by Marshall Goldsmith
As the author of best-selling “self-help” books, you might be surprised to find that I wholeheartedly believe that if you want to improve your performance at almost anything, your odds of success improve considerably the moment you enlist someone else to help you!
Some of us practice this instinctively. We enlist a friend to join us for yoga class or commit to training for a marathon with a group. We enjoy the companionship and support, and knowing we’re answerable to someone else is motivating. The small obligation to someone else keeps us focused. And, the longer we stick with it and the nearer we get to the finish line, the closer the bond between the two of us. At some point, we reach a point where we don’t want to disappoint a friend or don’t want to be the first to give up. Pairing up provides us with a discipline that we cannot summon as readily working solo.
This “power of two” thinking works well for overt personal objectives, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, or athletic training, where we’re relying more on moral support rather than instructive coaching, to reach a clearly marked finish line.
However, enlisting someone else to help us isn’t our first impulse when we dive into a self-improvement campaign in our professional lives. Whether it’s upgrading the quality of our customer base, landing a big promotion, or executing a career U-turn, our initial impulse is to do it on our own. After all, it’s our goal, our effort, our accomplishment, and our payoff if we succeed. How can we share the burden—and glory—with someone else?
Part of why we don’t ask for help is ego. It’s the reason some people can’t ask for directions when they’re lost. We can’t admit that we need help. We can’t admit that someone else might know more than we do about how we can change for the better. We believe any achievement of ours is somehow diminished if we don’t do it entirely by ourselves. If there’s credit to be had, we want to do it ourselves.
And another big part of why we don’t ask for help is psychic self-preservation on our part; if we fall short of our goal, we want to contain the failure to a circle of one: ourselves. If no one knows what we’re striving for, then no one can criticize us for faltering. We don’t want to feel the shame of asking for help and not achieving our goal, so we don’t ask for help at all.
Shame of not being good enough, of not being “perfect” is a hugely discouraging trigger when it comes to asking for help and as a result many people just don’t do it at all. They don’t get better, they don’t change, and they don’t become the person they want to be. This is the ultimate hazard of not asking for help.
So, now it’s your turn. As you finish reading this blog, think about one thing, one behavior, one change you’d like to make. Who could you ask for help with this making this change? It could be a big change, it could be a small one. Now do it. Ask for help and commit to making the change. You’ll be glad you did!