At the drugstore one night a few months ago, I ran into a man I knew from my neighborhood. When he mentioned in passing that he was looking for a personal trainer, I had to restrain myself from jumping up and down in aisle nine. My good friend, a personal trainer, had been waiting tables for months because she couldn't find work in her field.

I rushed home with a familiar flutter of excitement, and wrote an e-mail introducing my friend to her newest client: "You two will work beautifully together!" I promised.

Without explanation, my friend never followed up.

Three weeks and two unanswered text messages later, I called her and got no response. Then I stared at my silent phone as if it had betrayed me. To my alarm, I found myself gulping back tears. That's when I had to admit that I suffered from a ludicrous disease: chronic helping tic. No, it's not an official psychological affliction, but it should be.

I inherited CHT from my mother. My sister might have a touch of it, too. Honestly, so do at least half the women I know.

Symptoms include doling out unsolicited advice, playing matchmaker, doing other people's networking for them, and approaching strangers to whisper, "Your bra strap's showing."

But over the course of my 31 years, I'd learned the hard way that my gratuitous guidance—no matter how well intentioned—could be misconstrued as, well, annoying. I'd also learned that when my assistance wasn't met with the response I craved—a balloon bouquet, a parade in my honor, or at least a thank-you note—it hurt.

I decided that the time had come to cure my CHT—not by helping less, but by becoming more mindfully helpful. I would train myself to think before offering aid, and to provide it only when people really wanted it.

I devised a challenge: For 30 days, unless I was asked directly (or witnessed someone choking), I would keep my helpfulness to myself.

Next: Breaking the habit


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