Relationships, including the one we have with ourselves, can be viewed as a lifelong and sometimes, an arduous journey. At the outset, most everything seems fun and exciting, including challenges. Early on we are intent on showing the most positive aspects of ourselves to others. If our newfound love is experiencing difficulty, we tend to offer cheerleading, support and encouragement as a way to help. Through these actions, we let the others know that we will be there through struggle and that we believe in his or her capacity to successfully navigate the issue. Sadly, as the journey continues, our focus tends to shift. Support and encouragement somehow are permutated into advice-giving, blame, and even downright negativity. Forgotten is the simple sense of excitement that characterized even the most difficult challenges in the early stages of the journey and lost are the encouraging words and deeds that helped us and our partner to successfully navigate the journey together.
What Encouragement Means
As defined in Mirriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2011), “To encourage is to inspire with courage, spirit or hope.”
How long has it been since you spoke encouraging words to yourself? To your child? To your mate? Do you remember the last time you offered words of encouragement, not advice, to another? Encouragement differs from advice in that it tends to draw others closer to us, while advice tends to push others away from us. Think about your own life and issues – do you really want someone telling you what to think and do? Most people, including your children, will tell you that even when their problems seem insurmountable, what they really want is not someone to solve their problem, but someone to believe in them.
Consider for a moment the experience of being the parent of a small child who is learning to walk. How do caregivers show the toddler that the challenge of learning to walk is do-able? Does that caregiver walk for the child? Does that caregiver offer harsh criticism and blame each time the child falls down? I would hope not. What most caregivers instinctively do is encourage the child to press on, even with the inevitable falls and setbacks. The caregiver will most often encourage the child with words and actions. Statements like “I know you can do it!” combined with a smiling face and clapping hands encourage the toddler to get back up and to try again, and again, and again. What do you most need when you are faced with challenge?
I’m sure many of you are thinking that it can’t possibly be this easy to overcome relationship issues by simply encouraging oneself and others. Perhaps you are thinking that all the problems you are facing in your life and relationships cannot be overcome by simple words of encouragement. Numerous research studies consistently point to the myriad of ways that supportive and encouraging relationships can increase positive outcomes—from heart attack to cancer to depression and anxiety—positive words and thoughts can impact recovery. While not a cure, encouragement and support can make a difference in how well a person is able to navigate difficult life circumstances.
Certainly if you are experiencing domestic violence or debilitating illness I will encourage you to seek additional professional help immediately. I will also encourage you to try the homework below no matter what your circumstance is.
You are correct in your assumption that simple words of encouragement will not “fix” your relationship issues; however, I would like to ask you to consider the massive amount of money spent on self-help books and advice television. Consider whether your current strategies for navigating relationship difficulties are helpful to you and to those in your life. Furthermore, I’d like you to consider the last time you actually implemented all those complex pieces of advice and words of wisdom.
How Do I Begin?
Below is your encouragement homework assignment. Do it daily. Begin to search for positive results in 5 – 7 days.
For the next 30 days I would like for you to implement one encouraging statement to yourself, one to someone else, and one to your child. Undertake this exercise with all the zest and fervor that you put into those early days of your relationship journey. I would also encourage you to simply make the encouraging statement and to refrain from advice-giving or blame after you make the statement. Remember, it’s only for 30 days! Mark it on your calendar daily just like any other important event.
In case you’ve forgotten what an encouraging statement looks like, here are a few examples to get you started.
“I believe in you.”
“We will get through this together.”
“You will make it.”
“We will make it.”
“We can do this.”
I often tell people that true change is in the doing of the thing, not in the thinking or feeling of the thing. I believe in you! You can do this. You will succeed. Feel free to contact me send me and let me know how you are doing with your homework! Happy encouraging!