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The Power of Praise - Verbal Encouragement as a Performance Enhancement Tool


As someone who was brought up in the Christian tradition, I grew up being taught that ‘The Power of Life & Death are in the tongue’*.  Paganism also teaches that words are spells and should be used with intent. For words are energy and our words have the power to birth the evolution of change – for better or for worse.

 

The power of the spoken word is something that I draw upon daily.  In fact, I’m such a believer in verbal encouragement, that I talk to my plants.  My kids think I’m a little crazy, but my craziness is backed by science.  A study published in the International Journal of Innovative Research in Technology in 2021 reported that “Plant seeds under the influence of the positive words had a higher germination rate, and these plants grew taller, larger, and healthier than that in negative environment.”

 

Verbal encouragement has been studied most closely as it relates to sports performance.   One recent controlled study** found that ‘frequent verbal encouragement leads to significantly greater maximum effort in a treadmill test than when no encouragement is given or when the encouragement is infrequent.’.

 

But WHY does verbal encouragement improve performance so significantly?

 

1. Motivational Boost:  Positive verbal feedback persuades us to believe in our own abilities.  A boost in self-efficacy leads to increased motivation and a willingness to put in more effort.

2. Psychological Impact:  Verbal encouragement creates a positive environment.  It fosters a sense of support, reduces anxiety, and helps us to feel valued.  It’s the “I Believe In You” that we all need to hear.  It addresses the most basic of human needs. The need to feel good about ourselves.

3. Focus and Confidence: Encouragement keeps attention on the task at hand and helps us to concentrate on the strengths and abilities reinforcing self-confidence.

4. Effort and Persistence:  Verbal encouragement reinforces the idea that effort matters.  When we hear encouraging words, we are more likely to persist through challenges, set-backs and fatigue.

5. Social Connection.  Verbal encouragement fosters a sense of belonging and camaraderie.  We feel seen and connected.

 


Two post-it notes hung across a piece of string and attached with pegs with two words - 'you're' and 'amazing'


Self-Talk

 

Verbal encouragement is not only about building others up.  The application extends to the most important use case of all - with ourselves. 

 

I was listening to a podcast recently in which a coach spoke about a client who had struggled to achieve their goal of training regularly at the gym.  As they unpacked her behaviours and thought processes, she was asked “When you don’t get to the gym, what do you say to yourself… how do you feel?”. She responded “I feel down and discouraged, I tell myself see you’re no good, you’ll never get fit”.  The coach then asked “When you do get to the gym, how do you feel?  How do you speak to yourself?”  She responded “Well… I guess I still don’t feel great.  I think to myself – ‘Well you’ve only made it here once this week.  You missed Monday and Tuesday and you really didn’t train hard enough today’ and I don’t feel great then either!” They discovered that her self-talk was in fact a dis-incentive to reaching her goals because even when she DID take steps towards them, she was focussed on the short-comings.  And there-in lies a huge learning.

 

Performance improvement often focusses on the gap between where we are now and where we should be.  Verbal encouragement, however, is the antidote for anyone who feels disempowered and disenfranchised.  

 

If speaking kindly to plants can help them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to yourself can do! Positive self-talk improves self-esteem, stress management and wellbeing; reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety; improves body image - and can even reduce chronic pain.

 

How can we change how we speak to ourselves to become more encouraging?

 

  • · Focus On The Positive – Shift your perception away from the negative and focus on what you can be grateful for. Writing these things down reinforces their validity and strength.

  • · Conscious Thought Selection  – I once had worked in a restaurant, setting almost 200 places each evening before service.  This job was to support me in being able to build my business - and I found myself becoming frustrated and discouraged.  To combat these feelings and to make the best use of my time there, I developed a mantra of three statements about myself that I wanted to imprint in my psyche.  I repeated these three conscious thoughts with every plate, knife, fork and serviette I placed.  And you know what? Today I truly believe them! 

  • · Verbal Affirmations – Say It Out Loud. Evolution has programmed us to believe what we tell ourselves as the highest authority on any subject. To survive, we developed the ability to assess everything in terms of risk.  Thus, we believe intrinsically what we tell ourselves.  Verbally Encouraging yourself Out Loud harnesses not just our thought patterns but our auditory senses, doubling down on the integrity of the information.  I encourage clients I work with to write down five things they want to believe about themselves on several post-it notes.  Stick one by your bed, one on your mirror and one on your laptop.  Read these aloud three times each time you see them.  First thing in the morning (yes - before you look at your phone!!); as you dress; as you work and lastly before you sleep at night.  You will set the tone for the day, remind yourself when becoming fatigued and determine what your subconscious reinforces whilst you sleep.

 

One of my favourite quotes is “Anyone can find the dirt in someone.  Be the one who finds the Gold.” Proverbs 11:27. As you go about your day today, be consciously encouraging with your speech - in your workplace, in your relationships and with yourself - and experience the incredible difference it makes in your life.

 

Have an amazing week!

 

Rachel x


*Proverbs 18:23

**Andreacci JL, Lemura LM, Cohen SL, et al. The effects of frequency of encouragement on performance during maximal exercise testing. J Sports Sci. 2002;20(4):345–352

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