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Sometimes refusing to help is the best approach

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Sometimes refusing to help is the best approach

Scott Miker

Helping others is something that is ingrained in most of us.  The positive feelings we receive from helping somebody else is natural, but sometimes helping can actually be destructive. 

“No one saves us but ourselves.  No one can and no one may.  We ourselves must walk the path” – Buddha

The truth is that we can’t simply go through life expecting others to constantly help us.  We have to become independent in order to be strong and we have to make mistakes in order to learn. 

Now that I am a father and I have a two-and-a-half year old at home, I find myself right in the middle of the spectrum of helping or not helping.  There are times when I help her or do it for her and she starts screaming that she wants to do it.  Whether it is getting her into her car seat or getting her dressed in the morning, she wants to start taking over various tasks. 

When she first started trying to take over the tasks, my wife and I were a little surprised.  She wanted to get herself dressed but we both knew she couldn’t.  She would try and then get frustrated and ask for help.  My immediate reaction was to say; “you know it would be easier if you just let me do it.”

But the first time she completed a task (such as put her pajamas on) I was very surprised.  It happened sooner than I anticipated.  I thought for a moment about the learning process and realized that I need to give her space in order to learn.  She has to bump her knee every now and then to walk and she has to get tangled in her shirt in order to finally learn how to get her arms through the armholes. 

I remember when I was going to college hearing all sorts of advice.  People would tell me what I should major in, what activities I should do, and how I should behave.  Despite the help that was offered I usually ignored their advice and did my own things. 

Years later I recall thinking back on some advice my father game me before going away to college.  He made a recommendation of what to study and a great justification for it.  I ignored his advice, thinking I knew better.  But looking back I realize how great that advice was and how much struggle I would have avoided if I had taken his advice seriously. 

Learning from others is a skill set that is hard to master.  The reason we need to let others make mistakes is because that is how most of us will learn.  It is rare to be able to learn from others without having to experience the mistakes yourself. 

“To help yourself, you must be yourself.  Be the best that you can be.  When you make a mistake, learn from it, pick yourself up and move on.” – Dave Pelzer

There are two things that I have learned when it comes to helping myself.  First, take the advice of others and find the wisdom.  There is insight there that may just help you avoid making a very costly mistake.  Don’t assume you know more than they do. 

Second, when you do make mistakes, learn from them.  Find ways to change up your systems and habits in order to improve so that you don’t keep making the same mistake over and over.  Mistakes happen so you have to be able to persevere and move forward while making sure you don’t continue to stumble on the same problems.

But offering help also comes with some hesitation.  Yes it is incredible to help others.  But we have to learn when we need to step back and let them make their own mistakes.  They have to learn from their mistakes and we can’t do the hard part for them.  Being patient and providing support is a great tactic that avoids the “I told you so” reaction that many have when their valuable advice is ignored to the detriment of the individual. 

Whatever you are facing or whoever you are helping learn to respect the balance between helping and allowing.  There isn’t a hard and fast rule and only experience will help you to find the proper balance for your situation. 

“We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.” – Galileo Galilei