An Encouraging Word

Atta-boy!

Kudos!

Way to Go!

You go Girl!

 

They are words.

Just words.

Strings of syllables, coupled together and shaped by our breath, tongue and teeth. What possible effect could they have on another person?

“Sticks & stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”

Right?

Hells no, people.

I don’t know you if have ever experienced the power of encouraging words, but I have. I was 18 miles into a full marathon. In San Diego in 2008. The week before I had decided to run in a half marathon in Laguna Hills, Ca. Just as a warm up. Certainly not to race. With a full 26.2  in 7 days, racing would be foolish. Then the rest of the people started actually running , and my competitive side got the best of me. I ran the half at a race pace (which means as fast as I could). So, 7 days later in San Diego, my legs start out tired. I went from starting out slightly sore to dead-legged by mile 10. Then, as we’re crossing a bridge about 12 miles in, someone says “this is the last one!”. Bridges are just hills with water or other roads under them, so this was welcome news.

There were 3 more.

Rat bastard.

At mile 18, I am “in the winter of my discontent”. My legs are fried. I’ve gone 18, but it’s not like I’m almost done. There are still 8 more miles.

8 freaking miles.

You start wondering whether it would be so bad to just stop. Someone will get you to the finish area, where you can slink off to your car and deal with your feelings of inadequacy. But at least you won’t be running anymore. I’m not down here with anyone. No one who knows me will know. I can make up a plausible finishing time and lie my butt off.

Yes, these thoughts occurred to me.

Then, a voice from the crowd;

“You go Bob Tully! Good job!”

I turn, and it’s a  local runner and race promoter, who I worked with for a short time because the company I work for was sponsoring one of his races. First, I’m shocked that he even recognizes me and knows my name. But more than that, there’s someone among these thousands of people who is pulling for ME!  Not just a general thing, but someone has called me out and personally encouraged me to succeed. Now I don’t know that his words were the sole reason that I finished that race. But I can tell you that his encouragement , the right words at exactly the right time, changed my entire mood and perspective on the rest of that race. Thanks Coach Sumner.

Encouragement.

Here’s a definition for you;

“Encouragement is the act of giving someone support, confidence, and hope.”

There are two types of reinforcement , positive reinforcement (a behavior that is strengthened by something like praise or reward) and negative reinforcement (a behavior that is strengthened by the removal of unfavorable outcomes). Both of these are part of something he called operant conditioning, which is basically learning through both punishment and reward. I know that there are proponents of “tough love”, coaches, directors and bosses who believe that “fear is a great motivator”, but for my money positive reinforcement is the more productive method. Emotions like fear, anxiety, stress and anger narrow our focus, inhibit our concentration and decrease our cognitive abilities, while positive emotions can do the opposite. When we’re feeling upbeat and happy, we’re more likely to have an inclusive focus than a self-centered outlook, and to perform better on cognitively demanding tasks.

But what are some of the benefits of encouragement?

  1. It helps to provide us with energy to accomplish our objective.

Words of encouragement works like energy pills that can give us the strength that we need to overcome the obstacles that lay between us and our objectives.  It is a light in the tunnel that gives us hope, knowing that there’s someone who believes that we can make it.

  1. It gives us hope.

When we are at our lowest, we tend to withdraw from other people because we fear their judgment.  But others can actually empower us with encouragement. Words of encouragement can be the spark that gives us hope and motivates us to take one small step after another until we reach a goal that at one time seemed unreachable.  (cue the music to “Impossible Dream”, I know…)

  1. It helps us to change our perspective.

When we are in the middle of trials and challenges, we can get confused.  It can lead us to view things differently.  It can sometimes point our focus on immediate and petty things.  A word of encouragement can help to calm us and make us stop to analyze what’s going on in our life.  It has the power to make us see the situation from a better perspective

  1. It helps to restore self-confidence.

Encouragement is not just a confidence booster.  It is also a restorer of self-confidence. Encouragement is a show of other people’s confidence and support in your abilities.  If people trust that you can do it, is there any other reason why you can’t trust yourself?

 

Sometimes we get caught up in our own little world. Our problems, our challenges, our troubles. Maybe it’s a child, or a boss, or a neighbor. Or maybe we have volunteered to get involved in a simple, not for pay project which we though was going to be a minor investment of time & effort, but has now grown exponentially and now dominates our waking thoughts, while making us wonder why we EVER got involved in it in the first place, and wish there was some way to fake an injury, or our own death, just to get our of it and get our life back!!

But I digress…..

But in the midst of dealing with our own “stuff”, if we keep our eyes open, we can see someone else who is struggling, whether it’s a minor thing like a running race, or a much larger life issue.

I know.

You don’t know what to say.

Everything you can think of to say sounds corny, or inadequate.

Say it anyway.

A smile, a word of encouragement, a pat on the back.

You never know. I pretty sure Coach Sumner didn’t.

Talk later,

Bob

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