The Science Behind Getting What You Want

There is a myth that people have a natural inclination to say "no" when you ask for something. The reality is the opposite; I've found that most individuals want to help.
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Just ask.

"Most people don't get those experiences because they never ask. I've never found anybody that didn't want to help me if I asked them for help." - Steve Jobs

If you want something, just ask for it. This small mantra has changed me from an introverted college student to one of the founders of the Charlie App, a mobile application that helps you build deeper relationships by arming you with insights on your connections.

Using this mantra, my close friend Micha Weinblatt at Betterific, a social network for amazing ideas, convinced an A-list celebrity to beta test his startup just two months into his startup's lift. What was his secret, magical way of getting an A-lister to become a beta tester? Micha explains, "Oh, we just emailed him and asked if he wanted to beta test."

So if it's so simple, what stops us from asking? While the concept is basic, the execution is often hindered by misconceptions.

The Big Myth

There is a myth that people have a natural inclination to say "no" when you ask for something. The reality is the opposite; I've found that most individuals want to help.

When I started Charlie, I found myself resisting the urge to reach out to potential mentors, investors, and customers because of the fear that any request would be met with "no." When I finally gave in and started asking, I was pleasantly surprised that most of these early connections ended up not only saying "yes," but also becoming some of my biggest supporters. Today, I find most people to be incredibly receptive when I reach out, but research shows that many people mentally trick themselves into thinking this is a lot more difficult than it is.

This research, from Columbia University, observed individual's thoughts as they asked for a favor. The research concluded that people underestimate the likelihood that others will help when they are asked to by 50 percent. As a result, we often end up not bothering to ask. This primarily stems from two worries:

  1. We feel as if we are placing a burden on the other person. The reality is that people really enjoy helping, so much so that people usually get a "Helper's High" from it.
  2. We fear rejection. In actuality, the social norm is for someone to help when asked.

1. The Helper's High

Alan Luks, a professor at Fordham University, found that people experience a "Helper's High" after they provide assistance. This high, similar to a runner's high, causes our bodies to flood the brain with endorphins, the brain chemicals that reduce pain and increase euphoria.

Beyond being a reason for the "just ask" mantra, this "helper's high" is also one of the reasons I recently made it a goal to accept people's favors. In the past, I found myself turning down favors because I hated feeling that I was making people do extra work and I did not want to take advantage of their politeness. Now, I know that by letting them help, and thanking them, we will both be a lot happier.

The irony is that, although the helper's high drives many people to assist others, there are still many individuals who simply won't ask due to a fear that they will be refused.

2. We fear that people will reject us

The second worry that stops us from asking is the fear that people will say "no" to our request. One way to overcome the fear of rejection is simply to delegitimize the negative outcome. Specifically, I try to pinpoint my worry, and then prove that it is not likely to happen. In my experience at Charlie requesting for introductions to potential customers, I've found that most people will simply say "yes" to helping, no matter how busy they are. And I'm not alone. Columbia University research shows that it is often much easier to say "yes, I will help" primarily due to the social norms instilled within us.

So ask for it -- no matter if you want something small or big, just ask. Make asking your default response, instead of keeping a desire inside yourself. It's too often that we hold ourselves back.

However, making this your default response is not as easy as flipping a switch. First, you need to become aware of when you want something.

Awareness is Key

Even when my good friend Kwadwo Owusu-Ofori, whom I met in the Kauffman Foundation's Entrepreneurship Fellowship, told me about his "just ask" mantra, I wasn't able to begin right away. I needed to become more aware of what I wanted. It is natural for us to unconsciously dismiss many of our wants. To get over this we need to actively become conscious of when we want something. I achieve this by jotting down a mental note any time I want something, and then I just ask for it.

Ask for that big cup of water instead of the dinky paper cup at a restaurant; ask for your dream celebrity to beta test; ask for help landing the job of your dreams.

Just ask and don't look back -- no matter what happens. And please email me your experiences with "just asking," or ask me for any advice. I am happy to help. My email is aaron [at]


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