How Coaching Breaks Us Free From Learned Helplessness 

Lumia Coaching CEO Noelle Cordeaux discusses her progression from hopeless to thriving, and how the science of positive psychology helps us make that shift.

March 9, 2023

How Coaching Broke Me Free From Learned Helplessness 

Lumia Coaching CEO Noelle Cordeaux

By Noelle Cordeaux, Lumia Coaching CEO

It was 2006 when I first heard the term “learned helplessness.”  

I was 26 years old and I had just gotten married (for the first time.)  I had spent my teenage years and early 20’s in periods of deep depression and despair stemming from eating disorders and the heavy weight that society burdens young people with to conform to and perform standards. 

The reason why I was so depressed is that those standards were simply not possible for me to meet.

I was miserable and I felt trapped in my own life. I tried everything I could to twist myself into an impossible pretzel, when the whole time I wasn’t a pretzel at all. 

I was a human, with complex needs, dreams that I didn’t even know existed. With a future so bright and unconventional that it would scare the shit out of my parents and others around me who preferred a safe, well trodden path for me - an off beat kid who had always danced to a drum beat that only I could hear. There was an intention to protect me from a world that was not built for me.

I love my parents for their wishes but that’s not how trailblazing works.

Overcoming Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is a state of being that was defined by Martin Selegman, the godfather of Positive Psychology. Seligman studied it as a phenomenon that takes place when people repeatedly experience stressful situations. For some, they come to believe that they can’t change their situation and so they simply stop trying, even when opportunities for change show up. 

People who are experiencing learned helplessness stay in invisible cages for reasons that folks on the outside looking in just can’t understand.  

But this is not true of everyone. Some people break free.  

Some people transform themselves. Some people are able to move so far from the original version of who they were taught to be that they become unrecognizable to themselves and others - in a good way.  

Some people blow up the cage and make a run for it, and this fact fascinated Martin Seligman. It fascinated me too.

If the conditions for staying stuck could be learned, Seligman posited, could the conditions for breaking free also be taught?  

This question led to decades of study on resilience and performance that became the cornerstone of the field of Coaching as we know it today.

The answer is yes, people can be taught how to break free from their own prisons. They can be coached to source resources and personal strengths to use as fuel for the fight and fuel for flight. 

I have spent the last sixteen years of my life studying both the science of coaching as well as the viability of the market for coaching as a professional discipline. Both have changed me in ways that are beyond the comprehension of folks who knew me when I started.  

When we look at the science – from learning and change theory, to positive psychology, to neuroplasticity – we know empirically that human change and evolution is definitively possible in almost all circumstances at the individual, community, organizational, and national level.  

When we look at the market for coaching we know that it is housed within a 4.5 trillion dollar industry that spans from functional medicine, mental wellness and workforce wellness all the way to the spa, hospitality and tourism industry. 

When we pull it all together there is one conclusion that can be drawn: opportunity. 

From Surviving to Thriving

Now, let’s go back to the beginning. What do people who have been conditioned to give up on themselves and accept the status quo NEED in order to break out of those cages? 

This is the question that I have spent the last ten years of my life trying to answer.

The conclusion that I have come to is hope and community. 

Coaching is an effective discipline because it offers clients hope, and an unbiased space for belief in the fulfillment that can be found in uncharted territory.  

And coaches need that space too. 

It has been the greatest honor of my life to build an organization that people can truly call home alongside Lumia co-founder John Kim. 

THIS Is What Lumia Is All About

Those of us who can’t get enough of this science need friends to talk to!  We need peers to validate our ideas and champion our professional and personal growth!  

We need wise mentors to help us process the feelings that are implicit in learning that the work of holding a safe container for another human being to grow. The work we do as coaches is pretty gosh darn technical... and layered in ethics. 

And my friend, WE need hope too. We benefit from regular reminders that the work of coaching is needed, expanding rapidly in the public’s consciousness, and supported by an infrastructure and economic ecosystem that needs to be staffed by strong, credentialed professionals like you and me.

All of this is waiting for your inside Lumia.  

To the person on the other side of the screen right now: I believe in you. I believe in your ability to crush your cage. I believe in your ability to help others crush their cages. Come join us - there is a way to do this work through partnership and community. We are waiting for you. 

There are so many stories of the goodness that flows from the intersection of evidence based education, community and hope. If you’ve been thinking about becoming a coach, I hope you will take the time to poke around this site and explore some of our alumni stories

Book a call with one of our admissions coaches and they can confirm the story of me - someone who was once so paralyzed that I didn’t think I could make it on my own. Someone who learned how to coach, eventually became a coaching company CEO, and now spends her days coaching others, loving them through their journey. Someone who also sometimes wears a giant egg costume to business meetings - cages be damned.

Ready to Be A Coach?

One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our life coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like a partner in the process, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.

Lumia Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.

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