When I was a kid, there was a point where we had to go on welfare. My dad had just lost his job. We were dead broke.
Drinking powdered milk was one of my least favorite memories during that time. I’ll never forget the watered down, strange taste it left in my mouth.
My sisters and I wanted real food, and one of the hardest things for my dad to do was to let go of his pride and ask our church for help.
I think this was my first lesson about help: you only ask for it if you’re weak.
Of course, I don’t blame my parents for this. It’s just what we’re all taught in our hyper-individualist, do-it-yourself western culture.
What’s interesting is I’ve learned that there’s another shadow layer underneath this “help is weak” belief. Thinking that you can do everything yourself, says that you are too good for the help of others.
I know when I’m really honest with myself, I feel this way. “I don’t need help because I’m too good for that.”
But so far, this hasn’t served me very well.
For one, I think it makes everything I do 10x harder. And there’s reason for it, other than to prove a point.
There’s nothing to lose for me, or for you, but our egos and our pride.
So, here’s the bad news: there is no secret formula for getting better at asking for help.
The only way you get better, is by being willing to be uncomfortable, and being willing to have someone say “no.”
This brings up another one of our biggest fears, that if someone says no, it means something about us. It means that we’re not worthy of being helped.
But this is nothing more than a giant assumption. Someone could say no for a thousand different reasons. They could be overwhelmed, they could have previous commitments, or they could just not be interested.
That doesn’t mean anything about you.
The way you get better at asking for help is not by judging how often you got the help you wanted. Success is making the ask. That’s it. If you had the courage to ask, you succeeded.
With that being said, there are some ways you can make better asks, and maybe that will transfer over into greater confidence in doing so.
Here are five ways you can make better asks.
1. Know what you want
This sounds pretty basic, but a lot of people aren’t very specific in what they ask for. “Can you tweet this article I just wrote? It will help me grow my small family business. Here’s a sample tweet for you.” is way better than “Hey, I just wrote something cool. Will you help me spread the word?”
It’s good to know exactly what you want, and make it easy for people to take action on it.
2. Be clear on why it matters and communicate that
If you don’t know why you’re asking, it will be hard for others to get on board. People are more likely to help when it’s something they believe is important. It’s your job to tell them why it’s important to you and others.
“Because I’m trying to not work 12 hours a week and have more time to spend with my family” is way more compelling than “It would help me a lot!
3. Figure out who to ask
This is a tricky one, because sometimes you think you know who to ask, but you’re really just afraid to ask them. Again, this is where courage comes in and just doing it.
A good way to get around this is to count to five. When you get to five, times up and you’ve got to ask.
4. Ask often for little things
We all know that we get better at whatever we practice. And if you’re a total novice at asking, you probably want to start with little asks.
“I’d really love to go see this movie tonight, how about it honey?” or “Would it be possible to get some extra ketchup?”
It’s funny how terrified some of us are at asking for things as simple as this. What’s the worst that can happen? That there’s no ketchup?
5. Ask where you’re weakest
We all have our tender, more vulnerable areas. These are the places we’re most sensitive and are in turn, most afraid of asking.
- Asking for help with getting people to buy your stuff may be the most frightening to you. You probably feel like you’re bothering people, or you’re afraid they’ll think you’re just money hungry. Sounds like a great area for growth.
- Asking for help with getting your weight under control and staying accountable to your goals might make you want to throw up. That’s a good sign you need to take the courage to ask.
- Or maybe you need help with following through with your projects and need some social support or coaching. Perhaps you’re afraid that people will think you’ll never follow through and see you as a worthless quitter. Great, ask for help anyway.
Whatever you’re most afraid of, is probably what you need to be working on asking for help with the most. < highlight to share this
What I’m horrible at asking for help with…
I’m particularly bad at asking people to support my work. I’m working on building my new calling as a movement artist and teacher. I have been absolutely horrible at asking you for help with it.
So, if you’re interested, here’s what you can do.
1. Subscribe to my Youtube channel. Why? Because people are sitting way too much and it’s keeping us all from living the healthiest, fullest lives with our families.
2. Email or share this post with a friend. Why? Because I know you know someone that is afraid of asking for help (just look around you, practically everyone sucks at it).
That would really mean a lot to me, and will help me kickstart my new calling.
Now, here’s what I’d like from you:
What part of your life are you the weakest at asking for help with?
Leave a comment now.
Tell us your story.
And if you want to share this inspiration with someone that needs it, then pass this on.
Debra L. Butterfield says
Thanks, Jonathan. This post really resonates with me. Asking for help is the most difficult thing I do–I grew up with the “there’s something wrong with me” belief and I’ve worked my entire adult life to overcome it. I just released a book and asking for reviews has been very hard–but I’ve done it. I’ve made lots of small steps in the last year, but I think I’m ready for some bigger steps, thanks to this post.
It’s amazing how long it takes for us to undo these poor beliefs. But I guess there’s something more you gain from it when you do, appreciation for it.
Very timely article, Jonathan, thank you. I find it difficult to ask for help too. It’s hard for me to ask for help spreading the word about my design business. I tend to think that if people don’t know about me already, my work and studio must not be that compelling. In reality it’s as if I own a restaurant but the ‘closed’ sign is always hanging in the window. Instead, I need to hang the ‘open’ sign and graciously invite people in.
Thanks for the encouragement to get bold in my requests.
Glad it resonated with you Alysa.
Marie Ambrosia says
Wow! You mean I can ask for help? I grew up thinking I always had to jump in and make things better for everyone never thinking I had forgotten to take care of me. It’s been a long time coming, however, I have come to understand that “You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have”. I have become better at giving to myself and can actually, on occasion, ask and receive help from others without thinking I owe someone something.
What’s crazy is we deny others to really be close to us when we don’t allow people we love to help us. Seeing it that way really got me to get better at asking for help.
Everything you’ve said here is spot on. I totally identify with feeling weak; I tell myself, No, I should be able to handle this. Or, They’re going to think…. Blah blah blah…
In the last year or so, I’ve had to grow when it comes to this, and I still have a way to go. But seeing asking for help as a means to doing a better job, and becoming a stronger, healthier person, helps so much.
I like your outlook April.
Joyce Davis says
I have just completed, if a book is ever complete, a memoir called At Road’s End about a house at road’s end in Oregon, and moving to a house at road’s end in Hawaii, then back to Oregon–where? To a house at road’s end. Really the story is about our nine months of living off the grid in Hawaii, my metaphysical contemplations while there, the strange and mysterious forces we encountered on the island, why we felt “Called,” and why we wanted to get the hell out of there. Ok, the manuscript needs edited. Any editors who want the job?
Sounds like an interesting journey…
I will offer you some chocking perspective on asking for help:
Not asking for help make you SELFISH. Now why do I say that? Think about it: How good do you feel when you share with them what you know, when you help them thrive in the subject matter you are good at? Jonathan: How good do you feel when you help people have a more active lifestyle? I am certain you aren’t in there JUST for the money. You’re in it because you love it, it’s important for you and it make you feel awesome to make a difference.
Well FLASH NEWS: When you refuse to ask for help you are taking away this marvelous pleasure, this sense of purpose and accomplishment from someone.
Yes, not everyone want to help or want to help the way we want them too, and that’s ok, they have other priorities or maybe their “helping someone do something” high is on an other subject. Maybe the person you ask help about editing you book is really not interested but he would be as happy as he could be if you asked him to teach you to fix a sink.
So now when you go around with your need and consider who to ask help from try considering those things:
– If what you ask is really really easy (for example click a link then click a button) many people will be open to help and feel good from doing it even if it’s not their calling. ((Think how good it feel to give change to the guy with a bell around x-mas))
– If what you are asking for require any kind of work then only people who know they will feel great helping with what you ask will accept. Asking a neighbor for food all depend of the person (the old lady who loves to cook tons of pie and always has extra she try to give everyone is more likely to want to help then other random neighbors) but it make sense to ask the person who keep volunteering at the soup kitchen.
If someone say no to helping you, take it as you asked them for the wrong kind of help. It is most likely that it is not personal and that if you come around with the correct kind of help request they will be happy to oblige.
ALSO: Lots of people prefer to help by teaching you then by doing it for you. Keep that in mind.
Endrene Shepherd says
I need help believing in myself, and it what I do. I’ve always been much better at encouraging others to achieve their dreams than I have been at achieving my own dreams– and I too, never think to ask for help, because it seems weak. Additionally– I don’t know where to begin. How do you ask someone to believe in you? Who do you ask?
Start with a friend. :)
Drea j Lett says
Thank you Jonathan,
For being the way seer on this one. It is perfect timing for me because I was just thinking about the task of asking for funding for a non-profit I am starting. I want to bring yoga, music and art back to the schools as an after school program that also focuses on critical thinking, connection to nature and communication soulutions. Just writing about it makes me tense. I don’t like asking and I can hardly tolerate asking for money. But, as one reader commented, this could be a gift to others while serving a greater vision and purpose.
Here’s to the magic of practice!
Candace Williams says
Thank you Johnathan. This was so timely for me to read. I’m working on this very issue with myself. I have so much fear in asking for help. It certainly pays off though. Even if you don’t always get what you are looking for, you often feel a camaraderie and support from those travelling down a similar path.
Rick Siderfin says
Great post, Jonathan.
Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I’m especially rubbish at asking for help. In the supermarket. When lost. It’s a male pride thing. Fortunately my beautiful wife has no such inhibitions! No wonder she can go into a shop she has never been within 100 miles of before and emerge minutes later clutching everything she went in for. I have a lot to learn.
Daniel @ SaveWithDan says
Wow, I am living this right now. I feel I could have more subscribers to my newsletter, I need to talk to more people to help them out, but I am always thinking I am being pushy or whatever.
Tony Kates says
This article speaks for many. There are times when we are all afraid to ask for help and the usual reason is either our pride or our fear of bothering someone. We have to shake all those thoughts off. We’re all human, there will always be a time when we’ll need help from others. There’s a reason why we all coexist with one another.
most time we fail to ask for help because we already think we know what will come out of the aking
Most of the people fail to ask for help because they fear rejection. I think we should just ask it because there is nothing to loose if rejected.