‘I can do it myself’. How often do you say this to yourself, even when you feel like you’re drowning in the sheer volume of work and responsibilities? The ‘I can do it myself’ or ‘I have to be able to do this on top of it’ and ‘I don’t want to bother the other person with it’ are often heard statements in my coaching practice.

Setting Limits

I can do it myself, is not something of the last year where everyone had to keep more balls in the air than before. Working, teaching kids, playing sports at home and if possible keeping your relationship a little fun too. Not to mention the contact poverty with friends and family. We all took the course “how to become a jack-of-all-trades in 12 months” by necessity. Some have rolled through that with more success than others. Yet it is good for everyone to know where you set your boundaries and why you set them there. If you regularly threaten to drown in your work, it is definitely recommended that you read on.

Sense of Responsibility

Sometimes you go to extremes because you feel that this gives you control and independence. Sounds nice, but that’s where your pitfall immediately lies. Here’s what happens next:

You ignore your fatigue, always push the envelope and work until late. Usually later than you initially planned. Your to-do list is replenished with new tasks and seems to be getting longer rather than shorter despite all those extra hours. Your sense of responsibility tells you to keep going above all else, but really, the cake is a little bit finished. This is the time when you lose track and priorities become diffuse, suddenly everything seems important. And when everything is important, nothing is important anymore.

Being responsible does not mean showing that you can do everything (by yourself). Taking responsibility is about the behavior associated with your desired end result. In other words, if you have a clear understanding of what your desired end result will be, you can take stock of what part of it can and should be on your shoulders and for what part you need someone else. It is precisely in recognizing for which piece you need another to achieve your results that the behavioral component lies. After all, your behavior is determined by the norms and values you value. For example, asking for help may be seen by you as weak, irrelevant, stupid or whatever you come up with for it. Or are you afraid of the judgment the other person will have about it. Therefore, if these limiting beliefs keep you from asking for help, you’re on the hook for completing that entire to-do list yourself. You are back to exercising the control mechanism “I can do it myself, after all it is my responsibility to complete all these tasks”. So your behavior determines your end result.

In addition to wanting to exert control, the fear of vulnerability is a second reason for plodding on above all else and ignoring the signals that you are at your limit. Asking for help from others because things are getting too much for you for a moment requires that you dare to allow yourself to be vulnerable. So this is where the battle erupts between your desired end result and your own judgment of how to get there.

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
Winston Churchill

To exercise control is to let go

Back to that way too full agenda, long to-do list and the overtime you “voluntarily” work. The realization that standing up for yourself and asking for help means taking control of your results is an eye-opener for many of my coach clients. ‘But then I’m relinquishing control anyway’ and ‘then I’m not sure it’s happening’ are the most common comments. Correct, you never know for sure if something is happening until it has. There are several tools to monitor that, but about that another time. Without help, you won’t achieve your desired results anyway, you already saw that. By now, the number of open ends on your to-do list are legion. Everything became important, so nothing is important anymore. The very act of asking for help with the goal of achieving your results is exercising control. Control over your desired end result. That means letting go of how the other person carries out an assignment for you, but above all steering on the result of that execution.

The bonus of asking for help

The good news is that there is a bonus to asking for help. Despite the limiting thoughts that accompany asking for help, it turns out that by asking for help besides yourself, you are doing others a great favor. In fact, helping someone else gives us a feeling of happiness, we also call this the “helper’s high. Asking and offering help is actually mutually beneficial: I am doing myself a favor by doing others a favor. Read that sentence again: I am doing myself a favor by doing others a favor.

In other words, by asking someone else for help I am doing myself a favor, my to-do list is shrinking and there is some air in my calendar again. That makes me a happier person. In addition, I am doing the other person a favor by enlisting their help and/or expertise. People like it when they are needed and can be of significance. Do pay attention to how you ask another for help.

A study from Emory University (Atlanta USA) found that the thought of helping others activated the same part of the brain as the thought of receiving rewards or experiencing pleasure. Research shows that it also increases the likelihood of feelings of happiness by 42%. Best a nice bonus when asking for help I would say!

Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask.
Ziad K. Abdelnour / American banker and financier

3 tips for actually asking for help

When you stand up for yourself and ask for support, you are practicing self-love. May sound floaty, it is anything but. If you care enough about yourself to seek help when you need it, you are taking care of yourself. Only when you take good care of yourself are you truly able to take good care of another. With the benefit of significantly increasing the happiness of you and the other person, the helpers high is not so crazy.

#1 Stop asking if you “deserve” to get help

One reason you may not ask for help is because you feel you don’t deserve it. You think you are not worthy of help or affection. Everyone deserves to claim a life where you feel heard, respected and loved. You don’t have to earn that by first doing something else for someone else. This is not about exchanging, but about giving. Ask for what you need.

#2 Create and respect your boundaries

Boundaries are the reflection of your (core) values and priorities. That means identifying your priorities and core values. In fact, they determine the choices you make and with them the limits to where you want to go and where no further. For example, if friends and family are very important to you, but you are the last one to turn off the lights at the office every night, your priorities and behaviors are out of sync.

Setting boundaries is not something you do just for others so they don’t cross them. First of all, it is important that you set them for yourself to stick to and give direction to life as you wish to live it.

# 3 Be precise when communicating your needs

Clarity in what you need from another gives the other the maximum input to say yes or no to your request. Vagueness like “if you have time, would you…” or “if it’s not too much trouble…” doesn’t work. All you are communicating by doing this is that your needs are secondary to the time and effort another person is willing to give you. Stand up for yourself, you are worth it!

So asking for help to get your overcrowded schedule and overtime in check produces a “helpers high” in both yourself and others. With the people to whom you put the request for help, you also end up building a powerful support system. You give, take and share with each other, creating beautiful partnerships and relationships. Perhaps worth considering asking for help more often?

Want to know more or discuss your own situation? Feel free to call at +316 144 911 92 0f email at contact@leadershipsolutions.nl

Angelien Landstra is an executive coach & trainer at Leadership Solutions. Has over 20 years of practical experience in individual and team coaching and over 10,000 coaching hours to her credit.

Want to know more about personal leadership? Watch: The Leader in You!