Summary: The challenge is to choose hope for the future rather than learn helplessness from the past.

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Title: Optimism 101

Text: Joel 2:23-32 (1:4-13, 12-18)

Thesis: The challenge is to choose hope for the future rather than learn helplessness from the past.


Learned Helplessness is a term I came across in my reading this week. It is a technical term originally used in reference to animal psychology but is also appropriately applied to human behavior as well. Learned helplessness describes an animal or a person who has learned to behave helplessly, even when there is opportunity to avoid an unpleasant or harmful circumstance. It is essentially, in humans, it is a mental state in which the person perceives he or she has no control over the outcome of a situation. (

A pertinent example of learned helplessness would be the tragic and heart-rending case of Jaycee Dugard who was kidnapped when she was 11 years old while waiting for her school bus. Jaycee was held captive for 18 years, living in sheds and tents in the backyard of her captor… despite numerous opportunities to escape she felt she had no control over her situation.

Self improvement coach and Guru Brian Tracy couches it a little differently. He sums that kind of behavior up in what he calls “The Law of Belief.” The Law of Belief states, “Whatever you believe, with feeling, becomes your reality; you always act in a manner consistent with your beliefs.” In other words, what we think either inhibits and limits us or energizes and frees us.

For example we cite the story of the chained elephant… a huge elephant can be held in place by a chain around one leg attached to a stake in the ground. The huge elephant could easily rip the stake from the ground or break the chain. But the elephant was chained to that stake when he was a very young elephant.

As a baby elephant he had attempted time and time again to break free but could not and so, at some point the little elephant decided there was no point in trying to break free and stopped trying. Now he is an old elephant who is fully capable of breaking free but does not believe that he can. (

The obvious application is that as people we can, by negative thinking, convince ourselves that we are hopelessly chained or restrained or limited or trapped in an inescapable situation.

So what do we do when we realize we have learned helplessness behavior? The key to unlearning helplessness and learning hopefulness is to replace “limiting beliefs and attitudes” with “empowering beliefs and attitudes.”

Despite the fact that our text today is an ancient text that speaks of a people and a time far removed from us… it is remarkably pertinent and helpful in instructing us in understanding the process of learning helplessness and how we may choose to be hopeful instead.

Learned helplessness is usually rooted in past experiences.

I. Learning helplessness from the past

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts

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