Words of encouragement: Proud of you for using them

Sometimes all we need is a small reminder to keep in mind. Photo courtesy of Words as Pictures

MADDIE WOOD | OPINION COLUMNIST | mawood1@butler.edu

“I am so proud of you!” 

“You are doing amazing.” 

“Keep going — don’t give up.”

Do these phrases sound familiar? I’m sure we have all heard these in our lives at some point, and the words have gone straight to our hearts and made our day just a little better. 

Hearing words of encouragement can go a long way for many people, myself included. If anyone tells me they are proud of me, it makes me feel a little better about everything despite the hardships I may be facing at that moment. Just knowing that someone cares enough to say some small phrase can be just what a person needs in order to get through the rest of their day. 

It has been scientifically proven that words of encouragement can have a positive effect on our brains. Hearing these words also increases dopamine production, which can help with maintaining focus and motivation for a task at hand or just motivation to keep going in general — which we all need once in a while. 

Words of affirmation and words of encouragement are a bit different, with affirmation being focused on the past and encouragement focused on the future. Despite the difference in tense, they are both positive reinforcement for someone to know that you care about them and their wellbeing. 

Words of encouragement, or affirmation for that matter, do not always have to be given to others. Sometimes you need to hear those words too, and they have to come from within. If I have a bad day and I feel like I have no one but myself, it helps to just tell myself some words of affirmation in my head to make my mental turmoil cease for just a while. 

Some people use self-deprecating humor in jest, but ultimately any self-talk can become internalized. And if you can say those things to yourself, it means that you perceive some sort of truth behind those words — so instead choose to think positive things about yourself and say those words instead. Easier said than done — I am well aware — but once in a while if you catch yourself telling a self-deprecating joke, try to consciously flip it into something positive. 

On the opposite end of telling yourself words of encouragement, it takes a lot to believe in what you are saying. It may be easier to believe the negative that you tell yourself than the positive, and it is not always the simplest task to listen and believe the nice things you tell yourself. 

Alyse Dittrich, a doctoral intern at Butler’s Counseling and Consultation Services, explained a method of trying to get yourself to get to the point of believing the positive things you tell yourself. 

“I think [believing what you say to yourself is] where people usually get stuck,” Dittrich said. “It can feel inauthentic, so the thing I like to recommend is saying ‘what if I were,’ or ‘what if I did.’ It bridges that gap between ‘I’ll never be able to use affirmations,’ and ‘I’m using them, and I believe them.’” 

Some people like to use sticky notes and put them in places like on the mirror or on their desk where they know they will see them every day and can read them to themselves. Some people write on their mirrors with dry-erase markers, and some people have reminders that pop up on their phones. Whatever the method may be, sometimes all we need is to be our own biggest supporters and take care of ourselves with some nice words. 

Director of athletic bands Melissa Johnson explained how she took a birthday present of affirmation cards and turned them into something her students would look forward to every week. 

“I decided that every Monday, I [would] write out a new affirmation and share [them] with the students as they came in,” Johnson said. “[They are] usually ‘I am’ statements [and are] very much an affirmation that you can continue to say to yourself throughout the week.” 

Now is the time in the semester when most college students are burnt out, and simply need just a little push to get through the rest of the year and finish strong. Small words of encouragement can go a really long way — before a big exam or trying to finish the final touches on a project, these words can be the perfect motivation for the final push. 

Johnson elaborated on how hearing these words when she was in our shoes as a college student might have had more of an effect than she thought. 

“When I was a college student, [affirmations] were not something that was at the forefront of my mind,” Johnson said. “I need to be able to speak truth to myself, [and] that wasn’t something I learned until much later, so being able to share that to students who are just a few steps behind me … is really important.” 

It seems like it has become more normalized to give others words of encouragement before something important, like exams or big presentations. While it is very important to hear encouragement when you may have a feeling of nervousness or need that push, it is also important to hear those words when you might not know you need them. 

You do not need a reason to text your friend and tell them that you are proud of them for just getting through the day, or that you believe in them and they can get over whatever may be clouding their mind at the moment. No matter the time, someone can always use some encouragement — as long as it comes from the heart. 

Dittrich explained how the encouraging words you share with others can have a bigger impact when they have love behind them. 

“We shouldn’t underestimate the power of giving other people words of encouragement,” Dittrich said. “[Giving words of encouragement] genuinely and authentically … feels good. The best is when we really mean what we’re saying.” 

It never fails to fill my heart with joy and bring a smile to my face when one of my friends, or anyone for that matter, gives me just some small words of encouragement. A little bit goes a long way, and with positive words that could not be any more true. 

So next time you are thinking about a friend, or know someone that is going through a tough time or even someone you know that might just need a little encouragement — send some nice and caring words their way and watch them get just a little bit happier. Keep being encouraging, to others and yourself, and remember — I’m so proud of you.


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