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075: How to Ask for Help (According to Science)

🖼 Scotch & Bean 030 - Monkey Mind + 👉 Musings & Perspectives (newsletter)

Jason Shen
Jason Shen
6 min read
075: How to Ask for Help (According to Science)

This the 75th edition of Cultivating Resilience, a weekly newsletter how we build, adapt, and lead in times of change—brought to you by Jason Shen, a PM, resilience coach, 1st gen immigrant, ex-gymnast, and 3x startup founder.

Hey friends—I’ve been experimenting with taking Friday’s off every couple of weeks to give myself a four work-week. If you have “unlimited” vacation or generous PTO I highly recommend giving this a shot. I use the Fridays to decompress, run errands, take calls, and do some side project work so that my weekends are truly more relaxing. Hope your weekend is a good one.


PS: Is there a way to make a full-time salary without working full-time? My answer

🧠 How to Ask for Help (According to Science)

I recently listened to a podcast featuring Columbia professor Heidi Grant, author of Reinforcements - How to Get People to Help You. Grant’s previously written about

Rejection activates the same part of the brain as physical pain.

So if I drop a hammer on my toe, there's a part of my brain that's registering that it was my toe that I just dropped it on and not get up, not my, not my hands or my knee, but there's another part of the brain for brain nerves called the dorsal anterior singular cortex, and it processes the experience of pain when people experience exclusion.

Apparently teens who take Tylenol every day for 2 weeks also reported feeling less pain of social stigma. Not saying that's a good idea but it underscores the similar pathways.

We underestimate how much people are willing to help.

But the transformation that people come into these studies—they absolutely hate it when they find out what they're going to be asked to do. And then they do it and they leave with this wonderful rosy glow from realizing that people are really nice and actually much more helpful than they thought they were going to be in.

In this particular experiment participants had to ask strangers to fill out a form. They estimated that only 25% of people who stop and help, but closer to 50 or 60% did (more than 2x).

Don't offer an exchange or immediate repayment when asking for help as that can make it feel like a transaction.

You can actually damage someone's intrinsic motivation by offering rewards or exchange. And this is what's basically happening with helping. When I offer you a reward for helping me, I'm changing the nature of your motivation in such a way that now it's not because you just want to, and it turns out when it comes to helping, that really matters because it's that feeling of I'm doing this because I want to, that leads helping to be such a rewarding thing for people to do.

I have to remember this one myself because I often want to "repay their kindness" somehow when someone helps me out, but it needs to not feel like an exchange.

Asking for help is also important because people often don't want to step in without being asked specifically.

People often feel very reluctant to offer help when it hasn't been asked for, because they don't want to offend you. I mean, if you've ever seen someone get a little testy, when you offer them help that they didn't actually need or want, right. Because they wanted to do whatever it was they wanted to do with themselves. That's a very real. We need to also make sure that the person who you want to help you understand that they specifically are the ones that you want help from.

This makes a ton of sense. Someone recently at worked asked me for help and I was glad to talk with them. I could sense that they might be struggling but didn't necessarily want to offer help presumptuously.