Do you find yourself turning down help from a volunteer, a family member, or a friend? I’m not referring to hiring someone to work in your home or office. I’m talking about being quick to say, “No thank you, I appreciate your offer, but I’m fine,” only to find yourself wishing you had considered the person’s help. 

Understanding the reasons behind turning down help

Would it surprise you to learn that this is a common behavior? Why would someone choose turning down help over going out of their way to do things independently when they clearly could use some assistance? Here are some possible explanations for that:

  • Need to feel in control of your life.
  • Afraid of appearing weak in the eyes of others.
  • Not trusting that others will be able to help you.
  • Ashamed that you need help.
  • It’s a habit that you learned.

Finding a practical solution

It’s always nice to have insight about the things we say and do, but let’s face it, it can take years to learn about ourselves, not to mention the cost for such in-depth analysis. It’s just as effective to look at it as a habit, because that’s what it is, a habit. 

Before going any further, let’s define “habit.” A habit is a behavior, a response, or a routine (physical, mental, or emotional) that you do almost mindlessly and automatically, without having to think about it. That’s really what happens when you quickly say, “no thank you…” isn’t it? So if you treat it as a habit, you can start looking for various methods to deal with breaking habits.

A case study that might resonate with you

Paula’s husband was recently hospitalized for a serious condition. Paula was in the hospital day and night and had to find a way for someone to take care of her dogs. That was not a problem. She hired her pet sitter to take care of the dogs.

Coming home exhausted from the stress and spending time in the ICU, she longed for a hot meal, a bath, and bed. It wasn’t long before her friends and volunteers at her synagogue, people who are committed to helping fellow congregants when in need, found out that she needed help.  The calls started to come in but Paula said she was fine and didn’t need any assistance.

One day, a volunteer and friend said to Paula: “You’re always there to help others in need; how does it make you feel when you can help others?” Paula understood what her friend was trying to tell her. Of course, she felt good when she could help someone else. This was a huge trigger for Paula. She became aware that not only was she denying herself help that she needed badly, but she was also denying others the opportunity to be of help. 

Awareness is essential if you want to make changes in your life, but you still need to have an action plan for tackling the habit you want to change. Paula’s friend referred her to me for a habit consultation.

The Habit Consultation

The first thing we do together during a habit consultation is talk about YOU. What habits do you have that you are ready to change? How long you’ve had this habit and how important is it for you to get rid of it?

Next, we talk about the various models that exist for changing habits. We discuss their uniqueness and their commonalities. Most experts in the field of habit coaching will recommend that you change one small habit at a time. 

B. J. Fogg, PhD, is a behaviorist and the creator of the Tiny Habits Program. He states that there are three steps for behavior change:

  1. Get specific 
  2. Make it easy 
  3. Trigger the behavior

The typical example that he gives is creating the habit of dental flossing. To do that, he suggests that you place the dental floss right next to your toothbrush, thus  triggering the act of  flossing. The interesting part is that he suggests you only floss ONE tooth every day. As you get into the habit of flossing one tooth, it’s not long before you start flossing another tooth, and another one, until flossing your teeth becomes an automatic behavior, just like brushing your teeth. 

In Paula’s case, being aware of her behavior was enough for her to start accepting help in small increments. She realized that turning down help was not improving her situation. She paid attention to the next offer and allowed herself to accept it, one small bit of help at a time. 

Having an accountability partner is not always necessary but it is usually advisable and very effective. Paula could have chosen a number of different people to be her accountability partner. I was honored that she chose me. 


Creating habits that will enhance your life, to be more productive, healthier, and happier, can be challenging. Even more challenging is changing an old habit that is not serving you well. Sometimes, it’s an experience that turns us around or something that someone says that brings awareness of our automatic reactions. In Paula’s case, her friend helped make her aware of her behavior and was very instrumental in getting Paula to change her habit from saying “no” to saying “yes” when someone offered to help her at a time of need.  

Turning Down Help Can Be a Bad Habit
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