“Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” -H. Jackson Browne
I talk to clients every day who want something from someone else, but they aren’t asking for it. They are living in a limbo of sorts…wanting, craving, hoping, but not doing anything about it.
They might want their partner to stop bringing the Kindle to bed every night. Or they want their boss to let them work from home a couple days a week. Or they want their dad to call before stopping by.
But they haven’t asked for it.
As I see it, there are three primary reasons we don’t ask for what we really want, even when asking might very well mean we get it.
1. The 14th and 15th letters of the English alphabet.
Those two, innocent, meaningless little letters are scare-y. They stop us in our tracks.
Funny, isn’t it? Letters aren’t real. They are nonphysical constructs that can’t possibly hurt us. But we use them to hurt ourselves.
Cute little N and O are innocent symbols that we imbue will all kinds of arbitrary meaning. What will it mean if they say no? How will we feel if they say no?
If we didn’t have a story about what hearing N.O. would mean, and if we didn’t decide that we’d have to be upset upon hearing N.O., they’d just be two little letters. But it’s never that easy, is it?
We have stories upon stories about N.O. That two-letter word gets buried under layers of subjective meaning that lead us away from asking for what we want.
2. We’re invested in the drama of wanting, craving, and hoping.
Yes, this the dirty little secret that often keeps us stuck, unwilling to ask for what we want: There is a payoff for us in things being exactly as they are.
Let me tell you about Nicole. Nicole was a storyteller to the max. She was one of those people everyone flocked to: outgoing, talkative, lively and entertaining. She also always had some new drama to share. Like when her roommate was eating her food and wearing her clothes without permission. At first, everyone was excited to hear the latest twist and turn in the roommate spectacles. But after a while people began to say wait a minute, why is she still living there? Why haven’t you kicked her out yet?
Whether she fully understood it herself or not, Nicole didn’t oust her roommate because she was getting a ton of mileage out of the story. The payoffs—attention, laughs, something to talk about—outweighed the costs of cohabitating with a crazy lady.
The payoffs aren’t always attention and a good story. Sometimes they are comfort, money, security, staying small…If you aren’t asking for what you want, it makes sense to examine what the payoffs might be for you.
3. We think we know the outcome.
A third reason we don’t ask for what we want is because we’re stuck in their business.
We are up in our own heads making assumptions about what they will or will not grant us. We say things like “If I ask him not to bring the Kindle to bed he’ll think I’m being too needy”. Or “My boss will never go for me working from home”, or “My dad will be offended and quit coming over altogether if I request that he call first”.
But those issues are not your business. Your job is to ask for what you want; their job is to hear that however they hear that. Period.
We are so busy making assumptions about what they will say or what they will think that we don’t give them the chance to say or think anything. We scrap the whole idea because we think we already know the outcome.
If you really look at, what this boils down to is a fear of hearing No, right? The motivation behind trying to predict their response and micro-manage their reaction is so that we can avoid those two little letters.
So in sum, there are two primary reasons we don’t ask for what we want. We’re afraid of hearing No, and there is a payoff in being exactly where we are. We also avoid asking for what we want because we assume we already know the answer. But that’s just a fear of hearing No masked as something else.
Now that you know, you can re-evaluate. If you want, crave, or hope for something that you’re not asking for, why aren’t you asking? Does your failure to ask fall into one of these camps?
If so, now you have something concrete to work with.
Is hearing No really as bad as you’ve made it out to be? Are the payoffs in staying stuck really as great as you’re telling yourself they are?
Ask yourself these questions. Then you might feel more empowered to take the leap and ask them for what you want. You never know…when you finally ask, you just might get it.
Dr. Amy Johnson has a new book out! Check out Modern Enlightenment: Psychological, Spiritual, and Practical Ideas for a Better Life.