The Many Forms of Encouragement

There are so many ways to give encouragement.

On Sunday night when my Notre Dame Fighting Irish went into double overtime in the game against the Texas Longhorns …my encouragement was loud and hopeful.

At work when I was on the phone, but my co-worker did not notice as he came to my desk and started talking…my encouragement was a silent hand gesture.

This weekend when I was teaching my 7 year old neighbor to knit…my encouragement was calm.

When a friend of mine was recently laid off, she was hopeful of finding a new job quickly. However, the search has become a long and weary process. I decided that a little humor might encourage her to hang in there a little longer. Thus, the panties in the picture. (I found them at JCPenny’s if you are interested.)

I wrapped them in pretty tissue paper and put them in a cute orange gift box that looks like a Chinese take out food box. When she opened them she laughed. She laughed a lot.

Sometimes helping others to see outside the fog is the best form of encouragement.

Sweet Spot of Encouragement


Encouragement can happen here.


The sweet spot of encouragement happens when the giver believes success is possible, and the receiver is in a situation where success is possible.

The giver wants success for the recipient.

The receiver finds hope and tries to follow the words of encouragement.

Sometimes the giver and the receiver are different. Sometimes the giver and the receiver are the same person, yourself.


Encouragement at School

Kid #5 is transferring from a fabulous charter school to the local middle school this fall. She has been in the carpool since she was 5 months old, riding along as older siblings were dropped off and picked up.  She has been a student for K through 7th grade. She was ready for a change and so were we, So, we made a decision I would not have imagined a few years ago. When we chose a K-12 school it seemed so logical to think the kids would be there all 13 years. If only life was that efficient. Schools change and so did our family.

This morning was “Back to school” day at her new school. That means come to school —find out about extra curricular activities, get your picture taken, buy a gym uniform and a planner, watch the “How to be Responsible with your iPad” video and sign the form that you understand said video, sign up for the lunch program, find the locker, test out the combination, and walk around the school – in class order to be sure all classrooms can be found, etc.

As we were zig zagging through the halls I noticed this sign.


My first thought is how does this fit with my 7 principles of encouragement.

  1. Encouragement is good. I am glad the school wants to be encouraging. It means they care and that is good.
  2. Aware. They are aware that the giver and the receiver need to work together for said results. They are aware of wanting specific results.  (They seem to be assuming that the parties involved have high expectations for personal and academic achievement and challenging coursework.)
  3. Just because it is possible, does not mean it should happen. In this case individual growth and collective success is good for everyone.
  4. Good for you does not mean good for me.  In this case education is good for the individual, for the school, for the family and the community. It is good for all.
  5. Possibility is necessary. Yes possibility is possible. In the normal course of maturing from grade to grade we know growth is possible. I am trusting that in special circumstances the special needs will be addressed.
  6. Words of encouragement are timeless. School is a place to learn, but also for seeds to be planted.
  7. Encouragement takes courage. Students who are entering into challenging coursework will need to dig deep sometimes. Ideas may not appear as easily as they did in elementary school.

I do wonder who the “we” in We Encourage represents. Is it the student and the school? Is it the reader of the sign (community member) and the school? Is it the parents with the school, and the students?

Encouragement To Let Go Of The Snooze Button

George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. Alarm clock service.

The day I started hitting the alarm off button instead of the snooze button I felt empowered. I felt in control. I felt I had gained an extra half an hour in my day. And my day started out with a success and not a defeat.

The snooze button had me captive and I didn’t even know it. Every night when I went to bed I had every intention of getting up at the first beep. But then, at the first beep, the conversation in my head would begin. “Come on, you should stick with your plan and get up”, and then, “but I can get ready for the day quickly, no need to rush”. Every push of the snooze become a bigger and bigger failure.

I joined an Ignation prayer group at church for Advent last year. Part of joining the group was making a commitment to pray at a certain time every day, at least 4 times a week. Since I am more of the “all or nothing” type than the 4 times a week type, I decided to keep the same schedule every day. The only time for this was early in the morning. Once everyone is up and going there is no guarantee of quiet time. So I started setting my alarm for 30 minutes earlier than usual every day. Just did it cold turkey.

Eight months later I am happy to say I conquered the snooze button. Now I can hop out of bed and start the day with a fresh outlook. Arguing with myself is draining. Working the plan and starting the day with confidence carries through my whole day.

Once I discovered how refreshing it is to be in control of my snooze I shared my discovery. Because my results were so positive I thought this would be positive for everyone. I wanted everyone to share in my new found sense of control and confidence.

The reactions to my encouragement to get up at the first buzz surprised me. Not everyone was interested in making a change.

This is an example of effective encouragement principle #4…Just because it is good for me does not mean it is good for everyone.*

Some people said the snooze time was their favorite ½ hour of the day. It was a natural transition time between deep sleep and heading for the shower or a work out. It was almost like a secret hidden time for lucid thoughts and relishing a comfy bed for just a little longer.

When I asked my brother-in-law how he felt about snooze buttons, he took it a step further. He said he doesn’t use an alarm clock! Unless he has an unusually early flight for work travel, he just gets up when his body says go. He is never late, or even stressed about getting to work on time. For him it is a non- issue. I was impressed with the trust he has in his internal clock.

It is possible to change your snooze habit, if you are interested. While I was creating this article I came upon a twitter request from Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and I Know How She Does It.  She was looking for people who have stopped the habit of hitting the snooze button. I responded with a few of my thoughts from above. Read her results 8 Strategies To Help You Quit The Snooze Button Habit For Good.

My quotes are in numbers 7 and 8. Enjoy!

*Click here to see the Principles of Effective Encouragement.

2 Sides to Encouragement

The Kennedy children visit backstage after a New York City Ballet performance of “Nutcracker”, Jacqueline Kennedy encourages young John to shake hands with Shaun O’Brien who played Herr Drosselmeyer, George Balanchine in rear.

Encouragement takes two sides, it takes a giver, and it takes a receiver. If all goes well the encouragement is effective. If it does not go well there are many different reasons why. Enough for another blog post in the near future.

First thoughts of effective encouragement look like this.

What traits does a giver need for the encouragement to be effective?

A realistic awareness of the receivers situation.

Is the receiver capable of incorporating the encouragement coming their way. That is, we do not encourage new born babies to walk. We are aware that they need time to adjust to the world and let their bodies develop and get stronger.

A belief that the receiver can take on the new challenge whether they are aware or not.

Perhaps a coach recognizes that a player is ready for a new skill. Even if the player is not aware or asking for the challenge, encouragement from a coach can help raise them to the next level of performance.

What traits does the receiver need for effective encouragement?

A relationship of trust with the giver.

Relationship of trust is used in a very broad sense here. A relationship could be close like a family member, or co-worker that has been on your team for years. However, the relationship could be more distant, i.e. when I was cheering on runners in a marathon. Our relationship lasted about 5 seconds as they passed by my cheering space on the curb. A sign or hand motion, when acknowledged by the receiver, can also provide encouragement.

If there is no trust of the giver, there is no action happening!

Plausibility of success

There needs to be hope. After all, encouragement is giving hope. Receiving encouragement to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) when you do not enjoy reading or writing probably won’t go very far. The effectiveness of giving that same encouragement to someone who has always dreamed of publishing a novel will be much more effective.

In the picture above Jackie Kennedy is giving encouragement to her son John. She is aware that he is capable of shaking hands with people. And she believes that John is able to, even if he is not taking the lead.

John is responding to the encouragement because he trusts his mother and he has practiced this many times in the past. He has great plausibility of success. Also he feels the support of her hand on his back, and perhaps soft words of encouragement are accompanying this action.

Is this encouragement effective? Yes, John has successfully and politely shaken the hand of Shaun O’Brien.

Encouragement Podcasts

In my unquenchable search for all things encouragement I went to the Podcast button on my iphone and searched for podcasts with “encouragement” in the title.

Here is what I found, yes, the list was given with all small letters as seen below.

  • encouragement of the day – a podcast giving Christian encouragement from Arkansas
  • 200 churches podcast: ministry encouragement – a podcast to to encourage pastors of “smaller churches”
  • a minute of encouragement – Curt Goad these episodes are not available right now
  • blog fuel: education and encouragement – for designing and creating an online presence
  • building special families podcast – Jared Buckley for families with special needs children
  • christian quotes  encouragement to – Ryan Maher 5 minute Christian encouragement quotes
  • deb sofield’s encouragement for you – taking the fear out of public speaking and presentation skills
  • elevated living with russ warren – motivation inspiration and encouragement with a Christian touch
  • encouragement – – Dr. Steven J. Lawson Christian podcast
  • encouragement for the journey – encouragement with biblical principles

There are 10 podcasts on this list.

What do they have in common?

  • All of them give encouragement. As opposed to defining it, or discussing what it is about.
  • Seven of them are from a Christian perspective.
  • They all offer hope.
  • They all believe success is possible.

I’m still in search of more of the how and why of encouragement. The podcast realm is apparently not my best resource for new information. My search continues.

Do Cookies Encourage You to Buy?

I recently received this catalog from in my office mail. We do not order from this particular office supply company. However, the cookies were really tempting me. I actually checked my printer to see if the cartridge on sale would fit  my printer. It was interesting to see that this offer encourages new orders with a monetary discount AND yummy cookies.

Would these offers compel you to buy?
Would these offers compel you to buy?

I was a bit disappointed in myself when I realized that the cookies were more tempting than the $20.00 off. Really, that sounds a bit shallow. But it is what it is.

Ultimately, we are sticking with our current office supply company.  I do wonder how many people ordered just to get the cookies.

The First Letter of Your Last Name

Sometimes we encourage others to do something, to make a change, to up the game. We strive to make a change that

Remembering my walk at the end of the diploma line

will make our world better. We appreciate encouragement to get there. Other times we just need to acknowledge the truth and know that it is what it is. [Nature of Encouragement #2: Plausible change is necessary for encouragement to be effective.]

Today I witnessed behavior based on something that, for most of us never changes. It is written in stone, or at least on our birth or marriage certificate. It is our last name, more specifically, the first letter of said name.

Recently kid #4 “graduated” from 8th grade. I say “graduated” because really she is just moving along to 9th grade in the fall. When I was a kid there was just as much pomp and circumstance with the 8th to 9th grade transition as there was for the 3rd to 4th grade transition. I guess we need another occasion to buy balloons and eat cake.

So, there I was sitting in the stands. A friend sitting next to me was there to watch her daughter graduate as well. My friend’s last name starts with A. My last name starts with B. So as they started calling the students names, we were both very attentive, and had our iphones ready to take a picture as the girls received their certificate. Then we relaxed and even (every quietly) chatted just a bit.

After hearing about 350 names, I saw the line of 8th graders coming to an end. (See picture above.) It jolted my memory of being at the end of the line with my fellow V’s. I grew up a Vansteenburg. I mentioned to my friend that those kids were me throughout my school career. There was usually a Vetch or a Zimmerman behind me so I was never the last kid.

We were talking about how the kids at the beginning of the alphabet had to pay attention at the beginning of an activity, and then could relax while the rest of the students took their turn. Those of us at the end of the alphabet didn’t always catch the directions, but could watch the kids in front of us and know exactly what to do by the time it was our turn. I’m not sure what the kids in the middle of alphabet did.

Also there was a geographical aspect to last names in the classroom. Most teachers started assigning seats to students from the front of the classroom to the back, starting with the A’s then B’s and then everyone falling into place. This meant for me as a V that I was usually in the back left corner of the room. Again, the A’s and B’s needed to be a bit more attentive to action in the classroom than the V’s and W’s.

My friend mentioned that she grew up with a B last name, so she was always towards the beginning. She shared that recently she took her motorcycle license test. She was one of the last ones to take her test, and failed. The next time she took the test she made sure she was one of the first ones to test. Her belief is that the waiting made her nervous , she just wasn’t accustomed to waiting, she performed best when she went at the beginning. Just like she had been patterned to do from all her years in school.

Do you notice your attention or ability to wait is connected to your last name?

P.S. Just starting to wonder if there is a there a correlation in behavior between being an oldest, middle, or youngest kid, to your last name being at the beginning, middle, or end of the alphabet. Oldest kids tent to be more attentive, like the A’s and B’s. Youngest kids tend to get away with more, and do a lot of watching the older kids, like the V-Z’s.

In The Beginning

I have always enjoyed receiving encouragement. In fact I LOVE it. It inspires me to take things up a notch. I enjoy knowing that someone else thinks I can do better or achieve more. Ralph Waldo Emerson gets in touch with the deepness of encouragement with this quote.

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have also been very encouraging to the people around me. Somehow, from deep within I knew that people are nicer to be around when they have hope. I find dreary people very draining. Some people will always be draining, but sometimes, just noticing something hopeful about a person can make a huge difference in their disposition.

Last summer was the beginning of my exploration. First, I realized my family (husband and 5 kids) was growing up and I had time to think about one topic for more than 2 minutes without being interrupted. Second, on a drive back from dropping kid #1 at school 500 miles from home I had time to think. The rental car radio was not working. I drove in silence and my mind kept repeating “why don’t we encourage each other more?” It seems like this world, with all its ups and downs, would be much easier to navigate if we could help each other along the way.

I started to create a TED talk in my head, “The Lost Art of Encouragment”. This involved several stops at rest stops to write down my thoughts.

encouragement notes
encouragement notes

I started collecting quotes about encouragement, and writing out the who, what, why, where, when and how questions. Then I went a little deeper into my thoughts, came up for a breath, and dove back in to explore the questions further. Recently, I put on some floaties so I could stay in the deep end of my thoughts for a longer period of time. Now, with courage to continue the exploration, I share the beginnings of my findings.

St. Barnabas the Encourager

In my research about encouraging I ran across Barnabas in the book of Acts 4:36 in the Bible. He is not just Barnabas, he is identified as Barnabas “Son of Encouragement”, hailing from Cyprus.  This was intriguing to me, how does one’s name get to be associated with such a great attribute.

For a great summary of how Barnabas lived up to his name as The Encourager check out this post from Journey with Jesus. This is a picture of St. Barnabas with the VirgSaint Barnabas with the Virgin and Child, Sandro Botticelli, and Child, Sandro  Bottecelli 1490.

As pointed out in the article from Journey with Jesus:

Barnabas had a reputation for coming alongside people, especially sketchy people, with consolation and comfort. He was a bridge-builder who brought people together. He “had your back” in tough times.

I didn’t know much about Barnabas, but what I like is his ability to be a bridge-builder and not a bridge burner. And he had hope for the “sketchy people”.

Principle #1 To encourage is to bring good.