This month's Skill of the Month is Encourage. As with many of the skills I share with my clients and readers, this one comes from the work of Dr. Marsha Linehan and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). It is the "E" in the distress tolerance acronym IMPROVE. Basically, Encouragement is just the way we talk to ourselves. If we're saying negative things like "I'm going to fail!" "This will never work!" or "Everyone will laugh" our anxiety is going to escalate right along with the dread and the very real possibility that we will fail because we've set it up that way.
Encouraging statements, similar to Affirmations, can be thought of as cheerleading statements that we make for ourselves. Cheerleaders have the task of keeping the audience engaged, entertained, and to help the athletes stay motivated in the game, even when things are not looking so good for the team. It's a hard job to keep spirits up when it looks like you're losing. The idea behind Encouragement is just that, though. You're going through whatever stressful or uncomfortable situation is occurring and, if you can't get out of it, you're stuck with it until it's over so you might as well be your own cheerleader.
This skill is great for public speaking. Surprisingly, studies have shown that people fear public speaking quite a bit. On Fearof.net's list of the Top 100 Phobias, it ranks #13. In other polls, it ranks lower, but all agree that public speaking is, for many people, terrifying. It usually outranks the fear of dying--people would rather die than engage in public speaking! So, when you're in school and have to give an oral presentation, you can't really get out of it without adversely affecting your grade, so you have to just do it and get it over with. One way to help you through this process is to give yourself encouragement. Yourmom or friends might give you encouragement and you might encourage other classmates or friends as they also suffer through this necessary evil. You might say things like "you'll do great!" or "you've got this!" Those would be encouraging statements that might boost your ego enough to help you get through your speech.
I have frequently encouraged my clients to write themselves little sticky notes or something to see when they're in the middle of a stressful situation--what do we write on those notes? "You can do this!" "You will get through this!" "You are radiant!" or anything that they personally feel will be helpful for them to hear.
Another arena in which the Skill Encourage may come in handy is after something bad has happened. We might have trouble accepting things that do not go the way we like. Encouragement can help facilitate the acceptance that is necessary for the healing to begin. If you get passed over for promotion at your place of employment, you will likely feel disappointed and perhaps want to blame it on favoritism or something else. Engaging in Encouragement, though, might shift the focus away from negativism and into a more positive light--things like "I can always try for the next opening and now I'm ready for it" or "I'm destined for better things" can restore hope after a disappointment.
There are two "rules" when it comes to Encouragement. These are really important in order for this to be a helpful skill. The first rule is that you have to say it like you mean it--no "maybe" here! "I will do this!" "I can make it!" Not "Maybe it'll be okay." If you said that to someone else, I doubt they'd feel very confident in their ability, so don't say it to yourself and expect it to be very helpful, either! The second rule is to make sure you're encouraging yourself in situations that you actually have the capacity to do. So, if you've never studied one minute of Mandarin and I ask you to give a lecture to a room full of Chinese businessmen in their native language for 5 minutes, all the encouragement in the world isn't going to help you do that! Encouragement doesn't replace preparation in that kind of situation.
Give Encouragement a try this month and see if, as the research suggests, you find yourself succeeding more and getting through hard things is a bit easier!