Life's calamities are often out of our control, but we have a choice about how they will shape our future.
In Essentialism, Greg McKeown references a study conducted by Martin Seligman and Steve Maier (chapter 2, page 36-37). These men termed the phrase "learned helplessness", while working with German shepherds. The results of the experiment were shocking. It was shown that dogs can forget that they have a choice to remove themselves from an adverse situation. This extends to people. If we take enough abuse, we will learn to accept it. If we are told over and over again that we're bad, weak, or unintelligent, we will believe it. By the time the adversity is gone, we have already internalized a self-defeating life lesson. When we believe that our efforts are a waste and that we are powerless to change our situation, we have learned helplessness. If we do not overcome the findings of Seligman and Maier’s study as they apply to us, then the adversities in our lives will become self-fulfilling prophecies.
The implications of learned helplessness are big when it comes to reading. Consider that many of us have books collecting dust on our shelves, that people from other times and places have died trying to get. Have we become ungrateful due to the incredible availability and affordability of books? Or maybe endless school work and reading assignments, that seemed irrelevant and out of context with our lives, have made us numb to learning. Either way, as a general population, we have lost our belief that the contents of a book could make us spiritually, mentally, and financially rich. How many people do you know that would risk their lives in order to get a hold of a book? It's not that we're lazy; it's that we've learned helplessness when it comes to realizing our ability to educate ourselves.
McKeown reminds us that we have the power to choose, and that using this power is a choice in itself. He writes: “the first and most crucial skill you will learn on this journey [that of becoming an Essentialist] is to develop your ability to choose choice, in every area of your life” (page 39). Basically, once you realize that you have power to make decisions in your life, you need to choose to exercise this power. If you do not exercise your power to choose, then someone else will make decisions for you (page 39).
I have a friend named Cory who is not an experienced reader. He asked me what books I would recommend reading first. Here are the books I recommended: How to Read a Book, and the Proverbs of Solomon. These are the first two books that I put on the Old Wooden Bookshelf. They have served as my keys for unlocking the value of other books. If you read How to Read a Book and the Proverbs of Solomon, and apply them, then your life will change.
You have the choice to make yourself better today. If you blow that, then you will have another choice tomorrow. As long as you believe in the power of choice: that you don't have to be helpless anymore, then you have the rest of your life to grow as a person. The odds are in your favor.
McKeown, Greg. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Crown Business, 2014.