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.

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About Josh

  • Sometimes you can ask for help and be turned down. And the energy that went in even asking was really large. Then dealing with the disappointment is difficult. It could discourage you from asking again. People do disappoint us. So I’m not sure the error lies in believing what others say, or if we should believe that God will provide what we need. Sometimes through this person, sometimes through another.

    • Joshua Irby

      This is an excellent point and worthy of another post sometime. One “rejection” is powerful. It can prevent us from connecting with the help God has planted around us. I have been trying to grow in this area.

      My sister, who worked for years as a musical theater actress, is a model for me in this area. When she first started, she would audition 10 times and get turned down 9. But she kept auditioning. Eventually, people started calling to ask her to audition. Somehow, she kept the No from blocking her way to the Yes.

      God is the only one who will never let us down. People consistently let us down. Perhaps if we spread out our “ask” for help (and not put too much hope in one person) then we give ourself a better chance of finding the help we need.

      • I found your reply interesting. Especially in light of the fact I had shared this just this morning./Users/anne/Desktop/Disappointment in others….jpg

        • Joshua Irby

          Powerful quote Anne. I love it.

  • Trent McEntyre

    I like this post a lot. I believe the research you quoted that people are actually far more willing to help when asked directly than we anticipate. I believe it, but I don’t believe it at the same time. And I really like your last point of not talking about your vision or goal with too many people who will obviously not be interested. That is wasted time and energy and it can twist your perspective and hurt your momentum.

    • Josh

      As I was researching this post I was shocked how accurately the research reflected my experience. And I’m with you bro. I believe it but I don’t believe it.

  • Love this post… We can and do, suffer rejection from others for help. Our response with God’s help is to continue to ask, even in the face of rejection. The loss of community is greater than any no we suffer. Thanks for the reminder that we need one another Josh.

  • deairby

    Great post. Didn’t realize that talking about your goals minimizes energy. Hmmmm. Will test that. So much for my “talking it out” plan.

    • Josh

      You just need a couple people to process with. Talking about a need for growth is different than talking about a plan or goal. Saying, “I am
      Disappointed with my consistency” is different than “here’s my plan to be more consistent.” Also, there could be a benefit to talking about what you have done in pursuit of your goal. More research required on my part but fascinating concept.

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