For the past few months, I’ve been guided by a simple notion that appears to be quite powerful in how I relate to others. It has to do with encouraging versus discouraging. About a year ago, I began to see this distinction clearly, which begs the question, why hadn’t I seen this before? We’ll come to that later.

The question I’ve been left with is the following: Is the person I just interacted with left with a feeling of encouragement or discouragement? The question came to me after talking with my son about a concern I had with the way he was conducting himself. It was obvious that he left the conversation feeling down. I noticed his gait was slower, his shoulders slumped, and his energy clearly deflated. Now this is not how I want my son to be walking in his life. And yet that is how he left our conversation. My hope was that he would feel challenged and inspired to change.

However, he left feeling the exact opposite. I began to reflect on other times he had walked away from conversations we’d had and the impact of my opinions on him. I then began to notice that too often other people also left my presence in much the same way.

My wish is for people to be challenged, supported and uplifted—to be called to their better selves as a result of spending time with me. To make change in one’s life requires resolve, determination, and belief in oneself. In addition, some kind of disequilibrium or disruptive event or crisis is required. This can motivate people and ignite a desire for growth and development. However, change will be inhibited if a person only feels discouragement. And yet that is what I did – focused too much on the ‘challenge’ part.

Now this doesn’t happen all the time with everyone, mind you, but I recognized enough situations that I began to see a simple, yet profound pattern. When I am critical without compassion, and focusing solely on the negative, without seeing the potential of the person in front of me or communicating my belief in them, they leave discouraged and not feeling supported. It’s that simple. You know it and I know it. We all know it. Yet despite this knowledge, I kept repeating the pattern. When looking deeper into my own history of criticism, I began to see that I’d always been critical toward myself.

My pattern for learning had been focused on what I was doing wrong. This actually used to work for me (to a point) as I kept trying to fix what was broken. Yet at the same time, it was a very hard way of life. I was hard on myself and rarely, if ever, really enjoyed life. Yes, I was growing along the way, but the journey was very difficult. It was only when I began to see the beauty in my life and appreciate who I was, and had ultimately become, that my pattern of inner criticism began to change. And as it did, I felt more encouraged.

And as I felt more encouraged, I enjoyed the journey more and more. My success grew geometrically, not arithmetically as it had done earlier in my life. In other words, my capacity to grow had developed because of my changed stance in life.

Now my focus is directed toward others, to see if my behavior leaves people encouraged or discouraged. The question is front and center for me. If they leave encouraged, then I’ve done a greater service to them than if I‘d simply pointed out their flaws. This doesn’t mean I avoid speaking the truth when I see something wrong or needing improvement. It simply means that, when consulting others, I offer them the following:

  1. You are good by me—I respect you and honor who you are.
  2. I believe in you and your capability. I trust your ability to solve this.
  3. I care about you – I would not be sharing this feedback with you unless I cared about you and our relationship.
  4. Everything has an upside and a downside. The challenges you are facing are a natural expression of the upside of who you are. Let’s not throw out the positive as you try and find ways to minimize the negative. Let’s appreciate that the negative cannot exist without the positive and vice versa.
  5. You need resolve to tackle the challenges you face right now. This is a journey that may take time. Take it slow, and break it down into mini steps so you can monitor and acknowledge your progress. Don’t try to change it all at once.
  6. Accept and embrace any ‘failure’ you may have along the journey. Learn from these ‘setbacks’. Expect and don’t expect miracles!
  7. I am not attached to you after offering my suggestions or guidance. I trust you to create your own experiences and own the decisions and consequences that arise from them.
  8. You are not your results. You are far more than your personality, your actions, and your ability. Remember the deeper essence of who you are.

As I’ve been pondering the way in which people leave my presence, I’ve realized the profound impact it has had on me. I’ve realized that if people are discouraged, then I must not be completely satisfied with myself. The influence I’ve had on others, in other words, has become a teacher to me. As a result, I’ve become a source of encouragement for myself.

Almost every day I feel grateful, alive, full and whole, and the more I feel like this, the more people feel encouraged in my presence. Why couldn’t I see this before? Well, I couldn’t see that I was caught in my own paradigm of self-deflating behavior. I looked at others and myself through a lens of limited belief in what was possible.

These beliefs were not conscious and therefore my behavior was outside of my awareness. It was only when I desired more than walking through life with my shoulders slumped and feeling discouraged that my life changed. Who knew life could be so good?