We appreciate what a person does, but we affirm who a person is. Appreciation comes and goes because it is usually related to something someone accomplishes. Affirmation goes deeper. It is directed to the person himself or herself. While encouragement would encompass both, the rarer of the two is affirmation. To be appreciated, we get the distinct impression that we must earn it by some accomplishment. But affirmation requires no such prerequisite. This mean that even when we don’t earn the right to be appreciated (because we failed to succeed or because we lacked the accomplishment of some goal), we can still be affirmed – indeed, we need it then more than ever. I do not care how influential or secure or mature a person may appear to be, genuine encouragement never fails to help. Most of us need massive doses as we slug it out in the trenches. 

Charles Swindoll, Strengthening Your Grip

the duty of encouragement

One of the highest of duties is the duty of encouragement... It is easy to laugh at men's ideas; it is easy to pour cold water on their enthusiasm; it is easy to discourage others. The world is full of discouragers. We have a Christian duty to encourage one another. Many a time a word of praise or thanks or appreciation or cheer has kept a man on his feet. Blessed is the man who speaks such a word.


William Barclay

The Secret to an Exceptional Life

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers suggests context and hard work are more critical than raw talent when it comes to achievement. He offers Christopher Langan as an example of how the range of opportunities presented to us can made a major difference as to whether we gain traction in life.

Einstein's IQ was 150. Langan’s IQ was a blistering 195. But Langan spent his days working on a horse farm in rural Missouri. Why didn’t he rise to exceptional achievement? According to Gladwell, there was no one in Langan's life to encourage and help him develop his exceptional gifts. He grew up in a small town in Montana with an abusive stepfather in abject poverty.

Gladwell writes, "He had to make his way alone and no one--not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses--ever makes it alone."

You didn’t rise alone. Is there someone to whom you should show gratitude? Someone who poured? themselves into making you who you are? Is there someone who you could cultivate, radically altering the kind of person they become?

Stephen Goforth

Fixed Intelligence

We’ve long assumed that positive feedback always has desirable results. But some recent research has painted a more complex picture. Melissa Kamins discovered that children who receive primarily person-praise (“how smart you are”) rather than good words about their efforts will usually develop fixed views of intelligence. When children are young and family members consistently tell them how brilliant they are (or how dumb), they get the message: life depends on your level of intelligence, not on how you work at something. You’ve got it or you don’t. Nothing can change that reality, they think. In short, fixed views of intelligence or growth mindsets stem from conditioning, not from some inborn character trait. They too can change.

Ken Bain, What The Best College Students Do

I just thought I would call and tell you

Your telephone rings and the voice at the other end says, “Friend, don’t be disturbed. I don’t want to borrow any money and I have no favors to ask. I just thought I would call and tell you that I think you’re one of the nicest persons who ever draw a breath of air. You are an asset to your profession and a credit to your community. You’re the kind of person I like to be with because every time I’m around you, I feel inspired and motivated to do a better job. I wish I could see you every day because you motivate me to be my best self. That’s all I want to say, friend. Look forward to seeing you soon.”

Now, if a close friend called you and said those things to you what kind of day would you have? Remember, you know the words are sincere because they are coming from a close friend.

If you were a doctor, would you be a better doctor? If you were a teacher, would you be a better teacher? Regardless of who you are or what you do, you know in your own mind you wouldn’t only be better at your job, but you would be happier wouldn’t you?

How much more would you know about being a doctor? Or a sales person? Or a lawyer? How much more would you know if you had gotten that phone call? The answer obviously is you wouldn’t know any more. Still, in your own mind you know you would be better and happier.

You would say, "I’m an asset to my community and a credit to my profession. That old boy said so and he is one more smart cookie."

You wouldn’t argue with him for one single moment. You would see yourself in a different light. Your self-image would change and at that instant an interesting thing happens. You confidence goes up and when your confidence goes up, you r competence goes up at the same time.

Since you know what this kind of phone call would do for you, why don’t you do the same thing for someone else?

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

seeing potential

A New York businessman dropped a dollar into the cup of a man selling pencils and hurriedly stepped aboard the subway train. On second thought, he stepped back off the train, walked over the beggar and took several pencils from the cup. Apologetically, he explained that in his haste he had neglected to pick up his pencils and hoped the man wouldn’t be upset with him. “After all,” he said, “you are a businessman just like myself. You have merchandise to sell and it’s fairly priced.” Then he caught the next train.

At a social function a few months later, a neatly-dressed salesman stepped up to the businessman and introduced himself. “You probably don’t remember me and I don’t know your name, but I will never forget you. You are the man who game me back my self-respect. I was a “beggar” selling pencils until you came along and told me I was a businessman.”

The greatest good we can do for anyone is not to share our wealth with them, but rather to reveal their own wealth to them.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

Motivated by Screaming

I had the most satisfying Eureka experience of my career while attempting to teach flight instructors that praise is more effective than punishment for promoting skill-learning. I was telling them about an important principle of skill training: rewards for improved performance work better than punishment of mistakes. This proposition is supported by much evidence from research on pigeons, rats, humans and other animals.

When I had finished my enthusiastic speech, one of the most seasoned instructors in the audience raised his hand and made a short speech of his own. He began by conceding that positive reinforcement might be good for the birds, but he denied that it was optimal for flight cadets. This is what he said,

“On many occasions I have praised flight cadets for clean execution of some aerobatic maneuver. The next time they try the same maneuver they usually do worse. On the other hand, I have often screamed into a cadet’s earphone for bad execution, and in general he does better one his next try. So please don’t tell us that reward works and punishment does not, because the opposite is the case.”

This was a joyous moment of insight, in which I saw in a new light a principle of statistics that I had been teaching for years. The instructor was right – but he was also completely wrong! His observation was astute and correct: occasions on which he praised a performance were likely to be followed by a disappointing performance, and punishments were typically followed by an improvement. But the inference he had drawn about the efficacy of reward and punishment was completely off the mark.

What he had observed is known as regression to the mean, which in that case was due to random fluctuations in the quality of the performance. Naturally, he praised only a cadet whose performance was far better than average. But the cadet was probably just lucky on that particular attempt and therefore likely to deteriorate regardless of whether or not he was praise. Similarly, the instructor would shout in to a cadet earphones only when the cadet’s performance was usually bad and therefore likely to improve regardless of what the instructor did. The instructor had attached a causal interpretation to the inevitable fluctuations of a random process.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow

Time to Cheer

Encourage others and cheer for them. Having an appreciation for how amazing the people around you are leads to good places – productive, fulfilling, peaceful places. So be happy for those who are making progress. Cheer for their victories. Be thankful for their blessings, openly. What goes around comes around, and sooner or later the people you’re cheering for will start cheering for you.

Marc and Angel Chernoff

Love Begets Love

The more children know that you value them, that you consider them extraordinary people, the more willing they will be to listen to you and afford you the more willing they will be to listen to you and afford you the same esteem. And the more appropriate your teaching, based on your knowledge of them, the more eager your children will be to learn from you. And the more they learn, the more extraordinary the will become, If the reader senses the cyclical character of this process, he or she is quite correct and is appreciating the truth of the reciprocity of love. Instead of a vicious downward cycle, it is a creative upward cycle of evolution and growth. Value creates value. Love begets love.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Language that Ignites

Language that speaks of hopes, dreams, and affirmations (“You are the best!”), this kind of language--let’s call it high motivation--has its role. High motivation is not the kind of language that ignites people. What works is.. speaking to the ground-level effort, affirming the struggle. Phrases like, “Wow, you really tried hard,” or “Good job, dude,” motivate far better than empty praise.

Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code

The Pit

You have become acquainted with disappointments, broken dreams, and disillusionment. Crisis seems to be your closest companion. Like a ten-pound sledge, your heartache has been pounding you dangerously near desperation. Unless I miss my guess, negativism and cynicism have crept in. You see little hope around the corner. As one wag put it, "The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train." You are nodding in agreement, but probably not smiling. Life has become terribly unfunny.

Tired, stumbling, beaten, discouraged friend, taken heart! The Lord God can and will lift you up. No pit is so deep that he is not deeper still. No valley so dark that the light of His truth cannot penetrate.

Charles Swindoll, Encourage Me