I was at the gym, and my mental state took a dive.
I’ve freaked out in public before, and I was beginning to show signs of not being ok again. But then something strange happened.
A guy was on his way out the door.
He got my attention and said, “Hey, keep it up, man. You got it.” I responded, “hey, th-thanks.” And then he left. I didn't know him. He had no reason to say that to me. He just decided to brighten somebody’s day on a whim. Everything felt lighter after that.
I started remembering who I was, the things I’ve been through, and what I was shooting for. That dude helped me out more than he realized. He showed me that even a single drop of encouragement is powerful.
Mike Tyson and The Significance of Encouragement
The Oxford Dictionary defines encouragement as:
The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope
Getting knocked around is the standard in life. When we lose faith in ourselves, and no one is around to support us, our minds drag us down dark alleys. If you’ve never been given encouragement, then self-belief might be a foreign concept to you.
It doesn’t take much either. You could give encouragement by offering help. Or giving a friendly look. Or letting someone know that it’s ok to fail.
Coaches use encouragement to create world-class athletes. Cus D’Amato’s strategy for turning Mike Tyson into an invincible heavyweight boxing champion was not to savagely criticize him, but to empower him with frequent encouragement.
When Mike would look up at the boxing greats, Cus would tell Mike that he could be great one day too. No one had ever told him that. Growing up poor, striving for greatness was always discouraged. The message was, “What makes you think you could ever be great?”
Maybe it all starts with belief.
Encouragement Is Underutilized
According to the American Psychological Association:
Despite the frequent use of encouragement in everyday social life, encouragement remains an understudied topic in positive psychology and counseling psychology.
Why has this simple, useful, powerful concept received so little attention in psychology?
Why are so many people left out to dry when they set their minds on something? Why are people so quick to dismiss you when you have a lofty goal? Why do they always tell you that what you’re trying to do is a bad idea?
There could be a million answers to these questions.
What I know is this: If someone tells me they have a big goal, I believe in giving them the facts. They need to know the truth about their probability of succeeding, the skills they’ll require, and the work they’ll need to put in.
But I would never want to stop someone from striving or taking risks. Those are the people I like. Those are the people that deserve encouragement. If you’re willing to do what needs to be done, then by all means go for it.
I could just be speaking for myself here, but maybe the reason you feel so down on yourself all the time is that no one has ever told you what potential you have.
If you don’t have any great coaches or mentors in your life, you could seek one out. But more importantly, mentors won’t always be around to encourage you, so you have to find ways to encourage yourself.
This is one of the most difficult things to learn, especially when no one has ever given you encouragement, or you’ve been made to feel guilty about your strengths.
One thing you always have is a choice. You get to choose how you treat yourself and approach your problems. When painful moments come, you need to choose to support yourself.
You can do this by keeping an inventory of the things you’ve endured and the challenges you’ve dealt with in life. Ultramarathon runner David Goggins calls this, “reaching into the cookie jar.” He encourages himself by taking stock of who he is and what he’s done.
If you haven’t done anything yet, you only need enough self-belief to get started.
Victimhood Never Saved Anyone
Would you rather be told that it’s not your fault you’re in a bad situation, or that you have the power the make your way out of it?
Being told that it’s not your fault would feel good to hear. You shouldn’t have to deal with these problems, right? So you don’t. And you stay in the same place.
Even if your situation is unfair, and you don’t deserve to be in it, believing nothing can be done about it is a death sentence.
Encouragement is predicated on self-responsibility. It’s letting someone know what they are capable of, not what should or should not be. Encouraging another person nourishes their ability to stand on their own and tackle whatever comes their way.
If you tell them they’re just a victim, then that’s all they will resign themselves to be. So for your own sake, and for the sake of others, give encouragement. It’s free. It’s powerful. It’s the fuel of ambition.
One drop could save someone’s life.