If you have read my About Me page, you will know that encouragement is on my list of what really matters. I believe that giving encouragement is not only one of the most powerful ways to build loving relationships, but it also plays a huge role in loving oneself.
I have chosen this topic today in honor of one of the most encouraging human beings to have ever lived, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As I find myself in disbelief over the events that recently transpired in Arizona, I find myself wondering, “Where do we go from here? What does the future hold? What can I do to make this a better place for my children?”
I think encouragement would be a beautiful, welcomed, and productive place to start.
Here is my story of the undeniable power of encouragement…
About the time that I had my Hands Free awakening, I also began running. It has quickly become one of my favorite Hands Free activities. I find that this time by myself in nature or on the treadmill listening to music is a breeding ground for reflective thinking, thoughts of gratitude, and free-flowing ideas.
A dear friend of mine encouraged me to run a 10K race (which I soon discovered was 6.2 miles and still somehow agreed). I ran my first 10K race about nine months ago, and because I had just started running, I was solely focused on crossing the finish line.
It wasn’t until my second race that I was able to run confidently, take in the sights and sounds around me, AND practice one of my Hands Free strategies. The results were profound.
I was in the first mile of the race and by now the super-fast runners had gone ahead, slower paced runners had fallen back. Basically, all the runners had found their groove.
As I ran along at my own happy little pace, I slowly began gaining on people. It felt a bit rude to simply race on by without a word, although I noticed that is just what people do.
I decided it wouldn’t hurt to throw out an encouraging word to every person I passed. As I have recently learned, it is important to take time to say it. You just never know when you have the words that someone else needs to hear.
Although the adorable old guys bearing the cold in their running shorts were my favorite targets, I did not discriminate. I decided to encourage anyone I passed: young or old, men or women; everyone was fair game.
I decided a simple “Good job!” would suffice, accompanied by a smile and thumbs up (my four-year-old daughter’s signature sign, which was especially important if they were wearing an IPOD).
In response, I received numerous acknowledging smiles. I received a few initial looks of surprise, which quickly evaporated into a look of thanks. And there was the one clearly annoyed woman who looked at me like perhaps I was lacking enough oxygen to my brain.
Yet there was one common denominator in every single one of their responses.
Once I spoke my encouraging words, every single recipient had a sudden burst of energy. Every single person, regardless of age, gender, and facial response (even Miss Annoyed), began to run faster.
I literally laughed in amazement by the reaction of one older gentleman. Barely making it up the steep incline of the last hill, I flew past him with a hearty, “Good job!” coupled with, “You can do it!” (I have to admit, he did kind-of remind me of my dad.)
Within seconds guess who comes flying by me? The man, who less than a minute ago looked like a decrepit turtle trying to climb a steep embankment, was now booking past me. He paused just long enough to let me know it was indeed my words that had given him that fire.
As I neared mile five, I saw a woman standing on the corner yelling something to the runners whizzing past. I paused the music on my IPOD to hear what she was saying.
“One more mile! You’re in the home stretch! It’s all down hill!” For a woman with a small frame, her voice echoed along the crowded streets.
Although she was calling out to the hundreds of runners around me, I felt as if she was only talking to me. My pace quickened, and my legs became lighter. It was then that I noticed more bystanders had gathered along the perimeters of the last mile to cheer on their friends and families, as well as people they had never met.
Although I refer to my music as “therapy” seven days a week, I turned my IPOD off. In that moment, the music was a distraction to an experience that I didn’t want to miss. Lifting me up like a small child in her daddy’s arms was the resonating sound of encouragement.
With each cheer, my legs got stronger, and my stride grew longer. Encouragement. How can something so small, something so effortless turn weakness into strength, doubt into hope?
Couldn’t we all use a little encouragement? There is no question; the answer is yes. So maybe the better question is: Couldn’t we all give a little encouragement?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said these profound words that resonate with me today, “Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
If you are reading this, join with me and take the first step toward a more positive, loving, respectful, and accepting community of American citizens. Let’s make a vow to stop condemning, criticizing, judging, ridiculing, and belittling. We have seen the tragic results of these damaging tactics; no one wins.
Instead, let’s try encouragement.
Then sit back and watch as someone struggling to breathe suddenly finds an unexpected second wind.
With a little encouragement, everyone wins.
Whether we are talking about a running race or simply living life, giving encouragement is a powerful gesture that has a revitalizing effect on the receiver, as well as the giver. When is the last time you gave someone (including yourself) unexpected encouragement? Give it a try today and tell me about it. Encouragement is contagious.