Let's face it; life goes better with encouragement, words of affirmation, and smiles. But how do we find the motivation that moves us forward and challenge us to do our best when no one cheers us?
Humans are conditioned to respond to the opinion of others. When we do well, we hope to hear, "well done." We respond to those who nudge us forward when we feel discouraged. Encouragement helps us persevere and see possibilities as opportunities. But when we are exposed to ridicule or negative comments of discouragement, we can feel deflated, devalued, and unworthy.
Our need to feel worthy is at the core of our need for encouragement. If we have been discouraged by negative, pessimistic people who tell us over and over again, "you can't," "you're not smart enough," or "why do you bother? You'll mess it up like you always do," we may eventually believe what they say. Ultimately, negative words eat away our confidence and sense of worth. Giving power to negative comments gives them power that may even redirect our future, and change our hopes, so much that we stop trying to reach our goals. Negative words hurt us more than we know.
That's why we must challenge every negative comment, every critical remark. Ask yourself, "is there any truth in what someone has said?" If so, learn from it and modify what needs modifying, but if there is no truth at all to the statement, if it's over-generalized, it's probably not true. Then choose to believe the truth; you are not always wrong or consistently incapable; you are not always insecure or haven't always made mistakes. If you've disappointed yourself a few times, accept that you are human and not perfect, but don't let someone else diminish your capabilities or your person. More times than not, the ones critical of others are the people who are insecure themselves.
I stopped swimming when my brothers made fun of my crawl stroke. I had worked hard at teaching myself to swim by watching others whose strokes I admired. My brothers had no idea how self-conscious I was about swimming. It took me great courage to stay afloat on the choppy Long Island Sound waters. The waves intimidated me, the seaweed scared me, and the salt in my eyes distracted me. I was challenged but proud to swim with enthusiasm, as if I was a pro.
Front the shoreline, my brother, both excellent swimmers, got a kick out of my calculated strokes. They laughed at me as they mimicked my churning dysrhythmic arms circulating mid-air in plain sight of everyone on the beach. When my eyes glanced at their mocking, I wasn't laughing. I was partially embarrassed, hurt, and angry. I lost my float and quit swimming.
Never to swim again, until…
I broke my leg and suffered complications from its imperfect healing.
Swimming was the best chance I had to heal, but I wondered, would I still remember how to swim? It's been years. I figured that I'd probably look like an idiot, haunted by the mocking, I still felt defeated, but this time, there was no one around me to poke fun at me. The challenge I faced was not the waves, seaweed or salt, or my brother's cynicism but the voice inside of me repeating the critical tease spoken by two brothers who meant no harm. They were doing what brothers often do: tease their sister.
It surprised me that I let those childhood comments stop me from swimming and realized that it was up to me to challenge criticism by challenging myself. That's when I took the plunge and began to glide through the water as if I was an Olympian. Well, maybe not an Olympian swimmer, at least not yet, but I sure became an Olympian self-encourager, a champion who has overcome discouragement by encouraging myself.