For some, to ask for help when stuck might be a no-brainer. Asking for help, as someone once pointed out to me, when they recognized my stubborn streak for doing so, isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength.
Why? Because there’s an enormous amount of power and learning/growth opportunity in admitting you don’t know something.
Getting help is also why people work in teams. It wasn’t the SEAL Team of 1 Person or the Track 1 Person at your high school, the football 1 person. They worked in teams. A bunch of individuals creating a collective force of creation.
People will know they’re in a mess and need help, but they go into it kicking and screaming. They refuse it. They get angry when it’s offered. And then, many times, the get angry when it’s give after they ask for help.
Why? Because sometimes–and this likely isn’t you–people are so identified with, so vested in victimhood thinking it scares them when they sense its loss. They blame the help-giver for taking it away. It’s a threat.
That’s the paradox many people struggle with–they seek help because they’re tired of feeling like a victim and acting like one, but then, when they start to gain personal power, when they start to understand they have some, it terrifies them because it means stepping into a vast and unknown realm of existence. And, like any “injured” animal or person who feels cornered and threatened, they lash out. But that’s a topic for a whole other post, really.
Another part of not asking for help is that people have the notion locked firmly in their minds that they must be an expert at the beginning.
Maybe they were criticized when they asked for help as a child. Maybe someone struck out with frustration when asked. And maybe, as they were taught independence growing up, their child’s mind (now carried into adulthood) decided independence meant not asking for help. And when they discover they must, that means they’re a failure. Or they have failed someone else (this is why external references for self-worth do not work.)
This is not done consciously. It’s something we do as a habit on an unconscious level. But the neat thing is that’s all it is: A habit. And all habits can be replaced with new and better ones.
As children, we have little dexterity and little knowledge of how to do things, but so many teachers, parents, coaches get short-tempered, frustrated — even downright angry — if a child, learning a new skill — makes a mistake. Maybe even makes the mistake many, many times. And so the child begins to fear making mistakes, takes in the message by osmosis that mistakes are bad, stupid and weak (and even that they themselves are bad, stupid and weak). Parents, teachers, coaches often forget that praise as the mistake is made — for effort, for concentration — works, too.
That means, as we grow into adults, we retain that message.
Way down in our psyche, in the unconscious where all the programming, where all the self-talk and beliefs muck about, running the show like little dysfunctional gnomes. We don’t need help! they say. We know what to do! We don’t care you’re unhappy! Help–no! It happens automatically, that kind of self-judgment (failure, bad, dumb, stupid) because we’ve been doing it so very, very long. Of course, sometimes it’s a complete misunderstanding on our part (even as adults); something was said to us that was encouragement, just perhaps delivered badly (or just fine), and, for whatever reason, we misinterpret it or misunderstand it. Then, as we get into adulthood, we continue to misinterpret and misunderstand things, because we’re running it through those ill-fitting filters that were created as we grew up. Ones that were never replaced.
It’s otherwise like leaving on old filters on your air system in your house and expecting them to work the same 15, 20, 30, 40 years later. The filters have to be replaced every now and then, or at least washed frequently to keep the flow at tip-top quality. It’s the same with your life.
You are not a failure if you don’t have the knowledge. Ignorance is, if acknowledged, merely an opportunity to fill a new filing cabinet in your head for information. Asking for help is what also eases resistance to change.
There’s a scene in The X-Files episode “Paper Clip” (do I get extra credit points for remembering the exact episode, or what?) in which Scully comes across a vast cavern filled with filing cabinet after filing cabinet after filing cabinet. “What did you find?” Mulder asks over the phone; he’s elsewhere in the complex. “Files,” Scully replies. “Lots and lots of files.”
This is your mind — a vast cavern of filing cabinets, most of which are empty and just aching for information. Sometimes we think that the two we have filled and standing in our office are enough. But it’s sort of like thinking that you’ve got plenty/enough information if your encyclopedia set only goes up through K. Sure, you have a great wealth of information, but you’ve got (empty) files in your head. Lots and lots of (empty) files.
Kind of a cool idea, huh? That there’s no end to learning? If you don’t know something, ask someone who will know. even might know. I’ve gotten some killer input from people who’ve never had any experience with something on which I’ve gotten stuck. Might seem illogical, but I remember getting an enormously helpful idea from the woman cutting my hair at Great Clips. I had a gripe about something that had nothing to do with hair in the remotest sense, and she had a really awesome idea that worked splendidly.
The more open-minded you are about suggestions, the easier it is for you to reach your goals.
Or if you mostly know about something, ask someone who knows more than you do, or has a different wealth of knowledge than you — or a different take on it. A yoga instructor might have a terrific bit of information about some asanas you can do to augment your goal of a chin-up PR, or a new PR for a mile run time. And, to that — a running coach might have a really neat idea for you on how to find a really good yoga instructor.
I fully admit I was (is…I’m “recovering”) someone who thought that admitting to a lack of knowledge was incredibly embarrassing. Mortifying, even. When I was told that asking for help was a strength, not a weakness, things really shifted for me. But I have to be willing to have that open-mindedness about the suggestions and I have to be willing to try them. And I have to be willing in the first place.
I’ve had many clients where I’ve given them “homework” to do, or some tip or trick that’s been a universal skeleton key for unlocking something (though always tailored to the person to make it a unique key). They’ll contact me, frustrated, still in the same place, and when I ask them if they tried what I suggested, they’ll say, “No.” Or, “I tried a couple times but it didn’t work.”
This can go on for years.
Old, well-rooted habits need perseverance. Not just a “couple tries”. What I’ve done is I’ve then asked that person to picture themselves in five years doing the exact same thing, living the exact same life, making the exact same choices with the exact same unhappiness. I then ask them how that feels. Is that where they want to land. I’ve yet to hear a “yes”.
And yet, five years later, there they are. Same choices. Same unhappiness. Sometimes the same blame that someone else didn’t make their life different for them.
Why? Well, it could be that they just aren’t ready to change. They think they are, but, not truly so. And that’s okay…but trying to force yourself to do something differently when your gut is saying you aren’t just brings on more suffering and frustration and stuckness.
But the thing about asking for help, is again, putting it into practice–with perseverance–immediately. (I will cover this more in Part 2 next week.)
Questions? Comments? Email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org or drop by my Facebook page and leave me a message, leave a comment below or feel free to start up a conversation in the discussion forum.