mental helplessness

The Curious Case of Mental Helplessness 

I asked Archie Manning and Andre Agassi to read my book- “Don’t “should” On Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness  .

I even asked if they’d provide testimonials, because they would be perfect for the message to parents.

I got through to their agents, they said, “no.”

Andre Agassi denied my request three times, despite that I even consider his strength coach, Gil Reyes, a defacto mentor. I’ve even had him on my podcast- 15 Minutes of Mental Toughness. 

I hate rejection, check that, my ego hates rejection.

Dr. Seuss was rejected 27 times, his ego must not have gotten in the way. 

What takes place in my mind after losing, or getting rejected is that feeling that I’m not good enough. That’s when mental helplessness starts to kick in. 

The setback just affirms that belief, “see, here’s the proof.” But, I kept writing and wrote my 7th book, PUKE & RALLY: It’s not about the setback, it’s about the comeback. 

Gym owner and coach, Tyler Miller, of Force Barbell knows when someone isn’t going to make a certain lift, because their approach to the lift is different. Feeling helpless is learned, but so is mental toughness.

Having limiting beliefs are learned. We set up our own mental barriers about how good we will be.

The major issue is that we can’t out-perform our own self-concept. 

PIKE syndrome-

Pike are an aggressive fish. A study was done with Pike fish in a tank, where they released minnows and watched as the Pike gobbled them up. 

Then , they placed the minnows inside of a jar so the Pike could not get to it.

It still went after it, nailing the glass jar time and time again. After a period of time, the jar was removed and the minnows swam freely, meaning the Pike fish could once again feast…

This time however, the Pike fish did nothing! It stayed there, and eventually starved to death!  The power of nature didn’t allow the fish to survive.

The Pike syndrome has to be at least 10x stronger for us humans. It causes mental helplessness. 

How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? – Bob Dylan

Self-imposed limiting beliefs are everywhere.

For example, “you’re good, but not that good?”  “she’s pretty, but you’re just okay?” If we are unaware of our identity and our mission, then the limiting beliefs will still arise and keep us from reaching our full potential.

It’s a mental tether.

Baby Elephants- 

As a means of training an elephant, when they are very small, they are tethered by a thick rope to a stake in the ground.

As a baby, it lacks the strength to break free, so eventually, it stops trying. Even when the elephant is large enough and could easily break the rope around its leg, it refuses to do so.

The massive size of an elephant learned to be helpless.

Dogs & Electric Shocks-

Seligman was the first to coin the phrase learned helplessness.

I highly recommend his book Authentic Happiness:  

His experiment with dogs exposed them to electric shocks, in which they could not escape. Brutal…

After the dogs actually had an out and could escape the shocks, just like the elephant and the Pike fish, they did nothing.

The dogs had to be physically removed, no amount of rewards, or praise would get them to leave the shocks. They learned mental helplessness.

The BEST part about the research from Seligman however WAS that there were some dogs that no matter how often or frequent they were shocked, they REFUSED to stay down, they kept getting up! This is what started him on the path of researching LEARNED OPTIMISM. 

Which dog are you? 

If you want it bad enough, then you have to BELIEVE, period. 

More importantly, we’ll all have to go through our own  shocks, mental tethers, and glass jars. These are the times that non-belief will expose if we will remain steadfast and eventually break free. 

It’s not about the setback, It’s about the comeback! 


dr rob bell speakerDr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. DRB & associates coach executives and professional athletes. Some clients have included three different winners on the PGA Tour, Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens.