"Encouragement to others is something everyone can give. Somebody needs what you have to give. It may not be your money; it may be your time. It may be your listening ear. It may be your arms to encourage. It may be your smile to uplift. Who knows?" — Joel Osteen
Positive people are resilient people, and the most resilient people are those who develop high value relationships. If you or someone you know needs more positivity then take action today by starting a conversation with me.
We’ve all met people in our lives who like to tear down more than they build up; people who seem to take great joy in smashing the dreams of others. For every window of opportunity they come across, they are the first one's to quickly close it. For every idea for growth, they have a list of excuses for why things should stay just as they are. And for everything that is right with your life, they a have a lengthy list of what’s wrong with you, as though they are themselves pictures of perfection perched on a pedestal.
Bearing in mind that the average person isn’t as good or as bad as they think, these exaggerated displays of holier-than-thou attitudes and constant overly critical behaviors may be a sign that the person in question has their own problems to contend with (whether they’re suffering from a personality disorder, they’re practicing projection to make themselves feel better, or they’re just generally a jerk).
Regardless of the cause, if we find ourselves surrounded by people who take Mark Twain’s suggestion to heart—“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits”—then it’s perhaps a sign that it’s time to find more encouraging companions. In a similar way, if for too many days or weeks or months (or years or decades) in a row you find yourself exhibiting these negative attitudes and behaviors too, then putting in some deliberate effort to move the needle in the other direction may be a good idea.
The world doesn't need any more Negative Nancys and Frustrated Freds. Rather, what the world needs is for people like you and I to truly come alive by steering clear (or at least limiting the influence) of the discouragers of this world and instead listening to the encouragers. There is a great call for more people to be more thoughtful about their own words, actions, and interactions with others. Will you answer that call?
Wind For The Sails
When I speak at conferences, facilitate professional development workshops, and coach individuals, I always stress the importance of engagement and empowerment, and I like to use the analogy of a sailboat. Engagement is the boat keeping us afloat, and empowerment is the sail offering direction. Together, they offer us a sense of excitement and purpose for life, but there’s one important feature missing: What about the wind for our sails? How will we ever get anywhere without the encouragement of a little wind blowing our way? Without encouragement even the flame of the most purpose-driven and excited individuals will eventually burn out. That’s where people come in.
We are biologically wired to be social creatures. Recent scientific studies have suggested that those who foster meaningful relationships with others are happier, less stressed, have fewer health problems, and live longer, while those who do not are more likely to be depressed, have early cognitive decline, and have a 50% increased risk of premature mortality. The evidence, then, suggests that we should seek to improve our social skills by surrounding ourselves with quality people who can provide much needed encouragement as wind for our proverbial sails, and for whom we can reciprocate the favor.
9 Simple Encouragement Practices
In a recent episode of Magic Words I shared some simple ideas for becoming an encourager, and in this article I’ll expand on these ideas with key insights that I’ve learned over the years and continue to implement in my everyday life. It truly doesn't take much to encourage others, and best of all, it’s very affordable, requires no special equipment, and open to interpretation. It’s my hope that these suggestions will serve you well for becoming a source of increased encouragement for others:
When you’re smiling the whole world really does seem to smile with you, doesn’t it? The facial muscles responsible for smiling are such great anchors for positivity that the mere act of smiling sends out positive signals to the brain making us happy even when we don’t necessarily feel particularly happy.And the best part is that this happiness is contagious. Smiling at someone is an unconscious invitation for them to smile back, sending a wave of positivity through their own body creating a cyclical effect of happiness. Smiling is an easy and a totally free strategy for encouraging others.
2. See What’s Right Before Seeing What’s Wrong
We live in a suspicious world, where we’re quick to judge the qualities, skills, and intentions of others—and often without any bearing on the reality of their true qualities, skills, and intentions. Yes, oftentimes people can come off the wrong way (after all, the proof is in the pudding, right?), but when we remember that we ourselves have value in our qualities, in our skills, and in our intentions, and yet still sometimes come off poorly from time to time, we are encouraged to go easier on those around us to.
We all have “bad days” and we all suffer from the occasional mishap, and offering others encouragement by first seeing what’s right about them rather than what is wrong with them will go a long way for producing right relations and positive experiences. What’s more, when we start with what’s right we create a sure foundation to build on, allowing us to address what needs correcting in the proper context.
3. Notice & Express Specific Appreciation
This is related to the last suggestion, in that it calls us to see what is right about someone, but it takes it a step further by advocating for the expression of appreciation for the specific value that someone else offers. If you notice something positive about someone, mention it—nothing is too small or seemingly insignificant:
Whether it’s the cashier at the supermarket, the stranger on the street, a new coworker, a friend you’ve known for years, or someone you live with, encouraging words like these can have a powerful effect on the people who receive them.
4. Send A Card Or A Letter
Next time you’re at the store, pick up a greeting card, for no particular special occasion. It may even blank inside. Pick someone from your sphere of influence to send it to. Or, write a short letter to someone you know. It could be serious, it could be silly, it could be out of the blue, or it could be a long time coming. Start by doing this just once a month and see how it encourages those you send them to.
5. Phone A Friend
I know, we’re all busy, and in the age of emails and texts, phone calls seem ancient to many people. But people love hearing from friends. Even if they don’t answer the phone (because who really answers the phone anymore these days anyway?) they’ll appreciate the effort and your message. Make an effort to do this just once a week for one person and see how your connections respond to the encouragement.
Pick a different person every day and send them a quick email to check in with them. It’s not as personal as a phone call, but it is more convenient, and it’s perceived as slightly more effort than a text message. If you get stuck on who to send it to, start with birthdays. Whose birthday is it? Send them a quick email to let them know that you’re thinking of them.
If you want to get fancy, try your hand at creating a special birthday “postcard” on Canva. You can create a template then simply take two minutes editing it with a picture of you and your friend along a custom message. Looks like effort (because it does take effort, though minimal) and your connection will appreciate the thought and encouragement.
Same as with the email, but it’s even easier to do because you probably already have your phone in your hand right now. Send a quick encouraging text to one of your contacts right now. It will literally take you longer to find their contact than to type and send the message, so just send it right now. What are you waiting for?!
8. Build Others Up On Social Media
These days most everyone posts a play-by-play of their lives—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whether your connections are celebrating or struggling, take time to comment on their updates with sincere words of encouragement. Be aware that sometimes a private message might be more appropriate in certain situations.
9. Encourage Everyone
Make a point to positively engage everyone in a group. I learned this the hard way a number of years ago when a woman I was dating at the time was upset after meeting some of my friends for the first time because they didn’t all acknowledge her. Sure, we had met in passing while out and about and this happenstance meeting wasn’t about making formal introductions, but what was perceived as a slight was not intended in the least, yet it produced discouragement rather than encouragement. Since then I’ve always made an effort to make eye contact, smile, and speak to everyone in a group at least briefly to help ensure everyone feels seen, appreciated, and included. Do not underestimate this; it can go a long way for encouraging others. Best off all, it’s easy and it’s FREE!
This article has explored simple, practical, and actionable practices for being a proactive source of encouragement in the lives of those around us. For some people these skills come naturally, while for others it takes a more concerted and deliberate effort to follow through with on a daily basis. The good news is they’re all free to experiment with until you get into the positive habit of doing them every day.
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.