Types of EncouragementDec 12, 2022
Encouragement is life-changing. It pulls people out of lies and back into the reality that they can accomplish more than they can imagine. In the face of adversity, encouragement strengthens and builds people up. It touches the deepest parts of our soul and brings life. Encouragement heals and infuses people with hope.
When I use the word “encouragement,” I don’t mean the friendly slap on the back and the “Way to go!” Encouragement isn’t always sunshine and smiley faces. It isn’t all happy and fluffy and cheerful. When I say encouragement is life-changing, I’m talking about the authentic, vulnerable and gritty real-life inspiration and challenge that we hunger for. Let’s take a closer look at the definition of encouragement:
“To inspire courage, spirit, or hope.”
“The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.”
“Words or behavior that give someone confidence to do something.”
Two things I’d like to highlight from these definitions:
- Encouragement is an intentional action. It’s something that we choose to do or say.
- The likely outcome of encouragement is action. Because of the act of encouragement, the recipient is now able to accomplish something that they originally would not have been able to do otherwise. Britannica says it this way, “something that makes someone more likely to do something.”
Take a moment to think back to a time when you were encouraged in this way. Who encouraged you? What did they do or say? How did it make you feel? What was the result?
Encouragement inspires hope, builds courage, and gives support. Let's continue to explore some real life examples of how this can play out.
When I was a teenager, my parents got a divorce and the last thing I needed was a slap on the back and a “It’s okay; you’ll be fine.” What I needed were people in my life to speak hope in the midst of a hard situation.
One year for my birthday, I was at an event in a large garage with a group of friends. At the end, my friend and I were standing in the middle of a couple hundred now-vacant, metal folding chairs. She handed me what looked like a small gift-wrapped book. With intrigue, I tore off the paper and held the book The Presence of Peace tightly in my hands. It was a book full of inspiring and encouraging quotes.
“I don’t really understand what you’re going through,” she spoke gently. It was clear she was referring to my parents’ divorce. “And I have no idea how to help. But I’m here for you, if you ever need anything.”
We need each other. Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott write in their book Relationships, “Whether we like it or not, each of us has an unshakable dependence on others.” My soul was desperate for encouragement. I needed others to reach out to me like that to fill me with hope. I still have that book today, not because of its contents, but because of what it represented: Hope. Someone cared enough to go out of their way to encourage me.
I also had other friends and adults encouraging me during that time. The influence of one youth worker inspired me so much that I decided to pursue a bachelors degree in Adolescent Studies. During my college years, I began mentoring middle and high school students, many of whom had separated or divorced parents. I wanted my students to know that even in the midst of their struggles, they mattered and were not alone. “We don’t have to do all of it alone,” Brene Brown says. “We were never meant to.”
It was my turn to encourage and inspire hope.
So I decided to share my story. Through my experience, I had discovered a hope that radically changed everything and I wanted to invite students to join me on a journey of reconciling relationships and uncovering truth that would transform their lives. I began to write a book.
Now I needed a new type of encouragement.
My dad was the first to encourage me to write a book. I remember writing on dozens of sticky notes and moving them back and forth across the wall in his home office as we created an outline. With his background in storytelling and his help crafting the book’s structure, he built up my courage and confidence to write my first book.
It took me a couple years to write the book. Sometimes it’s easy to start something, but not so easy to finish. One day around the beginning of springtime, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine. He pushed me to publish the book.
“Christmas. Finish the book and publish it in time for Christmas. It can be like a Christmas present to me… to yourself… to the world.”
That’s what I needed. A push. A challenge. A deadline and the accountability of a friend. It gave me the courage I needed to finish.
I reread my rough draft, making tweaks until I was happy with it. Then I reached out to an extended family member who is an editor in Chicago. She happily edited it for me and gave me great feedback. Several other friends read the proof and sent me comments. All of this feedback, both positive and negative, made my book better and grew my confidence in the product.
A licensed architect, and good friend, painted the cover artwork. Seeing all of these people believe in my writing gave me the courage to publish my book. I was able to submit the book to the publishing company by Christmas. The final product was available for sale in January.
There were many people encouraging me through this process, building my courage to publish my first book. It was long and hard, but because of their words and what they did to help me, I was able to accomplish something that otherwise would not have been possible.
Once the book was published, I hit the most challenging part of writing a book: selling it. The book was full of encouragement for the reader, but I needed a way to get it into their hands. I needed to experience the last type of encouragement that we are discussing.
As I began my marketing strategy, I started sending letters and copies of my books to potential distributors. Over and over, I was told it was a great book, but none of these people followed up with action. None of them ordered any books. No one invited me to speak at their youth events. I had hit a wall.
Finally, an elementary teacher in Maryland read the book. She knew many kids in her class needed this hope so she decided to do something about it. She advocated for me to speak at the school, which created the opportunity to share my story and encourage their students.
Another person believed strongly in the power of the book to encourage students. When she learned about my speaking engagement at the school, she purchased several hundred books to donate. As an anonymous donor, she was able to supply all of the students with a signed copy of the book.
One student later wrote to me, “You inspired me to keep pushing and never quit.”
Because these two women chose to support me and my book, I was able to share my story with this group of elementary students and inspire them to overcome their challenges.
It’s incredible what can happen when people come together to encourage and support one another. It might take time, energy, resources, and perhaps sticking your neck out there, but it’s worth it. Being present and showing your support can make all the difference between failure and success, dream and reality. Brene Brown says, “Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.”
Kenzie Carter contrasts the power of a negative word to a positive word by saying, “1000 positive comments plus 1 negative comment equals 1 negative comment.” She uses hyperbole to make a good point. Every single day, we need encouragement so that our hearts aren’t hardened by lies and negativity.
Whether it’s inspiring hope, building courage, or giving support, we are wired for encouragement. We long for it. We need it. Our encouragement tanks are rarely, if ever, completely full.
At the beginning of this article, I asked you to take a moment and think back to a time when you felt truly encouraged by someone. Remember the feelings you had and how it inspired you? Now, consider this.
Have you ever had a moment when you thought a nice thought about someone you know but didn’t share it? You didn’t take the time or energy to send the text or speak up? Maybe you felt nervous sharing or that what you wanted to say or do wouldn’t have an impact. Perhaps the thought didn’t seem worth sharing, or that it wouldn’t mean much to the recipient.
When we encourage someone, we don’t always know how it makes them feel or what the outcome is. We don't necessarily get to see how our encouragement makes a difference in their life.
Yet, just as words of encouragement spoken by others make a big difference in your life, those simple words can also make a big difference in someone else's life when they come from you.
So speak up! Go do something to encourage someone in your life. Who will you encourage today?
By Caitlyn Neel - Content Director & Coach