Why you need to ask for what you need

Updated to Habits, Life on January 23, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

Do you ask for what you need? I mean really ask – even when it’s uncomfortable. I’m discovering a whole new world of results (and honesty), just by asking.

It’s a funny thing, asking. On one hand it’s so simple and obvious: if I need help I should ask for it. Right? 

But, do you?

There’s a certain pride that goes along with knowing. In our information age, the person that knows things is more valued. In a massive study of leaders and co-workers, Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan found that leaders who ask, listen, learn, and follow up are consistently more effective. Leaders who don’t ask don’t get much better. 


For the last month I have been wearing my selling hat. Our new SOS (Social Outlook Solutions) social media marketing program is open for business and it’s been selling like hot cakes. It’s the perfect solution for a busy person who wants to use their great content (like a blog or videos) to drive more traffic to their site.

After fumbling my way through a few early sales calls (people book a time to learn about the program), I got smart. I decided if I was going to be doing dozens of these calls I should have a template. 

And because the call was going to end up being about the sale, why not start by asking for it? 

It now sounds something like this: “First I’ll ask you about your business and your goals. Then I’ll tell you about SOS and how it works. And finally, we’ll see if SOS is a fit for you. How does that sound?” Everyone says “Yes”.

Done. Now they know what’s coming and I can relax and do my job. Considering we are closing 80% of the time, I think it’s working!


There’s lots of situations where asking for what you need it a good idea. Here are some:

  • rebook a meeting. Your kids just called and need to be picked up. What’s more important: the 3:30 client appointment or proving family comes first? Your client will understand – ask.
  • get a discount. You want the new car, shoes, or flat screen TV. If you think there’s a good reason you should pay less, ask for it. When I’m traveling on my tab (I’ll even do this when my clients are footing the bill) I ask for a break on the standard hotel room rate.  It’s rare I don’t get a reduced rate, or, at the very least, an upgrade.
  • enjoy time alone. Wishing other people guess what you need will make you frustrated and them confused. If you need time to focus, make calls, plan, complete a project, whatever, ask for it. You might be surprised how generous and accommodating people can be. Read “You have what you need” to learn how I make changes in my life).
  • have time together. Are conversations at home are mostly about the dog, house, kids, and who didn’t change the toilet paper roll? Ask for time with your honey (hell, ask for sex too, if that box hasn’t been checked in a while). The last two months have been unusually busy with both daughters working at new jobs and home renovations (and all the decisions that come with that). So, twice Kirsten and I escaped for a dinner out at our local sushi place. The 15 minute walk there, finally having time to just talk, might have been the best part of the evening.
  • get help. Pride is one value – honesty is better. If your To-Do list is too long, and you feel pressured, ask for help. Even if you don’t get an immediate solution, people who care about you now know what you need. See 4 secrets to conquering your fear and winning any conversation”)

This week I asked a very special person to stay in my life (that saga might have to be a separate blog post). The results could have easily gone either way. And all I could do was ask for what I need. I did and they said “Yes”.

You deserve what you need. Now, take a deep breath, pull up your big girl pants and go ask for it.

What are YOU going to ask for? I want to know. Fill in the comment below (I’ll write back).