🧠 Teachers, be careful of “learned helplessness” and how to fix it ( + my crazy August!)

A mindset is contagious, the mindset we have is the mindset our students will learn.

So a positive mindset is a must for any Genki English teacher.

And if you’re not used to it, sometimes it can be a little hard to maintain.

A little skepticism can be OK in the beginning.  And chill time is important for all.

But the main trap is to avoid falling into something called “learned helplessness.”

I see it a lot out in the world right now.  It can be very dangerous.

If you listen to too much news or social media or watch how politicians are messing up the whole school system it can be easy to fall victim to it.

Luckily, once you know what it is, it is easier to move out of it….

So what is this thing?

The idea comes from the research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

They conducted experiments on animals (!) where part of the room was electrified (!!)

The animals naturally moved to a safer part of the room.

So they electrified that part of the room.

The animals moved again.

And they keep going until every part of the room is electrified.

And what do the animals do?

Do they move out of the room?  Do they fight for a way out?  Do they look outside the walls to find a solution?


They just give up.

They sit in a corner literally biting themselves.

And they found that it’s not just animals,  in every day life many humans do it too.  Especially in times of stress.

How do you tell if people have it?

You can tell other people have fallen victim by these three thoughts:

  1. That all good things are gone FOREVER
  2. That EVERYTHING is bad right now
  3. Why does this always happen to ME?

If you know people who are feeling like that,  they probably need help.  There are trained clinicians out there who can help and of course I’m not a doctor and you should never put faith in things you read on the internet, so always ask the professionals for help.

How do you get out of it? 

Apart from clinical help, people can immunize themselves to some degree by choosing a thing called “learned optimism.”

Here’s where the mindset comes in.  You change the three things above into these three things:

  1. This too shall pass.  Yep, there are always hard times but things eventually always get better, they always have through human history (look where we were 76 years ago!)
  2. There are still good things.   It’s not that *everything* is bad.  Even if they are small, there are still things to be grateful for out there.  For teachers this might mean we can spend more time with our kids,  or that we can help more students in other cities because they are now online or that we don’t have to wake up early and commute to school.   Think what even small parts of your life that you are grateful for right now.
  3. It’s not just you 🙂    We are social animals.  Helping others is by far the best way to help ourselves.  And other people have bad times and still help us, just think of the internet engineer who made it possible for you to get online this morning or the sun that still rose today.  Someone or something is always there to help you somehow.


Then the practical …. 

If we teach kids rubbish stuff,  they’re going to produce rubbish stuff.

In the tech world  we call this “garbage in, garbage out” or GOBO for short.

And it’s the same with everything and with us too.

Just because we’re teachers it doesn’t mean we’ve stopped learning and inputting things into our brains.  So ….

  1. Delete Facebook & Instagram apps from your phone.
  2. Switch off all notifications, except from close family and friends.
  3. Stop checking the news (the government will contact you if something big happens).
  4. And replace these things with something else.

(Bad habits have to be replaced by something, otherwise they come back.)

So first thing on a morning, instead of reaching for the phone.  Reach for the person next to you.  Or in the next room.  Give them a hug.   They probably need it right now.

And for the rest of the day ….  

During the day, instead of picking up the phone to “check” social media, go outside.

Or if you’re on lockdown,  pick up the phone and let someone else teach you for a change 🙂

What skills have you always wanted to learn but never had the time?   What courses have you wanted to attend but couldn’t physically get there?

I must admit I do take this to extremes and I’m loving having all these world class experts doing things online.

As August is a quiet time for me (not that many emails from teachers yet 🙂 ) and I’m still effectively on lockdown (no traveling!)  I’m filling my time with learning and making.   Obviously the making part is making Genki English better (I want to make the Teacher’s Set so good that *everyone* wants it) and I’m spending August learning new skills that I wouldn’t otherwise have time for.

So my schedule is crazy!

7 AM Get up and read cool stuff
7:30 AM Body Beast
8:30 AM Showers and then breakfast with the family.
9:00 AM Genki English work.
10:00 AM Andrew Huang’s music course (It’s really good!)
11:00 AM Foreign Teck’s music course (to learn more hip hop production)
12:00  Making the Teacher’s Set better ( suggestions on how to do this are always welcome!)
1:00  PM Family LUNCH
2:00  PM Tony Robbins
3:00  PM Speed reading with Jim Kwik
4:00  PM Learning Russian
5:00  PM Genki English Facebook/Instagram stuff
6:00  PM Wim Hof breathing & the cold
7:00  PM Family DINNER
8:00 FREE 🙂


Is this crazy?  Yep.

Am I lucky that I only have to “work” 3 hours a day?  Yep.

(Ninja Tip:  If you notice, the rest of the time I’m with family, working on my health or I’m learning new things that will help my work.  And I’m learning how others teach (you see how that helps, yeah? 🙂 ).

Will I take time off?  Yep, later in the year when prices aren’t quite so crazy!  (The advantage of teaching online is that you can be location & time free 🙂 )

Is this a smart thing to do?  We’ll see.

What I do know is that during effective lockdown when I can’t travel right now, I don’t want to fall into the trap of reading newspapers, watching TV or checking social media.   That leads to learned helplessness.  I’ve been there and I know where that can go.  (A long story involving Laser eye surgery going wrong!)

Learned Optimism FTW.

You’ve saved the time by cutting out social media (check your screen time stats for last week!)

So what skills do you want to learn to replace it? Dancing? Languages? Maths? Cooking? Music? Art? Business? Parenting? Breathing? Relaxing?  You only need one or two,  and anyone can learn anything from the device you are on right now as all the best teachers have now moved online.

And I can almost guarantee you will feel happier,  feel more free and learn tricks & tips to help your own teaching, whether that’s how to connect with students, how to learn using technology, how to teach or even how to market your courses.

So break the mold and think,  what mindset do you want your students to have?   Give up?  Or take a slow, deep breath, be grateful for what we have and take baby steps to smash the electrified box so that this too shall pass and whatever happens we will have grown together, even if just a little,  and become refreshed with new skills,  new freedom and new teaching skills. 🙂

Be genki,




Richard Graham

I'm on a mission to make education Genki—fun, exciting, and full of life! Genki English has now been researched by Harvard University and licensed by the British Council around the world. The results have been magical! Now I'm here to help you teach amazing lessons, with all the materials prepared for you, and to double your teaching income so you can sustainably help many more students in the future!

4 Responses to “🧠 Teachers, be careful of “learned helplessness” and how to fix it ( + my crazy August!)”

  1. Naomi Yu

    This is fantastic!!

    Social media is really not good at the moment – relentless conspiracy theories, complaints…..

    We can’t possibly function at our best with our mind continually bombarded with unnecessary junk.
    Indeed, I doubt our minds were even made to cope with the endless stream of meaningless information we now filter through everyday.

    Great tips for how to care for oneself and use this time wisely!! Thankyou.

  2. Natalia

    WOOOWWW! YOU are learning Russian! GREAT!

  3. Natalia

    Before I read this, two days ago I checked my screen time and I was astonished, so much time using the screen. You´re absolutely right, Richard, and thank you so much

  4. Serge

    Thank you, Richard! That’s exactly what I am going right now – fighting with bad habits on the level of the deeds ans the level of the thoughts. Wasting time on social nets or reading all kinds on news can easily drive anybody mad.
    Thank you for everything you do!

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