Cubed: learning helplessness

Feel like your role at work is minimizing? Or maybe the responsibilities you once had have shrunk? Or maybe you are feeling like you could do a lot more but no one seems to give you the opportunity? Or you are not being respected, acknowledged or rewarded for your hard work? Something is not right – and your not alone. You are cubed. You are being pushed to a habit of learning helplessness. One which is dumbing you down and making you a cog in a machine at your expense.

Let’s go back and explore where this came from and provide some enlightenment. Long time ago I had an awakening. “We are all capable of greatness.” You may or may not have heard these before. Either way here they are:

“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint you can on it.” ~ Danny Kaye

“For all our failings, despite our limitations and fallibilities, we humans are capable of greatness.” ~ Carl Sagan

And you may have read or seen this man (Anthony Robbins) speak of greatness and how it’s attainable. All the formulas to it are inside his book. Get the book if you have not read it.

The Giant Within
Get the book if you have not read it.

Ok so you now get it. Greatness is within you. I can even start quoting some religious literature if you like that we are part of God and if God is great we must also be great etc… but I wont go too deep. You get it.

Are you getting “cubed”?

What happens if this greatness starts getting stripped away from you.

Over the last few years working in both startup and corporate environments, I saw something which disturbed me and also started to affect me negatively. This deceptive art of the machine dumbing one down. It starts with getting “cubed”.

You are a go getter. You come from another environment (startup or not) where you were the man of the hour (all-rounder or a specialist) to a new environment (yes job) where things move slower and the room is filled with this political fog. Straight away you get confined to a cube (your new desk). Blocking the world around you. You are told it’s there to make you focus on your job. Then your new job turns out to be practically pulling a lever (minimized role). They call this specialization. You become a cog in the machine. Stripped of all those responsibilities which once made you grow into being better than before.

What’s going on here? 2 damaging factors are at play:

  1. The environment and
  2. The chap you report to.

Let’s face it. It sucks.

Point 2 you may be inclined to give them the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us so he/she can go and bloody learn for them self how employees should be managed. Yes that is a start. But both points have deep roots. Let’s explore deeper.

We are constantly changing – like it or not

If you were a go getter type of character capable of turning mountains and getting stuff done this sort of “cubing” will slowly erode you. Obviously it wont if you are not getting cubed.

We (humans) are constantly adapting and changing whether we like it or not. The field of Neuroplasticity has proven that our brains change neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes for our entire life. Changing jobs is changing environments. Our minds change the most when we change environments. It is why people grow faster when they move to the right job or even country, and why joining the army changes everyone, for better or worst. Your environment is an important part of you and your identity.

Learning Helplessness

To further understand the psychology of this let’s step into 1960s when Martin Seligman (before becoming the founding father of positive psychology) studied the opposite of happiness. He was experimenting with dogs, pairing noises, like a bell, with small shocks to see how the dogs would eventually react to the bell alone.

Martin Seligman's shuttle-box experiment with dogs
Martin Seligman’s shuttle-box experiment with dogs

The experiment involved a shuttle-box with 2 compartments which a dog could jump over a small wall to each chamber – as shown above. Each time a bell would ring. In 1 chamber the dog would get shocked. In the other he wouldn’t. Before the experiment the dog would jump the low barriers easily at free will. After the experiments involving zapping the dogs they just stayed in the chamber where they would get zapped. The dogs learnt that once the bell rang a shock was to follow no matter what. Thus they learnt helplessness.

Seligman found the same behavior in humans. When we fail (life delivers a shock) we respond with simply giving up. Cubicles are the new shuttle-boxes and workers the new dogs.

Thanks to Shawn Anchor, positive psychologist from Harvard University for telling me about this story. It basically correlated to what I personally saw happening around me. Shawn has many great stories like this in his awesome book The Happiness Advantage.

Change now, Not later

If you are cubed you must change now. No matter how hard or scary it is, it is NOT good for you now nor later. Getting emotionally shocked is not fun. The longer you are cubed the harder it will be to change as you become a numb cog in the machine. Just like the dogs taking the shocks. Until a day will come when you will be dislodged from that machine (by higher powers & against your wishes) and then you will be a lost soul.

Whatever your mind can conceive and can believe, it can achieve. ~ Napoleon Hill

A nurse in Australia recorded the most common regrets of the dying. At the top of the list was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Next on the list: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” and “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”. Get it? Dont be that numb cog on your death-bed.

Whether you think you can or can’t either way you are right. ~Henry Ford

Dont forget, you come from greatness therefore you must have greatness within you. Dont get cubed. Go and make a difference in your life. We create our own reality. The power is within you. How you decube yourself is different for everyone. But the power within you knowns what you need. Ask and you shall receive. Then gain the courage to execute.

If you have friends or family which are cubed pass this information on. Spread this knowledge to those that need it and empower them to take control of their life.

~ Ernest