There’s an old popular story that many of us know and loved as children, The Little Engine that Could. This children’s story is most famous for the simple mantra “I think I can… I think I can.” This saying likely taught you how to encourage yourself.
Encouragement is the action of making yourself or someone else “more determined, confident, or hopeful.” (Merriam-Webster)
A bit of encouragement from others can push you to accomplish things you didn’t think you could.
Great coaches often use encouragement to push their teams beyond what they think they’re capable of in order to overcome odds and create a new level of expectation going forward.
You and I have that same opportunity within us. We too can create a new level of expectation by encouraging ourselves to keep pushing toward our dreams, instead of allowing anxiety to win.
So today, I’m going to share with you 3 ways to encourage yourself.
1. It's OK To Talk To Yourself
Let’s be honest, when you see someone talking to themselves you often think that person might be crazy. But the truth is, we all talk to ourselves and much more often than we like to admit. However, there are benefits to this practice.
Just think about that little blue engine from the children’s story. That engine spoke to herself from the time she decided to help the broken-down train until well after she completed her goal. She spent that time encouraging herself to do what seemed impossible.
You and I often do this too, although not always in a positive way. I’ve said to myself, “Come on Aaron!” while trying to encourage myself. But I’ve also said things like “You idiot” or “That was stupid,” when I’m dissatisfied with my actions, choices, or behavior.
It’s important that we use our tools to build ourselves up, instead of tearing ourselves down. So let’s use this to our advantage. If you’re ever given a task or you’re working toward a goal and you’re just not getting the results you want, it’s OK to talk to yourself and tell yourself that you can do it. Remember to keep your self-talk positive.
I tend to be pretty hard on myself and my self-talk can be pretty degrading. So, to make sure I keep things positive, I talk as if I’m speaking to a dear friend. Chances are, there are things you tell yourself that you’d never say to a friend. So if you wouldn’t say it to someone else, don’t say it to yourself. Keep things positive and encouraging.
2. Perspective is Everything and You Control Your Perspective
I’m not sure who coined the phrase, “It’s all in how you look at it,” but that person couldn’t have been more right.
How we look at things, or our perspective, can change how we feel about any situation.
For example, James Clear recently wrote about the concept of Illusory Correlation on his blog. Here’s how he explains it:
An illusory correlation happens when we mistakenly over-emphasize one outcome and ignore the others. For example, let’s say you visit New York City and someone cuts you off as you’re boarding the subway train. Then, you go to a restaurant and the waiter is rude to you…
When you think back on your trip to New York it is easy to remember these experiences and conclude that “people from New York are rude” or “people in big cities are rude.”
However, you are forgetting about all of the meals you ate when the waiter acted perfectly normal or the hundreds of people you passed on the Subway platform who didn’t cut you off. These were literally non-events because nothing notable happened. As a result, it is easier to remember the times someone acted rudely toward you than the times when you dined happily or took the subway in peace. - JamesClear.com
For those of us with anxiety, we use illusory correlations to justify that we are ill-equipped to accomplish our goals. We often think that because things didn’t work out the first time or since we tried and failed, we are failures. We use this selective memory as a way of maintaining a negative mindset about ourselves. But this just isn’t true.
Again, it’s all in how you look at it. If you take the time to change your perspective about things, you’ll be more encouraged by what you see.
For example, I remember working at an after-school program where I was helping twin brothers with their math homework. They were both in the same class and working on the same problems. One problem was pretty difficult and they both got the answer wrong.
When I went over the homework with them and provided a little guidance on how to tackle the question, I asked them to try the problem again. The first young man was eager to try it again. He saw this as an opportunity to get better and prove to himself that he understood the material for the class. The other young man protested, repeatedly said he couldn’t do it, and refused to tackle the problem again.
The first young man went on to be a leader in the math class while the second young man barely passed. Both of them were dealing with the same problem, but they didn’t look at it the same way.
Their difference in perception caused these identical brothers to have completely different outcomes. Both of them were capable of succeeding, but only one brother perceived it that way.
The best way to ensure your success is to remember that you control your perspective.
One way to change your perspective is by reframing. This requires simply looking at your problem or challenge in a new way.
Here’s an example I like to use.
The next time you encounter a challenge, pretend you’re looking at this challenge through a camera lens. At first glance, this challenge may seem impossible. However, with this camera lens, you have the ability to adjust what you see to make the challenge look more possible and obtainable. The lens doesn’t change the challenge, it simply changes how you see it.
This is reframing.
Remember, you may not be able to control the challenges you end up facing, but you can always control your perspective by reframing the situation. Instead of seeing a problem, reframe it as an opportunity to solve a problem. In doing this, you take your focus off the actual problem and instead focus your energy on the opportunity before you.
3. Celebrate Your Success No Matter How Small
Throughout the day, many of us have very small, simple wins that we often overlook and ignore. But, if we’re going to encourage ourselves, we have to be able to think back to positive moments that prove good things happen to us all the time.
If you recall, at the end of The Little Engine that Could, once the little engine reached the peak of the mountain she had to climb and started her way down the other side, she repeated to herself “I thought I could…I thought I could,” reinforcing that she believed in herself and that she was successful.
Too often, we race by our own success. Many of us think that if our success isn’t big and grand, it’s not success at all. But the truth is, great success is nothing more than a whole bunch of very small wins.
Consider for a moment the Golden State Warriors. If you don’t follow the National Basketball Association (NBA) at all, the Warriors are one of the best professional basketball teams in the US.
Last year, the team won the national championship, which is a major accomplishment. But, the Warriors didn’t win the championship simply because they won the last game of the season.
Their championship was made up of many smaller wins during the playoffs, regular season, practices, and training camp, well before the season even started. The reason the Warriors are so successful is because they recognize that even the small wins and minute details matter.
So as you go throughout your day, celebrate your small wins. Celebrate the fact that you left your house for work exactly when you wanted to or that you accomplished everything on your To-Do list. Celebrate when things work out, even if they don’t always go to plan.
Take care to celebrate the little things because they help to remind you that good things are all around you.
Once you begin to recognize that good is all around you, then you can easily say to yourself with confidence, just like that little blue train…
“I think I can…I thought I could!"
Next Action Steps
We an all use some practice with making encouraging statements about ourselves. In the comments below write something positive and encouraging that you know you need to hear. Not only will it help you, but it will likely help someone else who needs a little encouragement too.
For example: I know that I can handle all the things on my to-do list this week. I've planned things out as best as I could and I know I can accomplish my plan.