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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Helping others is a win-win

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

holding hands to give help to a hiker

Looking for a proven method for self-improvement?

Here it is: Engage in helping others improve by sharing your knowledge, wisdom, and experience.

Why? Because... Helping others improve helps us in several key ways:

Our learning is enhanced.

First, we learn more when we are teaching others, whether it involves sharing knowledge or demonstrating a skill. Teaching requires greater cognitive and emotional investment than learning.

When we teach, knowledge and application of knowledge become more deeply embedded in our memory. When you learn something, teach it to someone else and in turn, learn it better, deeper, and more permanently.

Reflection promotes wisdom.

Secondly, sharing our experiences and knowledge with others causes us to reflect on our own learning and wisdom. Putting these thoughts and emotions into words helps us to process what we know, believe, and feel. This is especially helpful when helping people going through hard times or challenging situations.

We develop empathy.

When we can draw upon our own experiences facing hardship and adversity, we are better equipped to truly help with compassion and empathy. Through the helping process, both the giver and the receiver benefit.

We become better at problem-solving.

Additionally, helping others solve problems or overcome challenges can help us practice problem-solving skills and adopt a problem-solving mindset.

It is often easier to help others process situations and recognize solutions because we can step back and take a more rational and less emotion-filled approach. We may also be more willing to suggest outside-the-box ideas that become creative solutions. Ultimately, we become better problem solvers.

Encouraging others encourages us.

Helping others meet their goals often inspires us to persevere in meeting our own. We are more likely to adopt a positive, can-do attitude and see the possibilities rather than the barriers. Encouragement is contagious.

Helping others is healthful.

In addition to these benefits, neuroscience has shown that helping and supporting others has positive physiological effects. Brain scans of people engaged in helping and supporting others show reduced stress-related activity and increased reward and caregiving-related activity.

Supportive behaviors activate the release of oxytocin which promotes bonding and trust and reduces negative emotions. (1,2)

Experts speculate that showing kindness and other prosocial behaviors encourage the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward. Research indicates both givers and receivers of help and support have beneficial physiological responses, with givers having the greatest reduction in stress. (1,2)

Helping others is purposeful.

Helping others enhances our well-being and gives us a heightened sense of meaning and purpose.

Helping others is considered especially beneficial for meeting several basic psychological needs: autonomy (self-direction), competence (feeling capable), and relatedness (enhancing connections and strengthening relationships). (3) Helping others is a win-win.

How can we help others?

In the realm of nutrition communication, I suggest participating in any one of the following activities. Note that these can be done formally or informally.

Some may be part of your job description and others may be done in an extra-curricular or volunteer capacity. My experiences with each and every one of these activities have been rewarding and enriching.

  • Mentoring – Find someone not as far along in their career, or still a student or intern, and be available to provide wisdom, encouragement, support, and a listening ear.

  • Teaching – Identify individuals or groups that could benefit from your knowledge or skills.

  • Accountability or Master Mind group – Participate in a group of peers with similar needs with all members filling the role of providing help and support.

  • Counseling – Help clients and patients assess, learn, problem-solve, determine an appropriate plan of action, and monitor and evaluate progress.

  • Coaching – Come alongside others to enable and promote goal setting and goal attainment.

In any of these roles, you may gain benefits that exceed what you give. Everyone wins. How could you support someone today?

“One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.”

~ Gordon B. Hinckley

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