Runners streamed through the streets of the City of Lights during the Paris Marathon.  I was out there encouraging them to the full as marathon runners demonstrate character qualities I admire:

  • They have a goal
  • They train with discipline…even waking at 5:00 am to run before a full day at work
  • They persevere…for 42 kilometers straight

Friends shared about their marathon experiences in various cities.  They especially rave about NY where the encouragers never sleep.  Fans line the streets in all neighborhoods and boost the athletes on.

Our local encouragement remained discreet.  Here is what I learned by cheering on the Parisian athletes.

Encouragement is Rare,
even Attention-Worthy

I walked along the Marathon route between kilometers 27 and 30, between the Eiffel Tower and Alma Marceau.  Runners have just come through the tunnel where Princess Diana died in a car accident.  It is dark and dreary; getting out is an uphill hike.  The route continues to slope up slightly to the food and water stations by the Eiffel Tower.

It’s a tough leg of the race.

Active encouragers were so few and far between, that we became entertainment, even distracting attention away from the runners.

Admirers lined the road to watch quietly.  From time to time a fan caught a glimpse of the runners they had come to support and burst into praise as they sped by.  Then, back to silent admiration.

I, on the other hand, clapped avidly and repeatedly shouted out, “Hurray!  Keep it up!  What athletes!” to all of the runners.  They are achieving an amazing feat.  Some passersby rolled their eyes at me and snickered.

During my 90 minutes of cheering, I noticed one other person applauding as loudly as me; she wore an official Marathon Volunteer vest.

A band played marching music to boost the runners’ energy.  A crowd gathered around them, turning their backs to the racers.

Check out the video where we hear the band and barely a sound from the crowd.

Paris marathon supporters playing music

It’s like the onlookers delegated the role of encouragement to the few official volunteers and sporadic musicians.

Cheering on in a marathon differs from a soccer game or a tennis match.

  • We don’t know these athletes
  • Runners keep coming for hours which translates into cheering for the long-haul

Spurring on marathoners in Paris demonstrates that encouragement is a purposeful decision.  It’s not something we do to follow the crowd.

Pouring courage into others will feel unusual and odd.  The question for you and I becomes, “Is the value of helping another person be the best they can be worth our momentary discomfort?”

I believe it is…and I also believe the investment in the other person helps me grow wiser and happier too.

For you too. That’s why my paradigm-shifting workshops include activities on how to effectively encourage team members.

Encouragement is a Mindset

We find what we seek.  Look for problems and challenges.  They are there and easy to identify.

Positive qualities can be harder to identify.  It takes a shift in perspective.

Think of hiking up a mountain. As you look forward, the peaks loom large and daunting.  Yet, pause, and turn around and admire the view.  How far you have already come!

Encouragement begins with looking for value in someone or their actions.  Many of these attributes could be taken for granted or are visible through empathy and shared experiences

  • Effort
  • Persistence
  • Sacrifice
  • Intermediate successes

The marathoners could be viewed as sweaty-huffing-and-puffing-(sometimes-struggling)-runners.  They can also be perceived as toned athletes, champions in discipline, and goal achievers.

Encouragement is Substantive

Critics deride praise as vacuous and without substance.  Avoid that trap.

Real and useful encouragement is grounded in truth and reality so that it effectively pours courage into another person.

Admittedly some words get overused and misused.

“You’re awesome,” said to everyone and anyone and no matter what the context sounds insincere.

“Awesome effort,” shouted out to a runner who has progressed 30 kilometers recognizes an accomplishment.

Encouragement in Practice

Here is how I tried to make my Paris marathon encouragement purposeful, empathetic, and substantive

  1. Acknowledge an effort or a behavior
    Think of children who call out, “Look at me.” They are hoping to hear, “I see you.”
    “What an athlete!”
    “Look how far you have come!”
    “You made it through the tunnel!”
    “Still smiling!!!!”
  2. Orient to the next step (not the next twenty steps ????)
    “There is water and food at the Eiffel Tower.”
    “Keep it up.”
  3. Link Past Achievements to Confidence in Future Performance
    Sometimes that’s simply combining the first two practices together
    “You have come so far! You can keep going.”
    “You survived the tunnel.  Keep it up with the sunshine and the great view.”

Be an Encourager

Who needs encouragement around you?  A demoralized colleague, a worried (and possibly nagging)  spouse, a misbehaving child, or an ageing parent?  Try noticing one thing they do well.  Want help to know how?  Click to send me a note.

Maybe YOU are the one in need of encouragement.  Notice and share one thing that you have done well too.  If you stick to the facts, it’s not boasting.

Yesterday was sunny and warm and our house was filled with friends.  Today the skies are grey and work progresses with two steps forward and one step back.  I’ll focus on the two steps forward…that helps me keep going.

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