How to Not Try, and Actually Help People

It’s kinda cruel, how we’re wired.

The more someone else struggles or suffers, the more we feel it and the more we want to help them, make things right – but in far too many cases, we get the opposite result… and it’s only down to trying too hard.

For example, you’ll know that I’m very hot on meditation. It’s a wonderful thing, I’ve done it for 25 years, it’s done me tons of good, has scientific backup as to positive effects…

And yet, you rarely hear me talking about it here, or in general.

Until someone asks me – then I’ll talk for hours. But until that moment? Probably not the best time, yet.

But if I know how good it is… shouldn’t I promote it more? Be vocal about it, recommend and urge and suggest?

Well, no. Because that would mean ‘trying hard’, and the problem is that today you might be swayed by my recommendation, and try it, and because the choice was made because of my clever pitch and not your own inner pull, you’ll likely find it a disheartening experience and give up. Trust me, I’ve seen this hundreds of times since I started, 2,5 decades ago.

And then you might consider yourself ‘not fit for meditation’ or vice versa, and never get back to it. Or maybe you’ll try again in a decade or two, which is a long time to not meditate.

So by trying too hard, I would risk putting you off your own course. Much better to help those who want change, or meditation, or growth or whatever, and who want to start it now.

Self-motivated, self-inspired. It’s the best way for anyone to step into change, and the best way to help with that is by helping the other find their own solution, and not imposing our own good ideas on anything or anyone.

Now back to opening lines: the more we care about someone, and the more we hurt seeing their struggle, the more important it is to give the other space for wanting change or help, instead of proffering our help and suggestions before that person is ready.

It goes completely against our mind’s direction, because we know – our minds know – that we can help, that there’s a solution, that if only they’d listen…

But the mind will have to suck it up, because the more we try, the more wrong it is in its conviction.

Go ahead and try, helping someone who isn’t ready yet… has it ever worked? Most likely, you ran into resistance and objections, and the other person’s process didn’t speed up, no matter how hard you tried. Could even be that things stalled or slowed down, or maybe the conversation got difficult… or maybe you’ve been on the other side, where someone just wouldn’t stop trying to fix things for you and didn’t give you space to even think. All because of ‘trying too hard’.

Pay attention to the gut-wrenching feelings of grief and compassion and pity at seeing another person’s struggle, and when you notice them: check yourself.

Be available, ready, present, but be careful not to hamper the other’s process by inadvertently getting in the way.

If you really want to help, create a space and a conversation that enables the other person to seek and find their own inner pull, and avoid trying too hard to help.

Which, incidentally, applies to all kinds of relationships and conversations: spouses, children, vendors, team members, clients and prospects.

No matter who it is: the harder we try to help, the easier it is to help less. But now you know what to look out for…

Cheers,

Martin


Also published on Medium.

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