When Words Encourage

The pain hit me all at once. I was in the middle of the cycling portion of a sprint triathlon ten years ago, and I was struggling so hard that I had to stop in the middle of it to rest and let the burning in my side ease off. When I finally transitioned to the run, I lagged far behind many of the other racers.

Steve, my husband, joined me. “You can do it!” he shouted. “Keep going!” Even though he’d already finished, he wound up running the entire 3.1-mile stretch again with me. I finally straggled across the finish line, dead last, bone tired, and totally humiliated. Without his encouragement, I would have faltered and never finished.

What is encouragement?

That’s a simple word, isn’t it? Words of encouragement can easily make a person whereas words of discouragement can break a person. Encouragement exhorts people to push on even when it seems too tough, too insurmountable at the time to continue. The results of encouragement should be uplifting, whether it means to push onward through a short-term issue or a longer-term situation.

Here are some examples of encouragement:

  • When a child makes her bed, no matter how messy, her mom says, “Good job!”
  • When a college student struggles through a semester and wants to quit a course, a professor says, “We all started out not knowing about this subject. Keep going. I know you’ll learn it over this semester.”
  • When a young professional feels overwhelmed on a project, his supervisor says, “You can do this. Let’s see how we can break the task down to get it done.”
  • When a woman cries as she talks about her marital problems, her friend says, “You two are such a team. Keep talking to one another. You’re made for the long haul with him.”
  • When someone confesses that they’re contemplating suicide, their friend says, “You have so much to live for. Your family loves you. So do your friends. Let’s see what help we can get you.”

Words have the power to destroy or build up. Encouragement can pull someone back from the edge of a cliff.

Why do we need encouragement as a society?

I don’t need to talk about the way civility seems to be slipping away from our society. What with the advent of social media and the anonymity it provides for comments, it seems that many have found it easier to tear down people, be it celebrities for a look or something a mom mentions online related to parenting her child.

It may be far easier to post something negative on social media that we’d never say to a person’s face. Instead, we need to keep silent, or, better, encourage.

If spoken well, words can make someone’s day.

Why do we need encouragement as individuals?

Face it. Life’s hard and not for the faint of heart.

Here’s something radical to consider.

What would happen if we made more of an effort to encourage others? Maybe incidents of depression and anxiety would drop. And suicide. And maybe we’d be a kinder, gentler society where people feel more in community than isolated.

That can start with us. Here’s a challenge. Over the next week, try to speak an encouraging word to someone once a day. It can be in the form of a compliment or an exhortation. See what happens.

It’ll make someone’s day. I’m sure of it.

Ten years ago, I nearly crawled across that finish line. Though I later found out I had undiagnosed scar tissue from a torn hip flexor, Steve's very words that day made the difference between finishing and not finishing. And for that, I’m forever grateful.

Question: When was a time when someone’s encouragement made a huge impact in your life?

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