The Generosity of Encouragement

Praise the good. Ignore the bad. – James Clear

When someone encourages you, it has to be one of the best feelings possible. A kind word that uplifts can shift the trajectory of someone’s life. The most significant memories that we have can be a time when someone we respect spoke words that brought life to us.

At the same time, we know that saying something negative to someone can carry much more weight than an encouraging word. The anecdotal reflection of it taking nine encouraging comments to overcome one negative comment certainly rings true. Which makes encouragement all the more important.

So how do we do it?

Be Genuine

You can’t just make up stuff that you don’t mean and expect it to land well. People can tell if you are being genuine or not and building someone up only works if what you are saying about them is true. If you are struggling to find something to be encouraging about, that’s on you to figure out. Every person around us has something worthwhile to recognize and are providing value to our lives. It just takes a moment to stop and find it sometimes.

Be Meaningful

“You look nice today” is nice to hear but that is not encouragement. There is no depth to that. Come up with something that carries meaning to the person.

“I like the way that you think” – is more about who the person is over what they do. This is a fundamental way to encourage people just for being them.

“You have made two really great decisions this week, and this is what they are…” – Recognising great behaviour is an easy way to encourage. The more specific the better.

“I am really grateful for your positive attitude. Knowing that I can rely on you makes my day easier” – Showing how someone’s behaviour or attitude makes a positive impact on you highlights how important they are.

Be Timely

Don’t wait. When someone does something worth noticing, do it in the moment or shortly afterwards. It’s a little difficult to feel encouraged about something that happened 10 years ago. In saying that, it’s never too late, so if that’s all that you have, feel free to encourage someone about something that they did 10 years ago.

Be Consistent

Don’t save it up to give it all in a once off overload of encouragement. Plant small seeds of encouragement consistently which will create a culture of encouragement around you.

Encouragement is an amazing act of generosity. It costs you nothing, apart from some brain energy, and the benefits to all involved are significant.

No, I’m Not…still

I originally posted this in August 2014 on another blog, about my experience of R U OK Day in September of 2013. For a while I avoided looking back at this time, but it taught me a great deal. 2020 has brought up some similar emotions and I’m grateful that I have had some experience in working through them…

“For some reason it always happens on a Thursday, which is a little odd. You would expect that Monday would be the hardest day to deal with, but for me my worst days occur on Thursday. It hasn’t been that often, especially in 2014, but there have been a couple of pretty scary Thursdays’ over the past year and a half.

The most memorable one was almost a year ago. I look back at that time and I’m not sure what was happening in my life that caused it. It was the week following the Federal Election (many people may have experienced a similar time depending on who they voted for) but that meant very little to me, perhaps it was the fact my two children had been staying with me for a few days in a row and their mum had recently picked them up. Maybe it was loneliness as I woke up without them for the first time in a week. Maybe I was missing family living interstate. Maybe I was tired from a long work year. Maybe it was all of the above. Whatever it was, I awoke on this Thursday at the normal time to get ready for a 10am speaking engagement but I was flat. I felt sad and lonely and in need of a boost. ‘Nothing a coffee and a muffin couldn’t fix’ I told myself. I guess I put too much faith in the ability of caffeine and chocolate to fix my life that day because I still felt the same after I had consumed them. So I decided to reach out – I called Dad. No answer. I called my brother. No answer. I called my mentor, twice. No answer. I called my boss. No answer. As each call went through to message bank I grew more and more exasperated. I was driving on my way to work (using handsfree) and each recorded message made me feel more disconnected and alone. The emotions overtook as I navigated the roads whilst attempting to make sure none of the other drivers could see the tears streaming down my cheeks. I didn’t know where else to turn. So many people had said to me ‘if you ever need anyone to talk to, just give me a call anytime’, but in this moment I couldn’t think of any of them. My brain wouldn’t work and there seemed no way to break out of my isolation to reach another person. The only thing I could think was ‘How can I face today like this?’ which led to ‘What if it is the same tomorrow? And the next day?’. I have since learned that these emotions pass and tomorrow is normally always better, but in the heat of the moment that perspective is elusive and hidden. I reached the end of myself. I was scared.

The importance of this story is more than just ‘a bad day I once had’, you see this day coincided with ‘R U OK?’ day. You can see the irony. I had spent the entire morning reading about it online and witnessed dozen’s of my friends posts about it on social media, some asking the question, others highlighting the importance of asking the question to your friends and loved ones. It was great that so much fuss was being made about this day and the issues around depression and isolation, but there was a small problem. Amongst the generic ‘R U OK?’ posts and the encouragement to ask those around us, no one actually stopped and asked me. Because I wasn’t ok. I wanted to tell people that, but there was no way I was going to put that as a comment underneath someone’s status or initiate a conversation around that. The shame and embarrassment I felt was overwhelming. So I sat in my car doing my best to hide the tears.

My point is this. I love ‘R U OK?’ day and the whole concept. Most of my healing and restoration has happened because I have learned how to connect with people and build quality relationships. But the question, ‘R U OK?’ is so much more than a throw away status or tweet. You can’t just generically suggest to the your faceless friends on the internet that if they are struggling they should talk to someone and think that you have fixed the world. The question needs to be asked to individuals, face to face, and then the question needs to be followed with silence and patience. The hardest words that I have ever had to say have been ‘no, I am not’. They took years to figure out, months to form and weeks to eventually verbalise. But it’s not a conversation to be afraid of – you don’t even need to do anything, just sit there and listen. The ‘R U OK’ website has some great suggestions around this too.

My Dad ended up calling me back before I got to work. He rescued me that day. I cried with him on the phone, he felt helpless being so far away, we talked, we laughed and I felt so much better just because I connected with someone, who cared enough to ask and then to listen. It was through that conversation that I knew that tomorrow would be better.

I now also have a list of people saved in my phone who I know that I can call if I ever found myself in a similar situation – I asked some people and they were honoured to be put on it. Most I have never used and probably never will, but at least I won’t feel so isolated when I know that I need to speak to someone in that very moment.

I have never suffered from depression. The best way to describe my experience with it is that I have skirted around the edges of grief-related depression. I traveled through it with people, and my doctor but my story is an uneventful one. Some of my closest friends have and do suffer from depression and they are some of the bravest people I have met.”

R U OK day is the 10th of September by the way, but you don’t have to wait until then…

Being a Dad

I miss my kids.

I miss my youngest when I leave home in the morning. She is only 8 months old and is adorable. She has one tooth starting to come through. I love her smile. I love coming home to her at the end of the day.

I miss my 4 year old when I drop him off at daycare. He loves it there, he is such a social being. He has a large group of ‘best friends’, and the educators love him there too, but I miss him nonetheless. He is so sweet and energetic and curious and persistent. I hope that I can help him keep those traits as he grows, even though they can be frustrating. I love picking him up at the end of the day.

I miss my eldest son. He is on the brink of being a teenager, always growing and developing. He loves to play computer games and sport (the outdoor type), he is caring and thoughtful, and outrageously funny. He is on the brink of becoming a man. I haven’t seen him since January 19 of this year.

I miss my first born. A delightfully funny and gifted 14 year old. She inspires me with her ability to try something new even if it is scary, to take on challenging life situations whilst maintaining a positive attitude. She messages me at night when she has trouble sleeping and regularly makes me laugh with her quirky sense of humour. I haven’t seen her since January 19 of this year.

I’m really thankful that I get to see two of my children every day. I’m really thankful that I get to communicate with my older children regularly and that they seem to be growing up into amazing humans. I have much to be thankful for, but I miss my kids.

Covid sucks.

But Happy Father’s Day!