One of the only rules that we institute at Supercoach Academy is the “No Helping” rule – an agreement that as best people can, they avoid rescuing, advice giving, saving, or otherwise helping their fellow coaches and students during the training sessions. The reason for this rule is that the ways most of us have learned to “help” do more to keep people stuck than set them free.
Here are a couple of ways of looking at the difference between “helping” and being of service that you may find useful as you explore this distinction in your own family, life, and work…
1. The problem with advice
It may seem somewhat ironic that after 10 years, 750 tips, 3 books, and 5+ years of radio shows I am writing today about the perils of advice giving. And yet over that time I have studiously avoided giving any sort of behavioral advice beyond the suggestion of specific experiments designed to give people the opportunity to experience the consequences of particular patterns of thinking, being, and doing.
Here’s how I explain the problem with advice in You Can Have What You Want
|I’d like you to put the book down and swap shoes with the person nearest you. Now, if you’re in the bath, or reading this all alone in the middle of nowhere, I understand that might be a little bit difficult. But, otherwise, go for it. Take off your shoes, go up to the person nearest you and ask them to swap.Done?OK, let’s talk about it.
Nobody questions the fact that our feet are different from other people’s feet. Different size, different shape, different appearance. There may be people you know with similar feet, but no one with identical ones to yours. And the reason you almost certainly didn’t do what I just asked you to do (and if you did, for goodness sake swap back!) is because you understood immediately that it was ridiculous.
The chances of someone else’s shoes fitting your style and taste (or, more importantly, your feet) were as slim as a pair of single E loafers. Yet to them, their shoes might be the most wonderful shoes in the world – comfortable, practical, attractive, and with great memories attached as well.
What’s less obvious to most of us is that the same principle holds true of our beliefs and practices in the world. Setting goals, meditating for thirty minutes twice a day, doing the latest diet, or practicing yoga might be as painful, uncomfortable and inappropriate for you as trying to squeeze into your favorite movie star’s underwear – but you might still try to do it because it looks so good on them!
Many of the problems we have in our lives stem from trying to fit in with (or rebel against) the best advice of our parents, teachers, friends, and society. Adding more noise to that system (by giving people advice) simply makes it harder to access our common sense and hear the still small voice of the wisdom within. And it is common sense and wisdom that will guide us to the unfolding of our own best life.
The funny thing about most advice is that if we were a bit quieter in our own minds, we would never even think to take it. In the past few weeks, I have heard radio and television experts tell me that “smoking is bad for you”, “you can avoid debt by not spending what you don’t have”, and “if you want to lose weight, try eating less”. Advice like this is always obvious to us with hindsight, yet we are blinded to our own common sense in the first place by the plethora of advice and “strategies for success” that fill the marketplace.
(For a comic example of the problem with advice, click here.)
2. Help vs. Assistance
When I first participated in Bill Cumming’s amazing What One Person Can Do 12 week experience, one of the distinctions which really struck me was the one between “helping” and “assisting”. When we “help” someone, we are generally working from the assumption that the person in question will be unable to resolve their situation without our intervention. The ownership of the solution of the problem is taken by us, even if we try to “only help those who help themselves”.
On the other hand, when we make ourselves available to assist another person, they continue to own the project, goal, or problem – we simply make ourselves available as an additional resource they can make use of along the way.
Rather than enlisting the Word Police and replacing the word “help” with the word “assist”, we can be of tremendous service to others by NOT trying to take over their lives and sort out their problems for them. When people recognize that the possibility of taking responsibility for their lives is available to them in any moment, they also begin to discover the tremendous capacity that exists inside all of us to improve the quality of our circumstances and our lives.
This is not to say that if someone is drowning, you need to wait until they take responsibility for their situation before helping them out. But the truth is, most people aren’t drowning – we jump in and rescue them the moment they start splashing about, and sometimes the moment they’ve first dipped a toe in some unfamiliar water. This is the kind of “help” that limits learning, slows growth, and prevents discovery, insight, and transformation.
(For a more visual look at this distinction, watch this short YouTube video.)
So how do we serve without “helping”? There are as many answers as there are opportunities to serve, but one of the best ways I know is to provide an open, loving, non-judgmental space for someone’s thinking to settle and their common sense and wisdom to come through. In my experience, when people take the time to just sit with a goal, problem, or project, the answer or next step will arrive via their own insight.
This is different to what goes on in classical Freudian or Psychodynamic therapy. “It’s because my mother didn’t breast feed me” is an explanation, not an insight. These kinds of theoretical external causes for internal experiences can be helpful, but mostly by providing relief from the stress of continually questioning “what’s wrong with me?” and “is it my fault?”. With rare exceptions, they do little to actually transform the thinking that’s creating the problem in the first place.
An insight – literally a sight from within – is transformative. Unlike explanations, which are invariably personal, insights are often impersonal. Rather than advise us of what specifically we should do about a particular circumstance, they give us a greater understanding of the nature of the human experience. And as we grow in understanding, what to do in any specific situation becomes increasingly obvious.
When we see a new possibility for our lives, what we see cannot be unseen and the world will never look the same to us. And if we are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the intelligence behind life or to see a spiritual truth, that truth will set us free…
Have fun, learn heaps, and may you live all the days of your life!