By Rebecca A. Watson
“Asking for help does not mean that we are weak or incompetent. It usually indicates an advanced level of honesty and intelligence.”
—Anne Wilson Schaef
For the past few months I’ve been training for races I’m running this summer. Before I signed up, I had never run more than a few blocks without stopping. I’d just never gotten into it.
I’m not really sure why, but I’ve always wanted to run a trail race. Plus a triathlon is on my “Nothing’s Impossible List,” so why not start with the part I’m no good at? I headed out to buy some good shoes. The owner offered me advice and ideas about how to begin running and what sort of training plan to follow. What’s funny is that I figured there couldn’t be much to it. Instead I realized that I was a young babe in an old woods. There was a lot to running, and I didn’t know what I was in for.
I’m so thankful I opened up to that shop owner, because now I have all sorts of things to help me succeed. I was a little embarrassed to admit I was trying something new (that’s one of my ego’s trouble spots—I always want to look like an expert), but by doing so, I probably saved myself a whole bunch of misery, injury, and wasted time.
This was one of those times when I actually followed my own advice. I always say it’s really important to ask for help, but saying it and doing it are two completely different things, as I’m fairly sure most of us know.
Since then I’ve become more in tune with when I need to ask for help and actually following through with asking. I’m so happy to share what I’ve learned, because I think we can all benefit from one another. The more we practice it, the more peaceful and compassionate the world will be.
1. Learn to Get in Tune
You can’t ask for help if you don’t know you need it. A sure-fire way to recognize you’re having a tough time and could use assistance is to start connecting with yourself.
When I first heard the phrase, “I’m in tune with myself,” I thought it sounded kinda hippyish or something. Not that that was a problem for me (I run around with flowers in my hair most days), but I could see it being more difficult for other people to stomach. But if you consider the words “in tune” from the perspective of a musical instrument, it seems pretty straight-forward.
When a musical instrument is out of tune, it means that it doesn’t perform accurately or sound like it should. Something isn’t quite right. After a few adjustments are made, the instrument works just as it should and sounds lovely as well. Think of your body in that same way. When something doesn’t seem to be working the way it should or things don’t sound quite right, it’s time to make some adjustments. I find that getting quiet, writing in my journal, spending some time outside, and knitting all help me to recalibrate.
2. Take Time to Listen
Your body will always tell you what is and isn’t working if you can take the time to listen. And having the ability to listen is key when it comes to knowing when you need to ask for help. For instance, I was taping up my ankle before a run when a thought came into my mind: Do I even know how to do this correctly?
The answer is no. But I kept going and cut off the circulation in my foot. That was all the answer I needed. I started over, this time with the help of a few online tutorials. If I hadn’t been open to that thought, if I hadn’t been in tune, I would’ve continued taping my ankle the same way, never realizing that a simple solution was so close by.
Just like a musical instrument, keeping yourself in tune isn’t a one-and-done thing. It requires maintenance and patience. So be kind to yourself and figure out what works best for you.
3. Start Small
It seems like I relearn this lesson every time I go through changes in my life. While it can be exciting to have thunder-and-lightning changes going on, they often don’t last because they’re unsustainable.
This same principle applies when you’re asking for help. Your ego may not like it. I know mine doesn’t. I like to think of my ego like a small child. You can get away with upsetting your ego if you spread out the problems, but if you pile them on, sooner or later, that kid is gonna throw a tantrum.
Using the Internet to ask for help doesn’t seem to upset my ego so much. Most of the time it’s pleased that it found the answer. Whenever you realize you could use some help, see if you can access it online. Of course, if it’s something that requires immediate professional knowledge, like law or medical advice, I wouldn’t suggest that, but if you’re wondering how to prune a rosebush, the Internet can get the job done. Plus it exercises your ego’s tolerance to admitting you don’t know something.
4. Look to What You Already Have
One of the first things about asking for help is that you can ask yourself. In fact, in recognizing you need it, you’re already asking. And now that you’ve empowered yourself to help, the first thing to do is take inventory on what you already know and have.
When my ankle was bothering me, I was considering trying some different pain remedies. I was online researching when I found the one I liked. Before I bought it, I realized I had something very similar in my closet. I already had what I needed.
The same thing goes with the knowledge you have. Can you cross it over? Oftentimes we’ve encountered a problem similar to what we’re facing, and if we can just cross over the experience, we may already have the answer.
For instance, I quit smoking several years ago and most of the time don’t worry too much about temptation. However, when I was in New Orleans on vacation, I was constantly tempted, and I knew I was going to need some help to avoid it. I thought back to the last time I had this problem—it was in Vancouver where I almost smoked because I had too much to drink.
Ding! The light bulb went on. I knew that if I had too much to drink my guard would be down, and I could very easily light up. This was something I didn’t want to do. So I skipped the grenades and sipped on soda water. A lot of times the answer is right with us. It just takes a willingness to admit we need help, to admit we’re not sure what to do. Then our own knowledge base or home base can take care of the rest.
5. People are Inherently Helpful
There are going to be times where your own knowledge base fails, you have no Internet connection and you’re seriously in need of assistance. That’s when it’s time to ask someone else. This has always been a very scary venture for me. I’m embarrassed. I feel weak.
But after too many times making stupid decisions and mistakes, I’ve been able to get past it and here’s what I have discovered: Most people really like to help you. For no reason other than to be helpful.
When I left our sleeping bags at home on a weekend camping trip, my husband charged me with figuring out how we’d handle sleeping arrangements. I headed to the small store close by, explained my situation and asked about blankets. The lady behind me in line stopped me from buying the sleeping bags stocked in the store.
“I’ve got plenty of extras. You follow me home and borrow them for the weekend.”
This stunned me. But the more I started telling people I wasn’t sure about something or needed a hand, the more they’d happily offer. I find that the easiest way to ask for help is to start out by saying, “I’m working on figuring out this situation, and I wondered if you could help me.”
Because that’s kind of the catch about all this. If I hadn’t started out with that line, people don’t always offer their help. You might not want it. It might offend your sensibilities. And no one wants to get into it with a sensitive ego. So just remember to ask for help from the start.
6. Spread the Love
If there is one thing that can help you learn to ask for help and also know where to look, it’s to offer help of your own. A good friend and life coach I know says we all teach what we need to learn.
When I started baking gluten-free and dairy-free foods, my friends were always asking for recipes. Most of them had other friends or family that had similar dietary needs, and they wanted to be able to cook for them. It dawned on me that this was something I was really good at, so I started posting the recipes on my blog. Since then, I’ve gotten more traffic from my recipes than I’d ever gotten before. I was helping other people simply by posting what I knew and was passionate about. By sharing my knowledge, I increase the probability that someone will find help. And as that likelihood increases it comes back around to me.
When you help someone out, you often learn a lot more about yourself, your ego, and your needs, which is essential to learning how to ask for help to start with. Then the cycle begins again, and we can all continue to improve and evolve.
Have you asked for help lately? Or maybe you’re freely giving it. What lessons have you learned from that?
Rebecca Watson is a Truth Advocate and Soul Connection Coach who supports women who’ve dealt with trauma and abuse to find and express their truth in harmony with their soul. A recovering journalist, Rebecca uses journaling and writing as a tool to teach women who feel unheard, broken, and misunderstood to listen to their own truth, trust their instincts, and connect with the divine part of themselves. You can read more of her work and learn more about her coaching programs at sunnysanguinity.com.