Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

A life in community (asking for help)

[This is the sixth post in the series Plan2Change, about the possibility and process of personal growth. Check out parts 1 234, and 5]

Have you ever felt frozen—unable to move forward? You know your mission. You have a goal. You even know the root cause of your problem. But, you have no idea what to do next.

The result: paralysis.

This is when you need to ask for help. If you are going to change you cannot do it alone. Fortunately, [tweet_quote]God has placed 7 billion other people on earth. Surely one of them can help you.[/tweet_quote]

Jeff Kubina (Creative Commons)

Jeff Kubina (Creative Commons)

Ask for Help

In 2008, researchers from Stanford and Columbia published the results of a study surprisingly relevant to the question of personal change. The research compared how willing people are to help with expectation of receiving help. In the first wave of tests, they sent volunteers out to ask favors from strangers—to borrow a cellphone, to show them to a nearby building, to fill out a survey.  The volunteers, nervous about asking help from passers-by, slunk from the office out to make their requests. When they returned, they were enthusiastic. People were far more willing to help than they expected.

The researches repeated the test in various other formats, including fundraising. Their conclusion was clear: if you ask directly, [tweet_quote]people are twice as willing to help as you think they are.[/tweet_quote]

And this is with strangers. How much more willing are your friends and family to help you change in crucial areas of your life?

Why we don’t ask for help

If people are willing to help us, why don’t we ask? What holds us back? Here are a few ideas.

We don’t want to appear weak. When you ask for help you are revealing a weakness. We want to “have it all together.” We want to be the lone cowboy on the prairie, self-sufficient and independent. We want to stand on our own two feet.

But the truth is, we are weak. We can’t do it alone. We weren’t created to go it alone. We were made to live in community—to bring our strengths and our weaknesses to complement the strengths and weaknesses of others. We are all weak, so there is no need to hide it.

We don’t want to be a burden. We think, “People are busy and have their own problems. Why should they give up time or resources to help me with my mine? I don’t want to be a nuisance.” So we tuck our problems away and try to carry them alone.

But we are missing the point. A world in which everyone carries their own burdens is a very lonely, disconnected, and depressing world. When you refuse to ask for help you cheat someone out of the privilege and joy of being helpful. In trying not to be a burden you rob your neighbor of a blessing.

We don’t believe the research. Deep inside we don’t think people really want to help. The numbers are skewed or don’t apply to our situation.

Well, there is only one way to find out. Ask.

Who can help?

It’s time to ask. Make of list of people who can help you in the area you want to grow.

Who is really talented or gifted in that area?
Who had a similar problem but is now doing well?
Who has resources that could help you?
Who has wisdom to encourage you?
Who are role models for you in this area?

Once you’ve completed your list, make a plan to ask for help. The results will surprise you.

But don’t talk too much

One small caveat, asking for help doesn’t mean sharing your goal with everyone you meet. Research shows  you are less likely to work towards a goal if you talk about it too much. When you talk about working out (or writing a book) your brain receives positive feedback from the interaction and it reduces your desire to actually work out (or start that book). Growth is an uphill climb, we need all the drive we can get.

So only share your goal with people who can help you achieve it. That way all your energy stays focused where it should be—change.

Open Letter Cover 2

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