Every now and again, I get into a mental match with a particularly resistant and annoying help resister: me. I hear my own voice, talking either to myself or a frustrated friend: "I need to work out, but I can't exercise in the morning because I always get injured when I do. By noon it's too hot, and I hate exercising indoors. And at night I'm just exhausted." I can only imagine how frustrating this must be for my friends and family, given that it makes me want to knock myself unconscious with my own racket. Fortunately, the same approaches that work on others work splendidly when I'm the source of the problem.
The fastest way to bring change to a resistant situation is to accept it. Don't believe me? Try this: Think of a subject where you feel ambivalent (you want a baby but worry about your career; you're environmentally sensitive but can't imagine surrendering your Humvee; you're strictly vegan except that you so adore veal binges). Whatever your issue, write it down. Now, decide to do one thing or the other. Now! Right now!
You probably noticed that pressure spikes your anxiety, anger, rage, panic...in a word, your resistance. The best case is that it shoves you into quick decisions that don't really resolve your ambivalence. So let's try another approach. Let's say that for the next hour, you'll simply accept that you're not sure what to do. That's okay. Uncertainty won't kill you. For one hour, let it be.
If you do this mindfully, you'll feel a sense of relief, a space opening around the difficult issue. This enhances creativity—so, paradoxically, accepting indecisiveness actually frees your mind to devise effective solutions. That's where the other two strategies come in.
Perhaps you feel obligated to do something you deeply don't want to do, such as watching political debates or contacting your PTA group leader. You may be resisting all suggestions because what you really want to do is simply "leave it." Quit the hated job. Don't return the e-mail. Just say nothing.
This is a daring solution, but think: Is "leaving" the problem really scarier than coming up with reasons not to leave the problem? If your answer is "yes," you may have reached a true impasse. Strangely enough, it's when you feel really helpless that you must pick up your authority and "lead" the situation.
You not only can but must lead situations where you genuinely need help. No one except you can say exactly what's stopping you, exactly where you're blocked by confusion or ignorance. Take charge not by demanding and then ignoring the help that's offered but by figuring out as clearly as you can just what you need, then requesting assistance from people who, in your judgment, are likely to be able to provide it. Even if they can't help you, they can usually refer you to someone else who can.
When Margaret did this, she understood her real problem wasn't the logistical difficulty of returning to school but her own anxiety about doing something new. Once she admitted that, she chose the hero's solution: Feel the fear and do it anyway. Of course, she did need her family's assistance. She asked them if they'd share housework and driving. They exceeded her expectations, offering all sorts of suggestions, which Margaret gratefully accepted. Game, set, and match to Team Margaret.
If you follow the three Ls whenever you encounter help resistance, you'll find yourself playing a lot less verbal tennis. Excuse-making, whining, and pointless reiteration will disappear from your life. Not only will people who ask for help (but ignore it) cease seeking you out but you'll find yourself more capable of either peacefully accepting periods of indecision or getting the effective assistance that moves you forward quickly and decisively. All the energy that once went into complaining, suggesting, and complaining some more (back and forth and back and forth and back and frigging forth) will align to propel you toward adventures and achievements.
I'm absolutely sure you can do this—you with that clever mind, that resourceful nature, that winning smile. So get going, kiddo!
What's that? You're not sure of yourself? You have doubts? Things are more complicated than that?
Wow, I had no idea. I guess you're screwed. Have you seen my car keys?
More Martha Beck Advice
We Hear You!