Category Archives: Asking for help

Getting a second opinion on priorities can help.

Do you sometimes find it difficult to prioritise things?

I know I do.

There’s always so much more to do than there is time to do it in, and even making a very comprehensive list doesn’t always help.

It can seem even worse when you see the length of it, knowing that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

But I think that getting someone else’s perspective can help a lot, especially when they know you pretty well.

That’s what happened the other day, talking with a friend.

After I’d taken him through my ginormous To-Do list (not something to boast about really) his view was that it would be best to prioritise on the things that are ‘getting to me’ the most.

It gave me a much better sense of what should come first.

It’s probably pretty much the same for you.

You’ll know you can’t do everything.

But rather than ending up doing nothing (a common reaction to having too much on your plate) step back for a minute to ask yourself which of these demands are getting to you the most.

And preferably do so in conversation with someone else.

Tackle those things first.

The chances are that you’ll then feel strong enough to knock off some of the others too.

Need a hand? We all do sometimes.

The concept of a Help Desk is well-understood in the IT world.

Encounter a problem with your hardware or software and you’ll generally find someone somewhere (albeit often on a different continent) who’ll tell you how to fix it.

OK, there’s usually no actual desk involved, but it’s easy to understand the idea. Have problem, call desk, get help.

Wouldn’t it be great if a similar service existed for the trials and tribulations of life?

Feeling anxious or blue? Just call our Help Desk.

Hmm. Trouble is, that’s not the way it works. True, there are counselling services. Generally, though, it can seem as though there’s no easy answer when you feel as if you’re tying yourself in knots.

All too often, you end up on your own.

But it really doesn’t need to be like this, you know.

I’m guessing that you quite like it when someone seeks out your help, right?

You, on the other hand, may be reluctant to ask when it’s your turn to need it.

Please don’t be.

Asking for help is much better than trying to struggle on without it. And the person you ask will more than likely get a kick from doing it.

It’s Message Received Day in the UK.

One of several differences I’ve been learning to manage since I moved to the US is the American custom of putting the month ahead of the day in dates, whereas (usually) it’s the other way around in the UK.

So my date of birth is 2/28/etc here in the US, but 28/2/etc in the US.

I say this, simply because today, April 10th, is 4/10 where I’m writing this, but 10/4 back in Blighty, which this is an admittedly rather convoluted way to bring up the “10-4” used by CB radio users.

You may be semi-aware, as I was, that 10-4 stands for “message received, or OK,” but where did the code originally come from?

Well, back in 1937 (very considerably before “etc,” if you were wondering) the US police introduced a system called “10 codes,” designed to streamline radio communications.

According to my research, there are over 100 different codes, including a “10-10” which means Fight In Progress, “10-20” indicating Location (what’s your 10-20?) and “10-82” for Reserve Lodging (presumably when a police officer decides it’s just too late to think about going home).

So today’s “message received” day in the UK, whereas we’ll have to wait until October 4th for the US equivalent.

All very complicated.

If you’re having a hard time, though, going through a period of wretched low mood, I think it might be helpful if there was the equivalent of a “10-4” for others to use when you tell them what you’re going through (if you’re brave enough to do so).

I suspect you don’t really want someone to tell you that it’ll all be better tomorrow. You almost certainly don’t want them to tell you about their own experiences of depression. And you definitely don’t need them to change the subject, ignoring what you’ve told them.

So what do you want? Well, a little understanding, a little gentle sympathy perhaps.

Most of all, though, you just want to know you’ve been heard, been understood.

Message received. 10-4.

(Good buddy.)

Progress report, and (yet) another research questionnaire.

After collecting such helpful feedback from our experiment with “customised audio mood nudges” last weekend, I figured it might be good to give you a quick update on where we’re at, and what’s happening next. Hint: there’s another questionnaire to complete.

There were a ton of great comments but, broadly speaking, the idea of actually hearing the nudges rather than reading them went down well. My voice seemed to come across as calming and reassuring. And there was definitely a sense that people liked the idea of nudges that picked up on particular aspects of their emotional well-being – i.e. happy, sad, angry, or anxious.

One particular challenge I face with an idea like this, however, is determining what scores mean that someone is A-OK, and which suggest there’s trouble at t’mill.

In other words, one person may regard a particular score as being good, while someone else could see that exact same score as representing an off day.

Thanks to the several readers who made this point to me.

It’s pretty clear that the only sensible way to tackle this is for the feedback system to learn more about an individual taking the test, so it can compare their daily scores with a picture of what’s good or bad for that person.

I’d love to start thinking about this by asking you to complete another of our questionnaires, please. As ever, it’s anonymous.

This time, I’d like you to please rate yourself twice for the same 12 emotions, once imagining yourself on a good day, then again visualising yourself on a bad day. Full details are in the questionnaire itself.

Once I’ve gathered everyone’s answers, I’ll certainly pass on the findings to you. I’m pretty sure they’ll be illuminating. We generally discover fascinating stuff with these kinds of experiments.

Thanks once again for your tireless help, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Another experiment, but with a serious health warning.

Happy Sunday, I hope.

Here in the US, however, the clocks spring forward this morning, so it’ll be an earlier start for those of us on this side of the pond.

Now, I’d like to invite you to participate in another of my experiments, although this one does come with a major health warning.

Please tread carefully, particularly if your mood may be fragile at the moment.

You see, I’ve been thinking long and hard about a way to give much more customised feedback to someone after they’ve rated their emotional health, and I’m specially interested in how this might work in audio form, rather than as words on a page.

I’ve therefore assembled a VERY early prototype of such a system, somewhat held together with rubber bands and sticky tape.

If you’re keen to try it out and – really importantly – can accept that it’s quite possible it could give you feedback that’s not correct, I’d love you to have a play with it.

One particular word of warning is that it’s highly sensitive at the moment, so it could – for example – tell you that you’re anxious even if you only have a terribly mild case of butterflies.

Or it might classify your mood as low when you simply haven’t had your coffee yet.

With these provisos, please feel free to play with the system. Maybe do it a first time with your real answers, then again with made-up (and perhaps more extreme) responses to get an idea of how different answers might generate different feedback.

And I’d truly encourage you to use the Comments section on the blog to share your thoughts. All feedback will be most gratefully received.

So, as long as you please take care, please click here to begin.

Thank you. My fingers are crossed.

Let’s see your workings out.

I seem to remember that in school maths exams, we were encouraged to show our workings out.

Even if you could somehow immediately and effortlessly jump to the answer in your head, there was merit in jotting down how you’d got there.

Perhaps one benefit was that a kind examiner (if such an individual ever existed) might give you marks for methodology even if you’d fumbled the final answer.


I’m fairly confident that when you talk through, perhaps difficult, problems with a patient friend, you’re going through a similar process.

In explaining the situation, you’re put in a position in which you need to help the other person see where you’re coming from.

And these, in some ways, may be our emotional workings out.

However, if you know that the doodlings and noodlings on your exam paper might be scanned by the examiner, you may decide to make them relatively logical.

So in a similar way, perhaps we owe it to our gem of a friend to – whenever possible – attempt to focus our outpourings, rather than drowning them in a torrent of despair?

After all, people are more likely to be able to help you when they understand you.

In a different way, and in terms of my own workings out to do with Moodnudges, I’m going to experiment with writing closer to the publishing deadlines of Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

For some time I’ve attempted to produce a week’s worth of posts (four of them) in one burst of work, but I think this may have kept me from being as fresh as I’d like to be.

(If you’ll pardon me for being fresh, that is.)

So this will be posted about six hours from now, hot off the keyboard.

To place things in context, I’m sitting in the library at Stanford University, listening to some delightful new tunes from a composer I’ve just discovered this afternoon.

If you like movie music, you may well enjoy Steven Gutheinz, a composer of music for film, TV, commercials, games, and the stage, who currently lives and works in Los Angeles.

Just down the road, really.

His whole new album, “Vision,” is here:

Asking for assistance.

If you needed to move a heavy item of furniture, you probably wouldn’t attempt to do so on your own.

There are some tasks which clearly require more than one pair of hands.

It’s pretty obvious to ask for help when the work is of a physical nature.
Then why doesn’t it seem equally sensible to do so when the heavy lifting is more cerebral?


When you’ve got too much to think about, too much to worry about, it can be tempting to keep it all to yourself.

But that’s not good.

In many situations, a problem shared is a problem halved.

(Not always of course, but it’s a rule that holds good a great deal of the time.)

Sometimes the simple act of talking through your concerns, worries and anxieties can help you get them into perspective.

Then of course there may be other times when you really can ask someone else to take the load off your shoulders.

You’re human, not super-human.

If you’re carrying a heavy load, there’s nearly always someone who will help.

But usually you need to ask.

And that’s fine.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re struggling with emotional baggage.

I like to think that when someone pauses forlornly at the foot of a long staircase in a railway station, loaded down with suitcases, it won’t be too long before a good Samaritan offers some help.


Perhaps it’s an idealistic way of viewing the world, but the bigger point I think is that when people can actually see you have a problem they’re more likely to come to your aid.

If it’s obvious that you’re struggling, it’s more or less human nature (or ought to be) for others to lend their support.

But whilst this theory may hold water, it only does so up to a point.

What happens, for instance, when you’re struggling inside?

Heavy baggage doesn’t always take the form of suitcases.

When your load is mental rather than physical, it may not be evident to those around you.

And it’s at times like these that you may need to ask for help rather than simply expecting it to be offered to you on a plate.

Don’t struggle on alone when you need a hand.

Do ask for it.

Sometimes the best way to help is just to dive in.

A friend and I compared notes about what generally happens if those around you realise you’re having a hard time.

Often they truly want to help, but nine times out of ten this gets translated into them asking what they can do for you, one of the most frustrating offers in the world.

Yes, you want help (sometimes desperately) but no – you’ve nowhere near enough strength to organise your thoughts sufficiently to brief them.

As my friend said, ‘Don’t ask me how you can help, just tell me what you’re going to do, then do it’.


When times are tough, it can feel as though you’re using every ounce of your meagre resources simply to keep the plates spinning.

So when a well-meaning friend asks how they can help, you’ve literally no capacity to work out a strategy.

Better by far if they assume responsibility for a couple of plates.

‘I’ll look after these two’ – these are the type of words you may long to hear.

But what if you agree with this principle, but don’t know how to suggest it to others?

Two ideas spring to mind.

You could always lead by example, helping others as you’d like to be helped yourself.

But if the need’s more urgent, why not let me do the seed-sowing?

Just show this mood nudge to a friend.

You may well discover that they’re only too pleased to know that the best way to help you is to simply roll up their sleeves and make a start on something, anything.

Don’t ask, just do.

Who’s the best listener you know? Cherish them.

Things don’t always go as you’d wish.

Life’s like that.

But when they don’t, it can help to talk about them.

The very act of speaking about your feelings can help you process them.

It can help you rationalise your situation and solve your problems.

Generally we know this.


Unfortunately, who you talk to plays a big part in the outcome of this process.

Tell the right person and you’ll walk away from the conversation with shoulders raised and spirits lifted.

Tell the wrong person, however, and you could feel worse than you did before you began.

One key to success is to identify someone with that pretty rare combination of patience, good listening skills, and the ability to be relatively non-judgemental (yet, of course, not so bland that they have none of their own opinions).

Few have these talents, instead all too many will be eager to dictate what you should do.

Ask them, and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms.

Better perhaps to hold your breath until you’re with that special person who lets you talk, while they simply listen.

You know who they are, so cherish them, and hang onto them, because they’re worth their weight in gold.