Several times in my life, I have wanted to stop, but words or deeds of encouragement have kept me going.
There are high spots in all of our lives, and most of them have come about through encouragement from someone else.
Years ago, an experiment was conducted to measure people’s capacity to endure pain. The test was to see how long a barefooted person could stand in a bucket of ice water. It was discovered that when there was someone else present offering encouragement and support, the person standing in the ice water could tolerate pain twice as long as when no one was present. Again, encouragement keeps us going, no matter the adversity that faces us.
To further illustrate the power of encouragement, I would like to share with you an experiment performed some time ago in the San Francisco school system. A principal in the district called in three teachers and told them that, because of their expertise, they were considered the finest teachers in the system. He also told them they would be given 90 high-IQ students who would be allowed to learn at their own pace to see how far they could advance.
At the end of the year, these students achieved 20 to 30 percent more than other students in the entire San Francisco Bay area. The principal called the three teachers in and told them he had a confession to make. He told them they didn’t have 90 of the most intellectually gifted students. In fact, academically, they were run-of-the-mill, average students picked at random. The teachers naturally concluded their exceptional teaching skills must have been responsible for the students’ great progress. But the principal had another confession to divulge: These teachers were the first three names drawn out of a hat.
Why, then, did these students and teachers perform at such an exceptional level for the entire year? They were encouraged to believe that they could. Psychologists say that, deep down, all people have certain desires in common. If you want to encourage people, help them fulfill these most basic, heartfelt desires. People want to:
- do the right thing. Stand with them.
- find better ways of doing things. Empower them.
- achieve things they can be proud of. Motivate them.
- belong to a group that achieves the extraordinary. Invite them.
- earn recognition for who they are and what they achieve. Honor them.
Encouragement Turns Lives Around
Encouragement is deciding to make your problem my problem.
I would like to share with you a wonderful story I read in A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. The author of the story, Dan Clark, recalls when, as a teenager, he and his father stood in line to buy tickets for the circus. As they waited, they noticed a family immediately in front of them. The parents were holding hands and had eight children in tow, all under the age of 12. Based on their clean, but simple clothing, Clark suspected they didn’t have a lot of money. The kids chattered about the exciting things they were expecting to see, and he could tell the circus was going to be a new adventure for them.
As the couple approached the counter, the attendant quoted the price for the entire family. The woman let go of her husband’s hand, and her head dropped. The man leaned a little closer and asked, “How much did you say?” The attendant again quoted the price; the man obviously didn’t have enough money. He looked crushed. Clark says that his father, who was watching all of this play out, put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a $20 bill and dropped it on the ground. His father then reached down, picked up the bill, tapped the man on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, sir, this fell out of your pocket.” The man knew exactly what was going on, and he looked straight into Clark’s father’s eyes, took his hand, shook it and, with tears streaming down his cheeks, replied, “Thank you, thank you, sir. This really means a lot to me and my family.”
Clark and his father went back to the car and drove home. They didn’t have enough money to go to the circus that night. But it didn’t matter. It encouraged the whole family. And it was something neither family would ever forget.
Everybody Needs Somebody
None of us achieve anything without the help of somebody else. In fact, some of the greatest discoveries and achievements in history happened because these people were encouraged by others. Authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien maintained a close friendship throughout their careers, sharing their love of mythical stories and a desire to create those stories for the public. It was Tolkien who led Lewis to Christianity, and it was Lewis who encouraged Tolkien to keep writing fiction. It is said the literary world would have neither The Chronicles of Narnia nor The Lord of the Rings if not for the friendship between these two men.
One of the great things about encouragement is that you don’t have to be brilliant to encourage people; you just have to have a heart for other people. Find ways to encourage others. Put your arm around them, and tell them how much you appreciate them. You never know if that one good act of kindness is exactly what they need. As you encourage others, you encourage yourself.
When giving encouragement, be sure it’s earned. And remember to keep it sincere, honest, appropriate, meaningful, balanced and specific. Think of someone who has been an encouragement to you. Follow their example and pay it forward to someone you know. Don’t hesitate; do it today and make a difference in someone’s life.
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