Category Archives: Asking for help

If you need help but don’t know what to ask for, try suggesting that someone simply uses their intuition.

A friend and I compared notes about what generally happens when other people 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, and 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” are likely to be the words you long to hear.

However, 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 – help 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 forward this email to a friend or two.

Almost certainly they’ll be 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.

It’s sensible to ask for help with heavy physical loads, and the same is generally true of weighty emotional challenges.

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 then 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 are other situations in which 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’ll help.

But usually you need to ask. And that’s fine.

When you need help, sometimes you’re the only one that knows

When you need a little help, why is it sometimes so difficult to ask for it?

Of course it won’t always be the case that there’s someone around who you’re comfortable opening up to.

But think hard, and you’ll generally be able to come up with someone.

So what makes it so tricky to pop the question?

I’m sure there can be all manner of reasons, but it could easily be that you feel the other person should go first.

Maybe you believe that it’s self-centred to request a helping hand, and that it would be better if they offered it rather than you requesting it?

In theory, this is all well and good, but the truth is that (sorry to dash your illusions) there simply aren’t that many mind readers out there.


If you’re struggling, it’s tempting to believe that a neon hazard sign is flashing on your forehead, easy to imagine that it must be completely transparently obvious to all and sundry that you’re struggling to cope, and would benefit from some tea and sympathy – or some practical assistance.

Unfortunately we’re all better actors than we believe.

We’re all more accomplished emotion-hiders than we think.

Very possibly your friends have no idea what you’re going through.

Unless you tell them.

Waiting for help to be offered may take a long time.

Too long, sometimes.

So when things get too much for you, don’t delay.

Spit it out.

Ask for support.

It’s what you’d want a friend to do when they needed you, and it’s what you must do when you need them.

The mysterious case of the disappearing shop.

Depending on which part of the world you live in, they’re either thrift stores or charity shops, and I have to confess I’m a big fan.

With an hour to fill before I could start work the other day, I set out to visit the Goodwill store in Menlo Park, a town a little north of Palo Alto, where Stanford University sits.

It was a drizzly morning, but that didn’t put me off, so I parked the car near where I thought the store was, and walked purposefully along the street.

There was no sign of it.


I was certain it was on that section of the street.


So, having reached the end of the shopping area, I turned around and walked back, getting to the opposite end of the shops.

Still nothing.

Now this was getting odd, and I suspected the shop must have closed down.

I pulled out my phone and Google came to the rescue, telling me not only that it was just two blocks away, but also that it was open.

Half-thinking that Google must have got it wrong, I retraced my steps and there it was.

I’d walked right past it twice.

And just as Google had said it was indeed open.

It’s easy to do that, though, isn’t it?

(He said, hopefully.)

Sometimes we miss things that are right in front of us, and I don’t just mean physically.

The same can happen mentally.

We search for an answer, but the harder we struggle to come up with it, the more elusive it seems to get.

Google probably isn’t going to be much help when you seek the meaning of life (it tells you it’s 42, for goodness sake) but other people can often help you see things that may otherwise have been invisible to you.

Often, all you need to do is ask.

The first person you speak to may not have the answer, of course, nor might any of the others, for that matter.

But each of them is likely to help you gradually form a fuller picture, and that’s got to be better than continually missing the place you want to get to.

Enlisting other people’s eyes to see what you can’t

This past week, I’ve experienced a really good demonstration of the way that other people can help you form a clearer view of something you’re working on, or—I suspect—something you’re struggling with.

My “Nudge Your Way to Happiness” book is pretty near to being ready for publication.

I know I keep saying this, but it is.

It is.

Although I knew it probably wasn’t 100% error-free, I really did think it was just about good enough to release.

But then Alex kindly offered to go through the whole thing with a fine tooth comb, and I was astonished (but actually very happy) that she found things that needed changing on about half the pages.


Some were just small inconsistencies, but there were several glaring errors I’d completely missed.

Happily, therefore, I’m getting them put right.

However, help in gaining fresh perspective doesn’t always have to come from someone you know.

For instance, also this week, I learned a ton by watching a talk about publishing and writing given by Jack Canfield, one of the authors of the “Chicken Soup For the Soul” series.

Having sold 500 million books, he probably knows what he’s talking about.

He made the important point that a book should start as strongly as possible.

It should thoroughly engage the reader, leaving them eager to get into the meat of the book itself.

When I re-read my own book’s introduction that I’d written a couple of months ago, I immediately saw that I could have made a better job of it.

I had used it to describe the book, rather than telling some kind of strong story which would inspire readers.

So I rewrote it, and shared the new draft with Alex and my brother Geoff, both of whom have been amazing sounding boards for my work.

They could see where I was going with the new version, but for different reasons both of them thought I still wasn’t quite there.

So I sat down a couple of days ago, and wrote another one.

Hopefully it’s a case of third time lucky.

The new introduction feels much more personal, and much more of a story I hope people will want to read.

Of course I’ll only know how well this has worked when the book goes on sale.

We have one more round of proofing to do, but this is definitely only a matter of a few more days rather than endless months.

The bigger take-out from this is that if you find yourself struggling with some kind of dilemma, some situation you feel perhaps isn’t quite right, never hesitate to ask for other people’s advice.

Whether you decide to take it or not is, of course, entirely up to you.

But at so many points in my life, I have found it incredibly valuable to see my own problems afresh through the eyes of others.

Why being a cry baby might not be such a bad thing

The Stanford campus was still as I walked from my car to the university library last Saturday.

It was early enough for students to still be in bed, rainy enough to deter at least some of the visitors.

But suddenly the silence was punctuated by a baby crying in the arms of her mother.


I hadn’t really thought about it before, but a baby crying on campus must be sufficiently unusual for me to notice it, even though that particular sound is something most of us are programmed to register and, if necessary, act upon.

And then it triggered a whole other thought.

Babies cry for many reasons.

It could be a way of saying “I’m hungry”, “I’m tired”, or “I need a cuddle”.

As a parent, often through a process of trial and error, you adjust to the idea that crying means something’s wrong, so you work out what needs doing.

Feeding, putting down for a nap, picking up to cuddle, for example.

Parenting an infant sometimes means being a mindreader, but at least there’s some kind of universal distress message in the form of crying.

A sobbing baby generally (and hopefully) gets what she needs.

Once upon a time you and I were babies.

And when we needed something I’m sure we were good at the crying thing.

But having grown up, even though our communication skills are better developed, paradoxically it’s probably the case that we’re less good at articulating what we need, and often don’t even know ourselves.

So the next time you feel grumpy, how about starting by asking yourself if you know why?

Next, work out what it is you need.

Then either ask someone else for it, or help yourself.

The former will be the case if you need a hug, and probably the latter if it’s a sandwich.

No one ignores a crying baby, so please don’t do the equivalent if it’s your own inner infant sobbing.

A surprising reminder of why it’s good to ask for help.

If I told you that someone who’s about to repair something has said they won’t be able to do it for a few days as they have to wait for a part to come in, you might imagine I was talking about a washing machine or a car.

Probably not a surgeon.

However this is precisely the situation my Mum finds herself in.


She fell over last Friday, badly breaking her elbow, and the experts have agreed that rather than trying to fix the complicated fracture, they’ll fit her with a replacement joint.

And since apparently elbows aren’t the kind of thing you keep sitting around on a shelf, they’ve ordered one which will arrive at the end of the week.

Now she’s in surprisingly good spirits back in the UK, which is good to know since my brother Geoff and I are both in California.

Geoff’s here to help me through the final stages of putting together the new “Nudge Your Way to Happiness” book (which is coming on really well given the large amount of other things going on at the same time).

When I spoke to Mum yesterday – and thank goodness for mobile phones which allowed me to chat to her in hospital from my park bench on the Stanford campus – I of course said I was sorry that Geoff and I couldn’t be with her.

What was interesting, though – and it’s a thought I hope might turn this from my personal story into something of wider value to you – is that the absence of her two sons has actually ‘created space’ for other people to step up.

Neighbours have been to visit her.

Friends have offered to help, as have other family members.

And the thing is, people love to help.

We often talk here about the kinds of positive feelings you and I may experience when we lend a hand to someone in need.

But perhaps we don’t recognise quite so often that it can be good to create the opportunities for others to step in and help us.

Asking for help can be surprisingly hard, but it can also be surprisingly rewarding.

As a child you were probably told you had to stand on your own two feet, that if something needed doing it was up to you to do it.

But I’m here to remind us both today that you can’t always do everything yourself and that when you ask for help, others very often see your request as a gift you’re giving THEM.

Even if they don’t say as much, many are grateful for the opportunity to lend a hand.

So if you find yourself struggling with some kind of load today, whether it’s physical or emotional, why not do someone else a favour by asking them to help?

How asking for help is actually a sign of great strength

Is it a sign of weakness if you need to ask for help when your car breaks down?

Is it a sign of weakness if you need to ask for help when you need to lift something heavy?

Is it a sign of weakness if you need to ask for help when there’s something you don’t know how to do (cook a soufflé, change a tap washer, thank someone in Japanese, de-flea a cat)?

I wouldn’t class any of these as signs of weakness.

Signs of sense, more like.


There are always going to be times when you need the support, strength and wisdom of others.

Times when it would be daft and possibly dangerous to fool yourself that you can struggle on alone.

There’s at least one area of life, however, where asking for help is much harder, and that’s when you need assistance with emotional issues.

For some reason, we may believe we’re ‘supposed’ to soldier on alone, carrying an unbearable burden.

I suspect that if you heard a friend was behaving in this manner, you’d regard them as rather foolish.

Why on earth didn’t they ask for help?

Yet when it comes to ourselves it can be all too easy to see things in an entirely different way.


Everyone gets tired or overwhelmed now and then.

We all struggle with how we feel, especially when things go wrong.

Your family and friends may be more than happy to help, but you’ll need to take that brave first step of admitting you’re having a hard time.

There are support groups, too.

And professional advisors, with whom your doctor may be able to connect you as a first port of call.

Be realistic when you ask for help.

The first person you approach may not have the answers or skills.

(I’d be zero help with your soufflé, for instance.)

But each individual to whom you open up can take you a step closer to someone who’ll help you get through things.

Asking for help isn’t always easy, but it is always sensible.

When you need help, it really makes sense to ask for it

Why is it sometimes so hard to ask for help?

Why, inside, are we sometimes hoping against hope that someone, somewhere will help us, yet we don’t actually do the sensible thing, which is to just ask?

Why don’t we ask for help when we desperately need it?


Perhaps it’s hard to admit that we can’t cope on our own, because it feels like being weak.

Or maybe it’s because we believe those we might ask already have enough on their plates without us adding to it.

Alternatively it could simply be that our thinking is muddled.

When things have got to the point where you feel you really can’t cope on your own, it’s likely that the negative thoughts will have taken a firm hold: I know that when this happens to me, I don’t always make the best decisions.

Fortunately there’s a pretty simple rule of thumb which might help you get a better sense of perspective if you’re in a fix like this.

Imagine that rather than being you, you were the person whose help you might seek.

And imagine that you only found out that your help had been wanted long after the need had passed, probably too late to be able to do any good.

How would that make you feel?

Almost certainly you’d be exasperated – a bit cross even – that you hadn’t been asked.

You’d probably suggest that you, not the other person, should have been the judge of whether you had too much going on yourself to be of use.

I’m pretty sure you’d be horrified to learn that someone had needed you but didn’t ask.

So now put yourself back in your own shoes.

If you need help, doesn’t it make sense to ask for it?

You know, I’m pretty sure it does.

Is it time to tell someone how you feel?

‘I Feel Good’, ‘I Feel Pretty’ and ‘I Feel Love’.

They’re the top three choices suggested by Google as it tries to guess what I’m looking for after typing the words ‘I feel’.

They’re song titles of course, and I’m awarding points for performing all three while you’re in the bathroom today: a bonus if you can cunningly combine James Brown, Donna Summer and Maria from ‘West Side Story’ into a medley.

Sometimes, it’s true, you’ll honestly be able to say you feel good when asked how you are, but there will be other days when you’re more likely to bite someone’s head off simply for asking.

Over the past few months, I’ve learned that I’m not nearly as good as I thought I was at talking about my own feelings.

I bottle things up, and it takes substantial effort to let them out.

Perhaps you’ll understand?

Maybe you can be a bit like this too?

There are all sorts of reasons to persuade yourself that it’s a BAD idea to share your innermost thoughts, among them: nobody will be interested; I don’t want to become a burden; my feelings are my responsibility; others are too busy to bother.

And so on, and so on.

There’s a lot to be said for sharing appropriately, however.

It helps others understand you, and simply articulating your feelings will help you make sense of them yourself.

So why not try a little of this today?

Of course, if everything’s rosy for you at the moment, and you take the challenge above, they’re all going to know how you feel on the other side of the bathroom door, anyway.