While I know it’s important to encourage others, I don’t feel very skilled in giving positive affirmations. How can we learn to encourage others when it feels weird?
Falling Behind and Getting Frustrated
“Where are you guys?” Pedro asked.
“Good question,” I answered. I looked around and tried to describe my current location. “We’re at the bottom of that big hill where the trail turns into switchbacks.”
“Yikes. You’ve got five miles left to go.”
“Where are you?”
“The rest of the kids and I have all reached the van.”
“Oh, my. That’s pretty bad.”
“I’ll check the map and see if we can access the trail closer to you. I’ll call back once I know,” Pedro said.
He hung up, and I looked at my watch. This bike ride had started to turn into a nightmare. When we take students riding, Pedro usually stays at the front of the group while I stay at the end of the group, waiting for the stragglers and making sure no one gets hurt.
When we hit a difficult part of the trail, I hang back and think up new blog posts or solve world problems whilst the kids grunt and groan and push their bikes up the trail. Eventually they get far enough ahead so that I can clean the trail without fear of having to stop in a tight spot and end up having to push my bike.
My ringing phone drug me out of my reverie. “Your best bet is to turn right when the trail crosses the logging road,” Pedro informed me. “That will cut two miles off your trip. We’ll get the bikes loaded and wait for you here.”
“Sounds good,” I replied. “Hopefully it doesn’t take us more than an hour. It’ll be dark before long.”
How We Got Into this Pickle
Today’s trip started out normally, but I noticed one young man getting further and further behind.
Two miles into today’s 9.5-mile trip, one young man ran out of water. I had a small bottle of frozen water I moved to a side pocket where it would melt more quickly. Each time he asked for water, I would stop and share the melted water with him.
Three miles into the trip, he hopped off his bike and sat on the ground. “Did you eat your granola bar already?” I asked him. He had. I grabbed another one from my pack and tossed it to him. “Eat some of this,” I told him, “it will build your energy up.”
Four miles into the trip, he alternated between pushing his bike fifteen feet, sitting on the ground for two minutes and riding fifty feet before he took another break. “Have you ever gone on a mountain bike ride before?” I asked him. He shook his head no. “Well, in that case, you’re doing an awesome job!” I assured him. “The first time out can be rough!” His sad face stared at me with unblinking eyes.
Experiment with Encouragement
In situations like this, I never know what to do. Did he want an audience for his agony, or did he need encouragement to just keep on slogging along the trail? I felt frustrated by his lack of progress, so I decided to experiment by staying out of sight behind him. He continued to hop off his bike every 50 feet or so, and his resting periods got longer and longer. The sum total of his conversation included two words: “I’m thirsty!”
At this rate, we wouldn’t reach the others until well after dark. I tried riding in front of him, but he quickly fell out of sight and I had to stop over and over again to wait for him. In addition, I didn’t feel comfortable having him out of sight behind me.
While I enjoy words of affirmation, I don’t feel adequate when it comes time to encourage others. But I needed to try something different. Obviously, my stay-behind or get-ahead tactics didn’t work. I decided to try something new, even if it didn’t feel natural.
Instead of getting way behind or way ahead, I kept about 30 feet behind him. Each time it looked like he wanted to stop, I would praise him. “Great job on riding over that rough spot!” I called out. “Keep up the good work!”
Our pace picked up slightly. I heard water sloshing in my bottle, so I said, “Hey! Some more water has melted. Would you like some?” When we stopped, I explained the trail numbering system and told him how to figure out the remaining distance.
Each time we passed a numbered marker, I would give him the remaining distance. At our next break, he said, “So we have seven quarters left to go, right?” He even smiled when he said it.
The Power of Affirmations
Once we hit the logging road, I sprinted ahead to see how far we had to go to reach the parking area. When I crested a small rise, I could see the vehicles and the rest of the group milling around. I circled back to my student, who had once again started pushing his bicycle, and said, “We’re almost there! You can make it!”
He hopped on his bike and raced off whilst I leisurely turned my bicycle and headed back. I briefly thought about sprinting to the finish but decided to let him show up first.
The other kids cheered for him when he reached the parking lot, and my chest filled with pride and gratitude. I loved how the other students had joined in affirming him.
Later on, whilst grabbing a bite to eat at Taco Bell, I overhead a group of kids talking. “Mr. Ojeda beat me by this much!” one of them said, as he demonstrated the gap of an arm’s length.
“Well, I beat Mrs. Ojeda!” my little buddy exclaimed. The kids gave him a high-five and patted him on the back.
A few minutes later, one of the group turned to me and quietly stated, “That’s because you chose to stay behind, isn’t it, Mrs. Ojeda?”
I smiled mysteriously in reply. My heart melted that the young man would be perceptive enough to ask his question quietly and to affirm me in the process.
Ways to Encourage Others When it Feels Awkward
1. People need different kinds of encouragement.
Some people need verbal encouragement like my mountain biking buddy. Others prefer it when you simply come alongside of them. We need to become students of those around us and figure out what makes them feel encouraged.
2. Encourage others with honesty.
Some of my students have adopted a failure script. They have no idea the power of their minds to help them achieve great things. But they do know when someone offers false praise. I had to make sure to give honest affirmations—otherwise, they wouldn’t have worked.
3. Remember to praise the product and encourage the person.
By praising his progress (making it over a rough spot or staying on his bike instead of pushing it), I let my student know I saw the changes he had made. I encouraged him to keep going, but I didn’t associate his progress (or lack of progress) with him as a person. We can help others overcome failure scripts when we affirm their progress and encourage them. This allows them to see themselves as someone who can learn.
4. Others take cues from you.
We have a culture of encouragement on our mountain bike rides. I often hear Pedro leading out in the cheers and encouragement as kids make it up difficult spots. Our students don’t come from homes where encouragement and affirmations play a part in their lives, but how quickly they catch on and share their skills with others.
If I Encourage Others, How Will it Help Me Take Care of Myself?
That day I discovered why my decision to encourage others made my life better. Instead of falling into a frustrated funk about our lack of progress, I chose to reach out and do something for someone else.
By taking my thoughts and actions captive, I discovered I avoided stressing myself out in a situation that could have brought on a tension headache. Focusing on helping someone else succeed actually helped me.
Mental self-care means when we find ourselves getting frustrated by a situation, we take the time to ask ourselves how we can encourage others to turn the situation into something less stressful.
By doing so, we bless ourselves and others. Four years later, my little buddy is taller than me and always rides at the front of the pack. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation where you discovered the power of encouraging others?How learning to encourage others is a form of mental self-care. #stress #affirmations #selfcare Click To Tweet