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How to Ask for Help—and Why You Should

Helping others is a win-win for you and your helper. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

Asking for help

The writer Anne Lamott has famously said that there are three essential prayers: “Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.”

Lamott has referred to the first one—“Help”—as “the hardest prayer.”

For one thing, she said, “you have to admit defeat—you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.” And a compounded challenge is that most people ask (or pray) for help with fear that there is no one on the other end to respond, to listen, or to provide support.

A new research study puts some numbers to this latter issue. Among the more than 2,100 participants in a series of six small experiments, those who needed help consistently underestimated the willingness of others to be helpers, in tasks ranging from a simple tutorial on how to use a parking meter to more emotionally hefty support like helping a friend cope with a toxic relationship.

The researchers called this phenomenon “miscalibrated expectations” that led participants to fearfully assume those around them are unable or unwilling to step into a call for help.

The “mis” in “miscalibrated” comes from the fact that most people are more than willing to help when asked. So now all you have to do is ask.


Be S-M-A-R-T, Wayne Baker, a University of Michigan business professor and author of All You Have to Do Is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success, recently told The New York Times.

Baker’s acronym means that request for help should be:

Meaningful (or clear to everyone involved)

When you approach others with specific, achievable requests, you get the benefit of feeling supported and working through challenges in your life. You also give the helpers the benefit of feeling purposeful and needed in your life. Follow this win-win with an expression of gratitude (see also: Anne Lamott’s number two “Thanks” prayer), and you’ll be investing your energy in cycles of positivity, kindness, and love.

When is the last time you asked for help?

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