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Ask For What You Need and Get What You Deserve

Keep this life hack in mind the next time an opportunity comes your way.

It’s the holiday season, and once all the gifts have been given and the eggnog drained, we’ll turn our attention to the new year — and to the new year’s resolutions we’ll be tempted to make. In the spirit of the season, I’ve been asked what general advice I would offer to anyone who wants to make 2018 a happier and more psychologically healthy year. It wasn’t hard to come up with an answer, because I say this to my patients all the time:

Ask for what you need. You won’t always get what you deserve, but you will often get what you ask for — even if you don’t think you deserve it.

Pixabay/ CC0 Creative Commons
Source: Pixabay/ CC0 Creative Commons

Far too often, people who aren’t fully sure of themselves end up turning away from important opportunities without giving them a realistic effort, or never try to make significant changes in their lives, because they can’t imagine a positive result. Young people don’t ask out the other men and women who catch their interest. Employees do not ask for raises, and shrug their shoulders uncomfortably at the thought of requesting a promotion. Opportunities drift by, unexplored by the people who wish such things would happen to them.

Yet these diffident souls could easily achieve more than they think. The problem is that they do not believe themselves capable of more; they do not think they deserve better. They don’t see themselves as smart enough or hardworking enough to merit a raise, or attractive enough to win over the object of their affections. They’re willing to accept being treated poorly because that’s the way they’ve been treated in the past. In situations like these — and almost all of us can find similar examples in our own lives — it’s not a question of whether we should have what we want; it's that it never even occurs to us to ask for it! Sometimes, we might not even see the possibility of improvement, because the assumptions we hold about ourselves are so predominant. Maybe the person you’re interested in will find you appealing, in ways that you wouldn't expect. Maybe your boss won’t give you a raise if you don’t ask, but if you do… who knows? For people who have trouble believing in themselves, it’s crucial to remember that this lack of confidence won’t necessarily stop them from getting what they want if they can step up and ask for it.

Another side of this issue isn’t just that so many under-confident people think they won’t win — it’s that they don’t know how they’d handle it if they did. If I did get the job, you may be thinking, I wouldn’t do it well, and I’d be humiliated. If I did go out with him, he wouldn’t like me, and I’d feel horrible. If I wore that outfit, or applied to that school, or tried out for that show… I’d be a failure. Fear of trying and failing is holding these people back. The difficulty people have in believing that they “deserve” to make positive changes like these often seems rooted more in a “what if” than in the real facts of the matter. They're making an implied trade: They allow opportunities to pass them by in exchange for a reasonably comfortable status quo. But these are feelings, not facts — and by “reasonably comfortable” I mean simply “known,” whereas the hypothetical future that might arrive after taking a chance is unknown and therefore anxiety-provoking. For these people, asking for what they need is akin to learning how to take appropriate risks, despite the anxiety they feel.

So then: Instead of coming up with reasons why you shouldn’t try to add something positive to your life in the new year, why not try harder to be assertive when a positive change is in the offing — even if you’re not sure you deserve it? And why not consider it an acceptable risk to put yourself in line for an opportunity, even if you’re not certain you can step up to the challenge? It’s important to realize that you can accomplish more than you think — you can open yourself up to more affection, take advantage of more opportunities, earn more consideration from other people, and score more professional achievements — if you simply embrace the possibility that you, too, should have your needs met, and then step up to assert yourself when the time is right.

More from Loren Soeiro, Ph.D. ABPP
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