What does it mean to encourage someone?

I’ve been thinking about encouragement lately, and asking the question:

What exactly is encouragement and what does it do for us and for others?

As we discussed previously, author Seth Godin said it’s important to help our kids find interesting problems to solve, and then NOT criticize them when they fail.

I have a lot of experience with criticism, yet not so much with its opposite, which is encouragement.

On a podcast with Tim Ferriss, educator and former Congressman Ed Zschau reflected on how his parents never criticized him after the figure-skating events of his youth, even when he didn’t perform at his best.

What is encouragement?

As humans we all crave encouragement.

The dictionary definition of encouragement is: the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.

This is not the same thing as praise (expressing approval or admiration) though the two can certainly intertwine.

What does it mean to give someone support, confidence or hope?


Support means to bear weight, or to give assistance. We support people when we help them.

Maybe it’s helping our kids with their homework, covering at work for a colleague, or shifting our schedule around to accommodate our spouse in pursuing their dream of going to graduate school (or becoming a real estate agent!)

Support is a critical part of encouragement because it helps show the other person that they are not alone.

When we think about the future, big goals and what it will take to accomplish them and become the person we desire to be, it can feel overwhelming if our expectation is that we’ll be taking the journey alone. The truth is that no one succeeds alone.

When we support and assist others, we show them that they are capable of more than they think, through relationship with others.


Confidence in this context of encouragement means a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities. We encourage by helping others to appreciate their own abilities and qualities.

We can do this by calling attention to what they have completed already (look at how many homes you’ve already sold! You DID that!) and to the qualities that we observe in them (you really exhibited leadership in that situation the other day with so and so…)

When we help someone gain confidence through an appreciate of their own abilities and qualities, it allows them to GROW.

We need confidence in order to take risks, and all growth is risky.


Hope in its noun form simply means a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

In the case of encouragement, we can help others cultivate and maintain the expectation that tomorrow will be better than today. This is not to say that we live in the future, yet when we encourage people, we help them believe that the future is always filled with opportunity, and regardless of where we are today, we have great things ahead of us.

Using positive language

There’s a saying that what you focus on expands. We can interpret this in many different ways, and yet in this context it applies to language.

We can say: Don’t criticize, and that phrase has a negative focus. In my experience, if you tell yourself (or others) not to criticize, you (and they) will be focused on criticism. Instead, we can use positive language to remind ourselves to look for ways to encourage others. We can choose to give support, confidence, and hope to those around us.

And really, won’t that feel amazing?

To whom will you give encouragement today?

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