The Magic of Asking for Help

I just did something embarrassing. I’ve been fiddling about for a day or so trying to figure out how to set up an app which for some reason didn’t seem to offer me any way to tell it I had a paid up subscription. It just kept telling me that my trial had expired. Very frustrating.

So, finally, I relented and sent off an email asking for help. Then, literally 30 seconds later, I figured out what I needed to do. My problem was solved before the email had collected even a pixel of digital dust. If ink could be wet in cyberspace, then mine still was.

I felt silly. And then I felt curious. Why was it that I had struggled for so long and then the moment I had given up the answer came to me. Was this the universe playing silly buggers with me or was this something more?

Casting my mind back I can think of other examples of these moments in my life. Calling out to my wife to ask how to do something and then finding that the solution revealed itself almost at once. Calling a helpline to find that I’d solved my dilemma while still on hold.

And then it hit me. Problem solving requires a wide focus. When we feel under pressure we tend to get narrow in our focus – seeing only the items we expect to see, those right under our noses, going around and around in circles, blind to the alternatives around us.

Consider the behaviour of people when they’re panicking – head down, oblivious to anything around them. Similar behaviour can be seen in people trying to achieve some large, extrinsic reward; a sort of attentional blindness driven by stress and pressure.

This, I think, is part of my answer. By asking for help I reduced the pressure on myself. I let my brain off the hook. But there was another side to; this was the first time I had stated my problem clearly. By writing down what I was struggling with I provided new clues to my brain.

By asking for help in this way I both increased my capacity to think clearly and provided myself with new information with which to work.

Maybe asking for help is the simplest form of self help there is.

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