our impossibilities based on the pains we felt while trying, we frame it into an abiding narrative of hopelessness that eventually develops into a siege mentality which in turn makes us prisoners of our limitations. When our desires conflict with our reality, frustration and depression are the end result. Left unchecked, it can result in passive indifference and a sense of fatalism that simply surrenders to opposing circumstances with little or no resistance.

The first step in getting out of the quagmire is to acknowledge your situation and have a desire to change the crippling narrative. Denial of a reality does not make it go away! The story of the prodigal son in the Bible is a very instructive process in reversing mastered helplessness. It is found in Luke 15 of the Holy Bible. I have no intention of going into the intricate details of the story but will only concern myself with what is relevant to our discourse.

After spending everything he got as inheritance from his father, he was abandoned by even those who had partaken of his debauchery. Left high and dry, forlorn and forsaken, he came to the lowest possible ebb in his life. For survival, he had to take a job in a piggery where hunger made him desire to partake of the pigs’ food but he was not even obliged! ‘Helplessly’ pitted and potted in a quandary, he came to that point of self-awareness where he acknowledged that he had a problem and needed to solve it once and for all. As the story goes, “he came to himself”. In an apparently helpless situation, the first thing you need to take control of is your emotions, not the condition. If you could control the situation, you would have prevented it from happening. Perception is what shapes possibilities.

Depression and anxiety pangs sometimes produce symptoms of certain diseases which are simply the body’s responses to stress and emotional exhaustion rather than any physiological cause. So they are known as psychosomatic diseases. Whenever the emotions that produce them disappear, usually so do the diseases if they haven’t caused some chronic damage to the body. To remedy such situations, doctors prescribe tranquilizers known as anxiolytics.

Having come to terms with your emotions and the situation, you need to take a decision to change the situation for the better. Having weighed his options, the young man in the story said to himself, “I will arise and go to my father”. It is necessary to move beyond intentions to quality decisions.

The next thing to do is to use the same power of your memory that locked you into your current helplessness to change your referenced experiences and frames by meditating on the positive and empowering things you experienced in the past. He reminded himself of how things were in his father’s house. He recalled that even servants in his father’s house had more than enough to eat and to spare. He was able to replace his feeling of hopelessness with the empowering picture of abundance that he was able to paint and focus on.

Read inspiring stories of people who turned adversity to advantage. Two popular Nigerian musicians fall into this category. They are Yinka Ayefele who emerged into the centrestage of prominence after a debilitating automobile accident left him wheelchair-bound. Cobhams Asuquo is a singer. Not only that, he is one of the finest keyboardists and music producers in Nigeria. But he is blind. He has overcome his limitations.

Even intentions and decisions are not enough. You need to take specific action steps in the direction of the change that you seek. Soon after he said, “I will arise”, the story continues by saying, “He arose”. A decision that is not backed by definite action is nothing but an unattainable mirage. Several achievements are locked up in the belly of good intentions that never had the strength of decisions or decisions that never materialized for lack of action.

Some years ago, I read a book titled, “ALL YOU CAN DO IS ALL YOU CAN DO…” authored by A.L. Williams. It was one of the books that changed my life and orientation. According to him, all you can do is all you can do. But all you can do is enough. And I add, as long as you are sure that that is all you can do! Take baby steps and celebrate even the small successes. Great men are not great because of the great things they do or did but because they learnt to do small things in a great way.

Whatever you can do is better than sitting on your bums and meditating on your helplessness. Every small move teaches you a new lesson and puts a distance between you and the current status quo. If the prize is worth it, then the price is payable! Every baby learns to walk one step at a time. In the process, they fall down several times and even injure themselves while trying to stand up. Sometimes, they have to lean on things or people for support. But one thing is certain. They never stop trying. If that is how you learnt to walk, perhaps you need to remind yourself that if you scored such a victory as a toddler, you can repeat the feat several times over as an adult!

Don’t give up on yourself. Say to yourself at the beginning of every challenge, “It’s DOABLE and I will DO IT!” Then, if you are convinced that it’s worth it, DO IT!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!



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