Few books have impacted my perspective on human psychologically and behavior. A little over a year ago I read a book by Dr. Martin Seligman called, “Learned Optimism”. Seligman was intrigued by an experiment he had witnessed involving dogs who exhibited inexplicable behaviors. His curiosity led him to create the “Shuttle box” experiment. Without going into great detail, the two-phased experiment went along these lines.
Phase 1: ‘Group A’ dogs were individually placed into a harness with a bar in front of them. Each dog was then administered a mild electroshock periodically. After some time, the dogs realized that by tapping the bar, the shocks would stop. The experiment was repeated with a second group of dogs (Group B) but with one great exception, there was no bar provided to stop the shocks.
Phase 2: Group A dogs were now individually placed put into a shuttlebox having two compartments with a small barrier in the middle. Again, a shock was administered periodically and after some time each dog got up, stepped over the barrier and moved to the other side of the box where the shocks stopped. Group B dogs were then placed individually into the same shuttlebox. The electroshocks were again administered periodically. Unlike the dogs in Group A which chose moved to the other side of the box, the Group B dogs didn’t; they just laid there and whimpered.
Seligman concluded that since Group B had learned to be ‘helpless’ in the first phase of the experiment, they didn’t move in the second phase. In other words, the dogs were conditioned to feel helpless when they couldn’t stop the shocks while in the harness. So now, with the harness removed, the dogs just simply gave up. They had lost their ‘optimism’; the belief that change was possible! Therefore, they just laid there and whimpered. Now we as human beings don’t whimper, we whine! Many of us complain about what’s wrong with our lives, careers or relationships. And much like the dogs in Group B, instead of doing something about, we just mentally lie down and whine instead of getting UP and moving to the other side of life’s box.
As we look forward to a new year, I want you to commit to ‘getting up’ and moving to the other side of the box. If there is something you’ve been wanting to do, do it! If there is something you’ve been wanting to try, try it! The only harness holding you back from success is the one wrapped around your mind.