I read a wonderful article on the weekend by psychology professor Jim Bright on the benefits of encouragement versus motivation. Prof Bright from the Australian Catholic University points out that in recent years the business and sport world have put a lot of effort into ‘motivating’ people. Prof Bright points out that motivation can increase the desire to succeed, polish talent and even help develop career strategies, but he believes that we underestimated the importance of encouragement when it comes to helping people reach their goals.
What does the professor think the main value of encouragement is? Simply, it leads to people becoming confident! Self-confidence levels vary wildly between different people, and even individual levels of self-confidence fluctuate. One minute you may be on top of the world, the next you are riddled with self-doubts. Confidence is a trait that is both inherited and influenced by childhood. Young children see themselves through their parents’ eyes. If a parent has been overly critical and demanding of a child, that child will probably grow up with a lack of self-esteem which will follow them through their adult life. People who have suffered neglect or abuse as children often grow up with fragile self-confidence. Children who are overly controlled or pampered may also suffer from low self-esteem. They may feel they can’t survive without the parent there to take care of them. Alternatively a child who has been praised lavishly and falsely may grow-up with an inflated sense of their own importance. Every adult needs to have a realistic understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, but how many people actually have that? I’m sure you know a great many people who either grossly underestimate or overestimate their own talents and abilities! How well do you think you know yourself?
Setbacks hurt our self-confidence
Our confidence is often at its lowest level after a personal setback or disappointment. After a marriage breakdown many people feel worthless and lost. A redundancy can have the same effect, as can financial loss and the death of a loved one. A loss of confidence usually leads to self-limiting behaviour. We are hesitant to expose ourselves to risk or failure. We won’t go for a new job or open a new business or begin studying because we are afraid we will fail. Let me tell you a secret, even people who appear incredibly confident occasionally suffer from a crisis of confidence. Yes, even they doubt themselves from time to time.
What can increase self-confidence? Encouragement! Professor Bright says encouragement is a supportive process, literally from the Latin giving heart. “Encouragement is not the same as motivation,” Professor Bright writes. “Motivation gets people to try harder. Encouragement gets them to try in the first place, and to keep on trying.”
Seek encouragement from friends when you need it!
If you are suffering from a crisis of confidence why not actively look for some encouragement! Tell trusted friends that you lack the self-belief that you are up to a challenge. Ask them what they think. Tell them honestly that you need some ongoing reassurance and support for a few weeks, maybe months. Perhaps on the home front, you need to tell the people you live with that you need some recognition for your contributions and hard work. You need to be told that you’ve done a good job! According to research, women still carry out most domestic chores. Does their family thank them for their efforts or try to distribute domestic duties more fairly? According to most of my female friends the answer is no. Research has found that women have lower self-esteem than men. Wiebke Bleidorn from the University of California did a study on the self-confidence levels of men and women in 48 countries and found that in all countries, including Australia and the US, men are much more confident. I must say I love that feminist catch-cry, “Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man!” I think it’s critical for women to encourage and support other women, and it’s also vital that us men encourage and support the women in our lives – our wives, daughters and our work colleagues.
Be generous with encouragement!
If you suffer from low self-esteem I want you to seek encouragement from people you trust, and I also want you to be generous in your encouragement of others – your friends, family and work colleagues. If you work with other people don’t complain about their lack-lustre efforts, instead encourage them to do better. Give them credit when they do do a job well. Prof Bright writes, “It is not a sign of childishness to need encouragement, it is a sign of being human.”
It is true that some people need more encouragement than others, due to their biological make-up or childhood experiences. Remember, you don’t know what other people have been through. You don’t know what setbacks or abuse they’ve had to overcome. If they need extra encouragement as adults give it to them. Hey, it’s not costing you anything! Berating, abusing and complaining about people is unlikely to persuade them to do their job better or even improve their behaviour. Also raw motivation, telling people to go harder and stronger doesn’t always do the trick. What we all need more of is love and encouragement, and sometimes we have to have the courage to ask the people we love to give us more of the good stuff!
Parents must be plentiful with encouragement
If you are a parent it is vital that you encourage and praise your children. Use the carrot never the stick! Encouragement reinforces your child’s confidence and sense of self. By encouraging and praising you teach your children how to think and talk positively about themselves. Ideally we all should know how important it is to congratulate ourselves for our wins, but some parents are overly critical and overly demanding and their children never learn how to give themselves a pat on the back.
You don’t have to exaggerate your children’s abilities, but you can thank or congratulate them for doing the right thing – for doing their homework or tidying up their room. It is vital that you acknowledge their contributions. I also think it’s important to be specific in your praise, for example you might thank your child for making you a cup of tea. This is more effective than just saying, “You are a good kid.”
Use encouragement to change behaviour
You can use encouragement and praise to change behaviour in children. If you want to get your child to complete homework before watching television, praise the child every time he or she does this until it becomes an established routine.
Children do not respond well to criticism, disapproval, blame and reproach. Children respond positively to encouragement and love. You know something – that is also true of us adults!
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.