top of page

Learned Resourcefulness

Updated: May 8, 2021

To flourish, our ability to adapt to changes in life is paramount. Our mental flexibility creates opportunities for solutions and provides us with the means to achieve our goals. Only if adapting to changes was this easy and achieving our dreams was so straightforward. Still, our resolve to succeed is created through our encounters with the world and our resourcefulness.

Indeed, success is possible if we learn to pivot away from learned helplessness to learned resourcefulness. According to Maier and Seligman, learned helplessness develops when individuals experience repeated exposure to stressful situations outside their control. They begin to lack the belief their actions can change the outcome. So, they find it challenging to take purposeful action. Learned helplessness may occur in some situations, but it doesn't have to become pervasive.

Three deficits associated with learned helplessness:

  1. Motivational deficit – no response when challenged to take action

  2. Associative deficit – no previous experience of successful coping, so there is no frame of reference to use

  3. Emotional deficit – little or no response to adversity

What is learned resourcefulness?

According to Michael Rosenbaum, Learned resourcefulness - refers to an acquired repertoire of skills and behaviors necessary for the successful execution of self-control behaviors."

Learned resourcefulness is significant when adapting to our various life situations. It strengthens our coping skills, self-control, and adaptive behaviors. Our experiences aren't necessarily the same all the time, but a frame of reference is helpful. Think of that time when you underestimated the effort it would take to complete a project, but you quickly realized you were out of your depth.

How did you adjust to the challenges?

If you adjusted to the challenges, that would be an example of utilizing your learned resourcefulness skills. These skills are developed over time with exposure to new knowledge, experience, and being observant. Being resourceful is also recognizing when you are limited either by your expertise or knowledge.

Lev Vygotsky proposed the concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The idea is popular in educational settings but is applicable in the context of learned resourcefulness. ZPD is basically the difference between what a person can do independently without a skilled person's guidance.

Knowing what you are capable of doing independently without guidance can become your launchpad for further exploration. The use of your resourcefulness will prompt you to find more knowledgeable others to bridge the gap between what you know and don't yet know.

Your resourcefulness can be hampered by poor self-control and poor self-regulation. Inadequate displays of self-control and self-regulation affect behavior, emotions, and thinking which may make throwing in the towel seems like a plausible option without seeking an alternative.

Self-control behaviors are vital to learned resourcefulness in the following ways:

  1. Our behaviors are goal-directed.

  2. Self-control behaviors are necessary when we encounter challenges to our goal-directed behaviors.

  3. Self-control is tethered to regulating our thinking process as our thinking can derail our goal-directed behaviors.

  4. Recognition that several factors contribute to and influence how we regulate our thinking and our self-control behaviors.

There are two types of self-control behaviors:

Redressive - is resuming normal functioning after experiencing a disruption. For example, you are working on a project, and your work was interrupted by an unplanned emergency. Once the crisis is addressed, you return to working on the project.

Reformative - changing the way things usually are done to adopt new behaviors to improve functioning. For example, you are a photo editor, but you realize your editing process is time-consuming. You are losing business because of inefficiency—Upskill by learning to use a more recent and more efficient photo editing software.

Learned resourcefulness is applicable in several situations academic, sports, health,

career, and life. Hindsight gives you a new perspective so use your knowledge and understanding from previous experiences to good effect.

N. B. The contents of this blog post are not prescriptive. The intent is to provide information.

Stay Naturally Curious


Maier, S., & Seligman, M. (1976). Learned helplessness: Theory and evidence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 105(1), 3–46.

Rosenbaum, M. (1990). Learned resourcefulness: on coping skills, self-control, and adaptive behaviors. Springer Publishing Company, Inc.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.

149 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page