We all have those days, don’t we? You wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it’s pouring with rain outside, and before you know it you’re in tears over a comment that wasn’t badly meant but just hit you in the wrong place. Days when you feel unappreciated or taken for granted. Days when you are swamped by a loss of enthusiasm and courage. Days when you find it hard to distance yourself from negativity.
But then there are the moments that make you realise your perspective is all wrong and your focus needs to shift. And have you noticed that words are often pivotal for turning things around? It’s incredible the impact kind thoughts expressed verbally can have; they can make all the difference to a weary heart.
I’m forever trying to get my two girls to tidy up after themselves (if you’ve achieved this in your family, please share your secrets with me!) With some exhortation, Eden is usually pretty happy to help, but Zoë can be fairly obstreperous about it.
Yesterday was one of those rainy days. After I had tidied up the living room for the tenth time, Zoë must have tangibly felt my dejection. She took my hands in hers, looked me right in the eyes, and said genuinely and empathetically – ‘Mummy, I think I finally understand. You always clean up for us, and it’s a really hard job to do all on your own. You just want someone to do it with you.’
I couldn’t stop the tears welling up in that moment.
‘Yes!’ I thought. ‘You actually get it! You may not care at all by tomorrow, but you do understand today.’
Somehow things didn’t seem quite so gloomy after that.
My dad emailed me a lovely note a while back. He’d watched a talk I did online, and he took the time to write me a few lines on how great he thought it was.
And you know what words struck home the most? ‘I. Am. Proud. Of. You.’
Why did they touch me so deeply? Not just because my primary love language is words of affirmation – because they came from someone whose opinion really matters to me.
Another day last week, Bill and I were chatting about how he’s constantly trying to improve things and he suddenly came out with this: ‘You know, I couldn’t improve you, even if I tried. I wouldn’t ever want to change you.’
That was the ultimate compliment. The crème de la crème of encouragements. I’ll treasure it forever. Why? Because although Bill is constantly drawn to improve things, and he knows me better than anyone, he appreciates me just as I am.
Intentionally gathering up these moments in the same place and saving them for a stormy time is a powerful way to defeat discouragement. My Dad used to say when he got a nice letter or sentiment on a card, ‘I’ll put that in my encouragement file.’ And he did – a literal file that every so often, on the hard days, he’d open and read through to lift his spirits.
So I have an encouragement file now too. It helps to remind me that there’s always a silver lining in a depressing black cloud. Recent research suggests that because our brains are hardwired to focus in on the negative, we need five positive comments per one criticism to perform at our best.
But the good news is that we can re-new our minds by fixing our thoughts on what is ‘true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable’ – by thinking about ‘things that are excellent and worthy of praise’ (Philippians 4:8). Sometimes we need to train ourselves how to focus on the good in order to grow gratitude and beat despondency in our hearts.
My manager at work is brilliant at this. She’s got such a positive outlook on life and people, and quite often she will end her work emails with, ‘appreciate you.’ What a difference that simple phrase makes!
So when you find yourself feeling down in the doldrums, open your encouragement file. Whether it’s a journal, a ringbinder, a desktop folder, notes on your iPhone, a designated email account, or a collection of recorded voice memos – relive those golden moments, thank yous and affirming words in a place where they can’t be washed away by rainy weather.
The reality is, everyone needs support and help to stay positive. But it’s true also that encouragement is contagious. Those who give out the most affirmation often receive the most support in return.
My encouragement file not only lifts my spirits, it reminds me to stop and acknowledge those who otherwise I could easily take for granted. It prompts me to appreciate those in my life who are with me through thick and thin.
Let today be the day you speak only the good you know of other people and motivate others to do the same. We all have the power to lift a loved one up when they’re having a bad day. Use it!