Learned helplessness (Why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer)
First of all, I want to apologize for the long time between posts. I’ve been incredibly busy with various deadlines, traveling in and out of town speaking and presenting in various places, and so forth. Finally I’ve come up for air, so here are my latest thoughts.
Before I get to one of the most fascinating topics I’ve written about so far–how (and why) resources automatically flow to those who already have them, and away from those who do not, and how you can get on the receiving side of this equation–I want to make a few brief introductory remarks about Holosync.
I find it interesting when I consider the different reasons why people use Holosync. Some are drawn to Holosync because it creates a remarkable acceleration in meditation and spiritual growth. Holosync meditators, I’ve noticed, seem to progress somewhere from four to ten times faster than traditional meditators in terms of experiencing improvements in well-being, inner peace, a surrendering to what is, a lessening of self-created suffering, an ability to experience life from the transcendent, and an ability to become incredibly aware (more about this below).
One huge change I see in long-time Holosync users is a growing desire and ability to drop what I call the Game of Black and White. This is the game we unwittingly teach all new humans because we learned it when we were small, and it’s all that we know. In this game we artificially and arbitrarily divide the world into separate things and events (a dividing that happens in the mind, but not in reality, though we forget that and live as if these divisions were real rather than mental). We then place these supposedly separate things and events into two piles, the Appropriate Pile and the Inappropriate Pile. The main rule of the game is that White Must Win. In other words, we try to make whatever we’ve placed in the appropriate pile “win” over whatever we’ve assigned to the inappropriate pile. Good must win over bad. Life must win over death. Having must win over not having. I must win over the environment. And so forth.
The problem with this game is that good and bad, life and death, having and not having, and all the other pairs of opposites, go together. Each side of the polarity is defined in terms of the other, and in fact only makes sense in relation to the other. We know good only because there is bad. We know life only because there is death. We know having only because there is not having. And, because all these supposedly separate things are actually one thing, and go together, one side can’t really win over the other.
This makes the Game of Black and White an unwinnable game, yet nearly all people spend their entire life playing it as hard as they can.
The unwinnability of this game makes it the main source of human suffering, and dropping it leads to freedom, inner peace, and happiness. Dropping the Game of Black and White also makes it easier to experience who you really are–the entire going on of it all. One of the most amazing things about Holosync is that it seems to relax our need to play this ridiculous game, or at least to allow us to play a lighter version (you have to play at least a little bit to be here).
Other people use Holosync because they’ve been traumatized and are suffering from various emotional dysfunctions. They’ve heard that Holosync dramatically shifts one’s relationship to fear, anger, anxiety, depression, addiction, and other types of emotional suffering. Many people on medication for anxiety or depression, for instance, are able to stop the medication after 10-12 months of Holosync use (never do this, of course, without consulting your doctor).
Such emotional problems are, of course, symptoms of the Game of Black and White, and since Holosync allows you to see the futility of this game and helps you to stop playing such a hard version of it, the related symptoms calm down and, for the most part, disappear. My friend John Dupuy, in conjunction with Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute, has pioneered an approach to drug and alcohol addiction recovery called Integral Recovery. He has used Holosync with tremendous success in addiction recovery, in getting people to stop using addictive behavior to try to hold off the intensely negative feelings created by a super-hard version of the Game of Black and White (if you’re interested in knowing more, you can read a paper John has written about Integral Recovery at www.integralrecovery.com/library.)
Other Holosync users are mind and consciousness explorers. They find that Holosync expands their mental capacity and their ability to be aware, since Holosync increases connections between the left and right brain hemispheres, leading to what scientists call whole-brain functioning), and increases the level of awareness-enhancing brain chemicals.
Holosync also seems to accelerate the development of an increasingly larger and more expanded perspective–what we use to navigate through life and make sense of what it means to be human (part of what I mean when I use the word awareness). This ongoing expansion of perspective-making is in large part what I was describing in my series about human development earlier on this blog (check the archives if you haven’t read these posts).
Ken Wilber, one of the world’s top experts on human development, has said that Holosync seems to accelerate our ability to move through these different developmental stages more quickly and easily–in other words, to adopt increasingly expanded perspectives about what it means to be a human being. I agree, as I clearly see this happening with anyone who has used Holosync for any reasonable length of time.
There are also tremendous health benefits to Holosync use. Considerable research has been done on the health benefits of traditional meditation. Significant positive effects on cardivascular health, brain health and functioning, immune function, hormone regulation, and many other positive health benefits, have been demonstrated. In addition, Holosync has huge stress-relief benefits, and since many mental, emotional, and physical health problems are either created by stress or made worse by it, Holosync use can dramatically improve quality of life.
And though this is anecdotal (no studies have been done–yet), for years we’ve heard from parents of children with ADD or ADHD about the huge positive effect Holosync has had on that condition. Many parents with autistic children (and a few people who work with autistic children) have told us that Holosync has a positive effect on their ability to more easily make contact with these kids.
In general, those who use Holosync are looking for ways to improve the quality of their lives, and Holosync seems to do that in quite dramatic ways–mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
In this post I want to examine one nuance of this yearning for a better quality of life, something that has fascinated me for a number of years. You could call this, “Why the Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer,” or “Learned Helplessness.” Let me explain what I mean.
A significant amount of research has come to light lately about what most people would see as a grim fact of life (all life, not just human life): the fact that resources flow more easily to those who are already successful, and away from those who are unsuccessful. “To he who hath it shall be given; from he who hath not even what he hath shall be taken away.”
This law applies to bacterial colonies, human beings, and everything in between. Though this law of nature seems cruel in terms of the individual, it is a powerful and positive survival mechanism when looked at from the point of view of the whole. So let’s look at this more closely, as it has a significant bearing on your ability to create a happy, fulfilling life. And, if you happen to be stuck on the wrong side of this law of nature, understanding it just might help you to reverse that trend (yes, there is a way to reverse it).
One of the simplest examples of this law is the workings of a bacterial colony. Amazingly, bacteria have sophisticated ways of communicating. One of these is through chemical attraction and repulsion cues, which are very useful to the colony.
As long as bacteria are in an area rich in food, they chow down and multiply like, well, like bacteria. Once the available food is gone, however, the colony sends out bands of scouts to look for new sources of groceries. Not all of them succeed, however. Some bands end up in the bacterial equivalent of a desert, while others may find a new bacterial food court. Those who end up stranded in the desert send out chemical messages that say, in effect, “avoid me.” In this way, resources aren’t wasted on expeditions to the same desert area.
If a band ends up in food heaven, however, it sends out chemical messages equivalent to those ten-foot signs on the roofs of diners saying “EAT!” As a result, the other bacteria come running (or oozing, or whatever bacteria do to get around.)
In other words, resources are withdrawn from the failures, and made available to the successful.
This same mechanism happens in all living systems. Those who are successful attract resources, and those who fail actually repel them. The obvious message is that you want to be in the successful group. If you are, more of whatever you want and need comes to you. A great deal of what I teach at Centerpointe is my attempt to show you how to be in this group. For reasons I’ll explain in a moment, I also believe–quite strongly–that Holosync use increases your ability to be in this resource-attracting group. Let’s look at a few more examples so you can more clearly see how this principle works.
All living systems have a built-in self-destruct mechanism that, as I said above, withdraws resources from the unsuccessful and diverts them to the successful. Robert Sapoloski discovered how wild baboons at the lower end of the baboon pecking order actually create large amounts of hormonal poisons that kill brain cells, causing their hair to fall out, wiping out their immune function, and leading to chronic illness. This, of course, further decreases their power and status with their baboon peers.
On the other hand, those at the top of the pecking order make more of the hormones and brain chemicals that cause well-being, self-confidence, and better health. And, in addition to better chemistry, these winners also end up with better food, the best living areas, and the most desirable sexual partners.
Researcher Marvin Zuckerman found that depressed hospital patients–those who actually needed the most care–were least likely to attract the compassionate attention of their caregivers. Their complaints, anger, body language, facial expressions, and other negative behaviors actually drive away those who might give them the care and nurturing they need.
On the other hand, those patients who are cheerful in the face of terrible illness or even impending death attract better care, more nurturing, and many friends. The nurses and doctors flock to them with sympathy.
It has long been known that individual cells have a self-destruct mechanism called apoptosis that rids the organism of unneeded, unwanted, or otherwise malfunctioning cells. Unsuccessful organisms (including human beings) have similar self-destruct programming that kicks in when that organism is no longer useful to the larger community.
A similar mechanism, in fact, appears on every level of life. The human body, for instance, contains millions of different types of antibodies. Just as in the examples above, resources flow to those antibodies that successfully find and deal with invaders, and away from those who either cannot find invaders that match their particular weapons, or aren’t able to defeat the invaders they encounter. Those that are successful attract resources and increase their numbers at an incredible speed, while those that fail are robbed of food and the ability to multiply.
There is, then, competition for resources at all levels in all living systems, including human and animal communities. Built into each system, fairly or unfairly, is a mechanism by which the group automatically withholds or withdraws resources from individuals who “fail.” What is more, unsuccessful individuals–through internal, built-in, automatic self-destruct mechanisms–withhold resources (positive, life-giving neurochemicals and hormones, for instance, that would cause them to feel and function better) from themselves!
The resulting condition is sometimes referred to as “learned helplessness.” When humans (or animals) are able to solve a problem they not only overcome the problem, they also thrive in other ways (some internal and some external) as a result of having encountered and successfully dealt with that problem. On the other hand, those who cannot solve a problem activate their own internal self-destruct mechanisms, which can be mental, attitudinal, emotional, hormonal, or neurochemical. These then create external social cues that cause their social group to further withhold resources.
In one study, rats were wired to receive painful electric shocks. Some of the rats had access to a button that, when pushed, would stop the shock, not only for the button-pusher, but also for other rats subjected to the same shock. Once the control buttons were discovered by certain of the rats, these luckier rodents would instantly lunge for the button whenever the experimenters turned on the juice, ending their own pain and that of their fellow rats.
The rats who never discovered the “off” button had no means of controlling their situation, and eventually gave up and passively resigned themselves to the painful shocks that came out of nowhere. These rats, even though they received the same number of shocks, and for the same duration, as the button-pushing rats, became physical wrecks. Their hair fell out. They developed ulcers. They lost weight.
The rat button-pushers, on the other hand, remained reasonably plump and fit. The rats without control buttons were sabotaged by their own built-in self-destruct mechanisms. They were poisoned by their own stress hormones. Their immune systems failed. Their reflexes atrophied. If given a way to escape, they were too confused to notice it or too infirm to take advantage of it. (This reminds me of some people who attend very expertly-taught self-help seminars, but somehow are unable to take advantage of what has been tremendously helpful to most other people.)
Similar experiments have been repeated in many different animal populations, including humans. In each case, individuals who fail tend to develop this same sort of learned helplessness which causes external resources to stop flowing to them and also causes their own body to shut down internal resources. As a result, they give up.
On the other hand, those who succeed–and particularly those who find a way to exert a certain amount of control over the situations in which they find themselves–end up with greater dominance within their group, more and better food, better lodgings or living situations, and more sexual privileges. Their internal chemical factories churn out what they need in order to be healthy, clear-minded, and vital. Truly, the rich do get richer while the poor get poorer.
Is this a no-win situation? Once you’re on the downward spiral, are you screwed? This would be the case–if you had no power to consciously and intentionally do things in a different way. The new and growing field of neuroplasticity indicates that you can change your internal processes and learn new ways of living and dealing with the world.
When you practice doing anything, including thinking about yourself in a new way, your brain devotes more brain real estate to that function, and you get better at it. The existence of brain plasticity means that it is not inevitable that if you are moving in an unsuccessful direction you have to continue moving in the same groove until you circle the drain. You do have the power to step out of a negative, self-destructive spiral.
Once resources begin flowing either to you or away from you they tend to keep flowing in that same direction. Usually, in fact, the flow increases as time goes on. Your job, then, is to get on the right side of this flow of resources. It’s true that if resources tend to flow away from you, there will be a momentum to overcome if you’re going to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and move to the resource-attracting side of the equation.
It can, however, be done. I’ve done it. Up until the mid-1980s, I was depressed, anxious, difficult to get along with, had few friends, and was scraping by on a very small income. I was definitely on the wrong side of the flow of resources, internally and externally.
Two things, I believe, shifted me from the self-destruct mode to the success mode, and I’ve found that these two methods work for anyone who uses them (though I will admit that the deeper you are in the self-destructive, learned-helplessness mode, the tougher it is, at least in the beginning).
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the first method is Holosync. Holosync increases awareness, which is one of the keys to this process. Why? Because increased awareness allows you to see HOW you’ve been unconsciously sabotaging yourself. Even more important, Holosync stimulates the production of the very same neurochemicals and hormones made in abundance by those who are successful. These feel-good neurochemicals and hormones are a large part of what makes life easy for the successful top-of-the-pecking-order types. Holosync’s ability to stimulate the production of these “success neurochemicals” makes it easier to overcome the negative, self-destructive, learned helplessness momentum.
The second method is to use the resulting awareness to look inside your own mind and observe the internal processes that directly generate how you feel in each moment, how you behave, what and whom you attract or become attracted to, and what meanings you place on the events of your life.
Winners–those to whom resources flow–feel different than losers. Their unconscious internal processes more often generate pleasurable and resourceful emotions, along with their characteristic neurochemicals. Because behavior is generated to a great extent by your internal state (which, in addition to feelings also includes such things as courage, persistence, confidence, enthusiasm, and so forth), winners also behave in a different way.
Again, the internal processes of winners motivate them to act in more resourceful ways. And, the resulting successful outcomes generated by these internal states and external behaviors tend to build on each other because they generate more feel-good brain chemistry, more self-confidence, and more positive beliefs, more possibility thinking, more resourceful meanings, and so on, making each success easier than the last.
Such people also begin to attract resources and the help of other people–as, for instance, with the hospital patients described above who received more care and nurturing. These winners also find themselves almost magnetically attracted to better, more resourceful situations, and to kinder, more loving, more helpful people–whereas those on the other side of the equation (including me, twenty years ago) tend to attract or be attracted to people who actually help them fail in various ways and help them feel worse about themselves. And, finally, the winners’ interpretations of what is happening around them–in other words, what the events of their life seem to mean (including what failure and setbacks “mean”)–is different.
Understanding how this mechanism of learned helplessness (or learned success) works led me to formulate what, if I do say so myself, is one of the most profound statement you’ll ever hear about how to get what you want from life:
For any outcome you want, there is a certain way of thinking and acting that will get it for you. You just have to find that way of thinking and acting, and then be willing to adopt it.
When I say “a certain way of thinking” I’m referring in large part to those internal processes. If you adopt the particular internal processes that will generate a certain outcome (which you can discover from those who have already done what you want to achieve), certain actions will follow, and from those actions the desired result will follow. If random events beyond your control interfere (which they will), these same internal processes will help you discover the opportunity in what has happened, and though success might be delayed, it will eventually come. In fact, as I noted above, encountering a challenge and overcoming it actually increases your ability to be successful–another example of the rich becoming richer.
All of this means that in addition to jump-starting your internal “success chemicals” you must: 1) find out how your internal processes generate different feelings, meanings, and behaviors, and how they cause you to attract certain people and situations into your life (while avoiding, overlooking, or repelling others), and 2) find out how to intentionally operate those internal processes so as to create the outcomes you want.
The key to all of this is awareness. What you are unaware of controls you. What you are aware of, you gain control of and have choice over. As long as your internal processes are unconscious, they will continue to create the same outcomes, and the downward spiral (if that is what is happening) will continue. The two keys, then, to stepping out of learned helplessness are 1) making more of the body’s success chemicals (a process beautifully jump-started by Holosync), and 2) learning to operate your internal processes consciously, rather than allowing them to operate automatically.
Interestingly, even the internal processes of most successful people are running on automatic. It’s just that their automatic functioning is set up in a more resourceful way. They very likely grew up with supportive parents, good mentoring, perhaps even good genetics, which gave them an advantage (though sometimes a negative childhood causes such people to vow that come hell or high water they WILL succeed, and this motivation turns them toward the positive side of things). But whether your internal processes are driving you toward success or failure, if you can learn to operate them consciously and intentionally, your ability to be a successful, resource-attractor increases exponentially–even beyond that of the “automatically” successful person.
In an ironic way, starting in the self-destruct mode, if it motivates you to learn to operate your internal processes consciously and intentionally, ultimately makes you more powerful, more successful, and more able to create what you want in life. Without the inspirational dissatisfaction that leads you to do something about your sorry state you might never delve into and master the internal processes that create your life.
I believe this is what happened for me. The situation in my childhood led me toward the self-destructive mode, and a lack of success. I dealt with my unhappiness by taking drugs (not recommended). As I approached the age of forty I thought, “What the hell happened? Is this my life?”
But through a series of events I won’t go into here I ended up experimenting with what became Holosync, and over a few years my emotional problems miraculously began to clear up. Later I became interested in cognitive psychology and the investigation of the internal processes that were generating my experience of life. Throw in some wisdom from Eastern philosophy, and my life began to shift to the more successful side of the equation.
Holosync use, I’m convinced, is a powerful tool in making this sort of change. Why? Successful resource-attractors make lots of feel-good chemicals. This is a built-in biological system that rewards us when we succeed by pumping out serotonin, endorphins, and other positive neurochemicals. In many ways this is what keeps winners going through good and bad times.
Since Holosync helps you make more of these same hormones and neurochemicals without your necessarily having to actually do something successful, and because it begins to change the brain so that it “learns” to make more of these positive brain chemicals, more easily, you can use Holosync to jump-start yourself into the success camp.
Then, because Holosync also greatly increases your ability to be aware, you can then begin the second step, where you begin to notice your internal processes and learn to operate them more consciously and intentionally. I explain these internal processes and how they work to some degree in the support material, and go very deeply into them in the first of my Life Principles Integration Process online courses (www.centerpointe.com/life).
Though it’s certainly possible to master your internal processes without Holosync, the increased awareness created by Holosync makes it MUCH easier. This is because you cannot continue to do something that does not serve you (i.e., do those things that continue the self-destructive spiral) if you do them with awareness. If you do something that is not resourceful with full awareness, you just can’t keep doing it, and it falls away of its own accord.
When I say watch with awareness I do not mean that you merely know you’re doing something. Most people already know that they’re experiencing the same undesirable outcomes over and over (becoming involved with the wrong romantic partner, investing in losing business propositions, becoming excited about something and then quitting before finishing it, procrastinating, addictive behaviors, etc.). Yet they continue to create the same negative outcomes, over and over, often for an entire lifetime. I certainly did this, well into my 40s. Knowing on a cognitive level is the booby prize in this process, and isn’t the same as actually watching your internal processes generate the different outcomes in your life.
To watch these processes (and therefore gain a degree of control over them) you need 1) awareness, which is created by Holosync (there are other ways, but none I have found that are as easy, fast, or reliable), 2) motivation, created by the feel-good brain chemicals Holosync stimulates, 3) an understanding of your internal processes and how they work, and 4) practice in watching them.
Awareness and intentional control of your internal processes is the modern version of “yogic powers” or the attentional abilities Tibetan monks have demonstrated to modern researchers in recent years. This isn’t magic, but rather the result of a level of awareness few attain. Getting there takes work, and persistence. But because you are discovering exactly how YOU are creating your experience of life, playing with your internal processes can be fascinating. And, the result–getting on the success side of life–is worth the time you spend playing with it.
Once you see–experientially–the plasticity of reality, that you really are creating the reality you live in, you begin to realize that what you always assumed was “reality” isn’t THE reality. What is reality, you begin to wonder? This wondering, and the investigation that follows, is the beginning of true spiritual awakening. It leads to the discovery that you are IT, the entire going on of it all, “the Which of which there is no Whicher,” as I have described in previous posts.
The dirty little secret is that you are already creating (in relationship with everything else) your reality. It isn’t so much that you learn to create your reality as it is that you learn to intentionally create it. Many people say they aren’t good at “manifesting.” This just isn’t true, though. You’re already expertly manifesting everything. You’re just doing it unconsciously. You can, however, learn to do it intentionally. To do so, however, you have to see exactly how the creative process works, which involves awareness, and then learn to exercise control over the aspects of the process over which you actually do have some choice.
So, here’s what we know. There is a built-in mechanism in humans that causes resources–the goodies of life–to flow to those who already have them, and to be withdrawn from those who already have less. It’s really true that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. The way I see it, my job is to show you how to change the direction of that flow, or how to enhance it if it’s already flowing in the desired direction.
Resources–including your own internal resources–can flow away from you only if you live without awareness.
What, then, is awareness? It’s the ability to observe what you previously were caught in, and therefore could not see. It’s the enlarging of your perspective in order to see what you previously were immersed in and therefore could not see. Once you see how you’ve been unconsciously creating a certain outcome–unpleasant relationships, low motivation, bad decisions, or whatever–that awareness allows you to intentionally do something different, something more resourceful.
What’s so amazing about awareness–about the ability to observe in this way, about what we sometimes call witnessing–is that when you watch in this way you don’t even need to know what is or isn’t resourceful. All you need to do is be aware and what is or isn’t resourceful sorts itself out, all by itself. There is some intuitive part of us that knows what is resourceful, and sorting that out doesn’t involve thinking about it or analyzing it. When you watch with awareness, what is resourceful floats to the top every time. This makes everything easier. Life flows when you are aware.
I hasten to add, however, that awareness doesn’t mean that everything will always be the way you want it to be. The world is full of random events, including other people who have an agenda different from yours, so sometimes things don’t turn out the way you hoped. Two things happen when you are aware that help you deal with this problem, however. The first is that aware people learn how to deal with each new and unexpected bend in the road by remaining aware, which allows them to work with whatever happens and turn it to their advantage, whether it is what they wanted or what they didn’t want.
Second, aware people, instead of fighting what they cannot control, surrender to it. They do what they can, and then they let go of needing the outcome to be a certain way. And, just as you don’t have to figure out what is resourceful and what isn’t, the aware person doesn’t have to decide to surrender. If you are aware, surrender happens. Why? Because not surrendering–in other words, resisting what is–isn’t resourceful, and awareness allows you to automatically act in a resourceful manner.
Holosync can play a powerful role in helping people make this shift–this shift to greater awareness, a wider and more inclusive perspective. I suspect that this is partly because Holosync changes one’s brain chemistry and hormonal make-up to one more like that of a winner, and partly because Holosync, for some wonderful reason, allows one’s perspective to grow, to expand, to include more. It allows you to see what you previously had been immersed in, unconscious of, blind to. (Then, of course, you become immersed in something new, about which you eventually also become aware, followed by something else, and then something else. The journey of increasing awareness never ends.)
Once the momentum change happens, once you begin to move in the direction of increased awareness (and begin creating the winner’s brain chemistry) the chances of continuing in this new and more resourceful direction are very high. If you use the awareness Holosync creates to find out who you really are and how you are creating your reality, you become unstoppable. Even more important, you attain a freedom that allows you to truly be a human being, by choice.
I hope you’ll join me in this journey down the winner path.
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