March 31st, 2011

Who’s Your Cheerleader?

Who are your biggest cheerleaders? Who helps you see your best qualities, define your values, see others more clearly, be your best self, discover your passions and believe you are capable of doing the things you were passionate about?

We all hunger for the people who cheer us on to greater things. Some of our relationships operate on a platform of criticism, ego and agendas that try to take us down a notch. Hell, we can get knocked down and held back by a series of circumstances without anyone else getting involved. Then here come the cultural naysayers to keep just about anyone from being exceptional.

Correction does much, but encouragement does more.”

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

No wonder we thirst for compliments. We naturally gravitate toward the people who recognize the best in us and with a few words have the power to enhance our innate qualities and inspire us to travel in new and true directions. But finding those people is the trick.

Every moment we waste with a naysayer is a moment we could have spent with a cheerleader.

Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.”

—Elizabeth Harrison

False cheers

Taking an interest in what others are thinking and doing is often a much more powerful form of encouragement than praise.”

—Robert Martin

Compliments and praise aren’t always cheers. There are lots of people seemingly cheering for us. There’s the dad who cheers his kid to play football because that’s what dad wants from his son who’d rather be painting. And the mom who makes her disinterested daughter play piano because mom was forced to play and “it’s good for her.” The friend that ingratiates by slathering compliments in order to people-please but don’t really give a damn where their friend’s life is going.

Before we decide what we’re good at we’re vulnerable to the agendas of others. We can suck up a good compliment or few and before we know it we’re living someone else’s idea of our own life. Have we shed the person that other people wanted us to be and are we moving toward our own purpose?

Our brain cells, our emotions, our inclinations and talents drive us in a direction. We’re lagging until we can move toward our own journey with all the supportive fuel we can get. Who is putting the foot on our brake and who is helping us put it on the gas? And whose hands are on the wheel?

It’s easy to be a critic and everyone seems to be one But we need critics too. A good surgical criticism can help us find our direction just as much as some solid encouragement. Cheerleaders help us stay true to our principles and values in spite of where false cheers have lead us.

Identify your cheerleaders

Do you know what a real cheerleader looks like? They are listening to who you are. Their suggestions often run counter to their own preferences or interests. They are more interested in your internal contentment than the ego driven pursuits of what your outsides look like and what high-powered career you can garner. They want you to pursue your passions with success. They don’t shove their fears at you. They are the realistic optimists that help you find your way through.

Cheerleading parents set their own egos and desires on the shelf and pay attention to their child’s inner compass in the myriad of activities they’re exposed to. They help their child figure out where their real passion lies by seeing what they truly value. And then they support them in it even if they don’t understand it, even if it worries them, even if it doesn’t fulfill their parenting dreams.

Ask for cheers

Cultivating the cheerleaders in our life takes a little effort. Aside from finding those that naturally cheer – we can simply ask the people around us to take part in our growth and development by telling them how we need to be cheered. When their agendas are ruling their input – let them know gently that you are different and give them your developing list of what matters to you.

Several years ago I participated in an exercise at work. We were defining our personal brand and handed out cards to our peers asking them for three words that describe us at our best. They were stapled together and we couldn’t open them until the end of the workshop. It was like having a stack of valentines waiting for me. When I opened them I felt like a kid again. Hearing how others perceived me – at my best – is fuel for creating direction and momentum.

A wonderful man I was dating wasn’t expressive with compliments. His actions told me how much he cared but I had no idea what it was about me that he valued, nor how I was seen through his eyes. As part of a playful request I asked him to bring me a note the next few times we saw each other that could have as little as a single word on it or as much as he wanted to write. I asked that each note contain something he appreciated, respected or admired about me. (Being a sparse communicator, he brought single words on folded cards in tiny envelopes.) Though he remains a friend I’m no longer sentimental about or attached to him, yet those cards still have a positive effect in my life and I’m glad I have them. And I’m glad I asked.

Asking for encouragement doesn’t dilute the power of the encouragement.

Not everyone will become a cheerleader – some just can’t be that for you. But ask first before you decide that they are banished to the land of the naysayers.

Be the cheerleader

Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.”

—William Arthur Ward

Be the cheerleader in someone’s life and they’ll flourish faster. Your contribution to their success will create a bond that can’t be broken and you get to watch them thrive.

How are you cheerleading your friends? Do you expect them to do what you want in order for your ego to be satisfied? Or are you helping them to see and believe and letting them be who they are?

Who is telling your kids what they’re good at? Who is exposing them to new experiences, people, hobbies, activities? Who is showing them where they excel? Who is your child’s cheerleader?

The more I encourage my child to think for himself, the more he will care what I think”

—Anonymous

What cheerleading can look like

right now:

There are Tibetan Buddhist monks in a temple in the Himalayas endlessly reciting mantras for the cessation of your suffering and for the flourishing of your happiness.

Someone you haven’t met yet is already dreaming of adoring you.

Someone is writing a book that you will read in the next two years that will change how you look at life.

Read the rest of “the manifesto of encouragement” by Danielle LaPorte

Go forth and be of good cheer.

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