Scott H Young

Needing Encouragement is a Weakness


Yes Men

If you need people to support your goals and ideas, you won’t reach many of them.

This doesn’t mean encouragement is bad. Having people who do support you is great. However, needing those people to support you often guarantees failure.

The first reason for this is that, unfortunately, people often aren’t supportive. If you rely on their encouragement, you give them veto power over your life. The issue of whether they should support you is irrelevant.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is that persistence is a function of needing encouragement. If you want to be more persistent in an area, you need to lower your hunger for positive feedback.

Persistence is a Function of Positive Feedback

People often phrase persistence in terms of endurance—how long you’re willing to endure before giving up. But this isn’t quite accurate.

A better depiction of persistence is how much positive feedback you need to sustain your effort. This can be encouragement from other people or it can simply be the minor successes that keep you going.

Claiming that someone worked on a project for five years isn’t a good indicator of persistence. It would be better to ask how much positive feedback they needed to sustain the project throughout the five years. I’d be more impressed by someone’s doggedness to keep working without approval for five years, than someone who pushed through the steady growth to success.

What’s Your Encouragement Fuel Efficiency?

Looking at it from this analogy, persistence is more like the measure of fuel efficiency for a car. You’re not looking at how far you can go, but how far you can get before you need a refuel of encouragement to keep going.

Your persistence level essentially defines the journeys you can undertake. High persistence and you can take on long roads where encouragement is initially scarce. Low persistence and you’re basically stuck on the main roads where there is someone to refuel your tank every few hours.

Although persistence isn’t the only quality worth having, it’s definitely a useful one.

Persistence isn’t Stubbornness

While it would be difficult to be stubborn without some insensitivity to criticism, I don’t believe persistence is simply a lesser degree of stubbornness.

Stubbornness is persistence without flexibility. Someone who gives up after three months because they get nothing but negative feedback lacks persistence. Someone who does the exact same thing after three months, ignoring feedback, is stubborn. Worthwhile persistence means changing your strategy in the face of feedback, not reducing your effort.

Increasing Persistence by Reducing Hunger for Approval

If my model is correct and persistence is a function of your need for encouragement, then one good way to increase your persistence is to lower that hunger.

I think a good first step is realizing you don’t need encouragement to go out and start something. And perhaps more importantly, is realizing you don’t need encouragement to continue working hard at something.

Another step is to have general confidence. Confidence in yourself generally is valuable, but confidence about specific skills or decisions is often dangerous. The distinction is the difference between believing you’re smart and believing you’re right. You can have perfect confidence in your intelligence, while doubting many of your specific beliefs.

Expecting a level of negative feedback also helps. If you expect, as your baseline, a negative response both from people around you and the world itself, then it’s far easier to keep going.

Stop Expecting People to Encourage You

Part of the problem is that, as a culture, we expect encouragement. We expect it so regularly that even neutral comments can seem discouraging.

I’ve taken classes where students participate by sharing incredibly ill-formed opinions. Everyone in the class, and the professor, is aware the student is ignorant about the issue. Yet, most of the time, they will be given a polite response to their comment.

I think there are valid reasons for this policy of politeness. However, a consequence is that many begin to expect praise, even if it isn’t earned. This effectively toggles the internal thermostat of hunger for approval. In the future, anything other than wholehearted agreement is construed as criticism.

You can’t change the culture, but you can change yourself. If you lower your expectations for encouragement, your ability to persist without it will go up.

“But, They Should Support Me!”

Another part of the problem is when expectations become entitlement. I’ve heard from a lot of readers who bemoan how their parents/family/teachers don’t support them on whatever goal they have. The assumption is that these people should support them.

This entitlement about who should support you gives those people veto power over your life.

I often get asked how much influence my parents had on me, considering I started this website at a fairly young age (17). I’m lucky to have been brought up in a great family, but the idea that they have been coaching me from the sidelines is a little ridiculous.

When I decided to become a vegetarian, my parents were initially concerned for my health. When I decided to start an online business, I had more than a few conversations about the importance of making sure I could get a job “if this whole website thing doesn’t work out.”

After being a healthy vegetarian for five years and earning a full-time income from my business, I don’t have those conversations much anymore.

I hesitated to point this out, because I don’t want to give the impression I’m complaining. Just the opposite, I’m not disappointed that I wasn’t encouraged for every crazy idea I’ve had, because that I didn’t feel I should have been.

It’s my belief that scepticism should be the default for most unconventional goals. It’s not the world’s job to give you praise and encouragement. It’s your job to prove them wrong.

Image thanks to ItzaFineDay


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24 Responses to “Needing Encouragement is a Weakness”

  1. Dave says:

    I do see how lowering your expectations for encouragement can increase your persistence along with your ability to accomplish a goal. But should we not make an effort still to develop and encouraging environment and have encourage people in our lives? I see how depending on that encouragement could weaken your resolve, but taking encouragement as it comes seems that it can only help you, and definitely make the process more enjoyable. If I have the resolve to accomplish something, I’d still rather have people encouraging me along the journey.

  2. I loved this post, Scott. It was just what I needed to hear. I am trying on a lot of new behaviors at the moment and when I look back on my progress I realize my eagerness for encouragement has slowed my growth. It’s not just that waiting for positive affirmation before you go forward keeps you from moving as quickly as you should. It’s also, at least for me, that once I receive encouragement from someone that I’m doing well, I bask in a little happy glow and take a break from hard work, halting my activity for a break I can’t afford if I want to reach my goals.

  3. Scott Young says:

    Dave,

    I think those are completely separate issues.

    Obviously having more people to encourage you is better. Just like having more money is better.

    The distinction isn’t that you should avoid all encouragement or not try to cultivate it, but that you shouldn’t need as much of it. It’s like the difference between being rich and needing to be rich to be happy.

    The two also tend to run together. The more you cultivate an inner confidence and a track record of accomplishing crazy goals, the more willing people are to encourage you to undertake them. Every implausibility achieved lowers the skepticism you face for the future.

    -Scott

  4. Al fred Hung says:

    best article out of most recent many……

  5. MrTrevino says:

    Excellent Article…Thanks!

  6. Kent Healy says:

    Interesting perspective Scott. I liked this insight: “People often phrase persistence in terms of endurance—how long you’re willing to endure before giving up. But this isn’t quite accurate. A better depiction of persistence is how much positive feedback you need to sustain your effort.” This post definitely got me thinking – not the usual trite info one would happen upon online. I appreciate that. I think you have done a good job combining a few seemingly unrelated concepts in one theory. Good work.

  7. Wendy Irene says:

    This was awesome Scott! I really enjoyed it and found it uplifting :) Thanks for that! Happy Holidays!

  8. Marianne says:

    I found this article quite by chance but I can honestly say that it made my day. Thanks a lot.

  9. At first I didn’t agree with this post, but now I have thought about it more I find that what you write makes sense. Generally people are resistant to change, and that resistance extends to other people. That makes it important to be able to make changes in yourself and your life without the support of others at first. Of course support might come later but at first it will usually be absent.

  10. Jon G says:

    I think you nailed the issue right on the head. When peoples’ egos and motivation levels are strong tied to external approval, it introduces a variable that is not in your control. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an individual’s motivation and desire to succeed fluctuate based on the approval of friends and significant other. That is no way to steadily achieve a goal since you cannot control the actions of other people.

    Most masters of a skill, art, or ability became masters by learning to love the practice itself. Therefore, they were doing it for their own enjoyment, rather than for the approval of others. Difficult goals require the same mindset. This ties directly into your argument about true persistence being inversely correlated to amount of approval one needs.

    I recommend “Mastery” by George Leonard and “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell for a more in depth look at how people achieve mastery.

    Great post.

    Jon

  11. Andrzej says:

    Hi Scott!
    I like your definitions of persistence and stubbornness, but “It’s not the world’s job to give you praise and encouragement. It’s your job to prove them wrong.” is something that I can’t swallow.

    Even if my experience shows it’s true ;)

    Andrzej

  12. Indeed,
    lack of moral support can be a pain in the crack at the beginning
    There are people who take their confodence from the outside ( giving others power to determine their identity )

    and there are those who get it from inside, from their knowing about who they are, strong beliefs tn their reality and in their cause. These people don’t get affected by opinions or external delusions,
    Theit results speak for themselves.

    To be successful, you better choose on which side you are…

    Good luck!

    S.C.

  13. Rolf says:

    Hey Scott,

    there is a huge truth behind that. It starts when we are children and beg for attention and appreciation from our parents. This attitude follows us our whole life and people start behaving like little puppys wanting a treat by behaving like others want us to.
    But this leads often into the wrong direction and usually we don’t follow our own way but the way other people already are on. We are follower instead of leaders.
    Thanks for your words!!!
    Rolf

  14. [...] as a negative function of positive feedback Posted on December 22, 2010 by ddcolrs Source: Scott Young blog, Dec [...]

  15. Kira says:

    Scott,

    I totally agree with this. I want to become a well respected screenwriter/director in Japan, but my family is not very supportive. Although I treasure their opinions deeply and love them greatly, I will continue down my chosen path. Even if it is a lonely journey, I will continue to walk. Hopefully, one day, they’ll support my efforts… and when they do, I will welcome them back with open arms.

  16. [...] one of my own favorite bloggers – Feeling Lost? Stop Worrying about Your “Life Purpose” and Needing Encouragement is a Weakness. Go check them [...]

  17. Lizbeth says:

    Awesome article!!! Exactly what I needed to read to keep going forward with my goals…It is so funny but yes, every point as I was reading it I was thinking, OMG YES!!! I do that, I tend to expect encourament and support about my plans and goals…. you’ve just shut me up… Thank you so much, I’ve been refered by Henrik, The Positivity blog, and you’ve just earned a new Fan ;-) Thank you again

    -Lizbeth

  18. Wendy says:

    Hi Scott, Really good article and very true. I’m one of those weak, sensitive emotional people who gets depressed when I don’t get encouragement. Because I’m naturally a good listener and naturally encouraging I expect others to be the same. This expectation has been very unhelpful to me. It’s better to be told the reality of life rather than some fairytale utopia. Thanks for correcting my thinking and helping me to toughen up:)

  19. [...] and from your outlook and reactions during tough times. Owning and transforming your challenges and making opportunities of them are an immense test, as well as a wonderful gift of [...]

  20. Stephie Q says:

    Fantastic Article! I can relate with what Marie said about ‘basking’ and taking a breather once someone dishes the praise! Keep It Up Scott! :D

  21. [...] about your business, you should do whatever you want. Scott Young has written a great article on needing encouragement a couple of weeks ago, get some support out of this. You are doing this for yourself and for nobody [...]

  22. Any “need” can be a weakness… that being said, I think encouragement itself is still fantastic. But nothing beats ‘self encouragement.” Enjoyed the mind poke that your article gave me.

  23. Susan says:

    This is a really intriguing article. I love the fuel-efficiency comparison you chose to illustrate your position. I also appreciate you contrasting it with stubbornness, since that’s often a question I find myself turning over in my head at night..agonizing over whether my convictions are reasonable or unrealistic, how much risk is responsible to take on and how much is crazy…basically, where is that fine line separating persistence from stubbornness, courage from recklessness, etc. I guess i’m looking for answers to these questions online because, to use your fuel-efficiency example, if I am a car and my persistence is mileage, the people around me are lead-foots who stomp on the gas pedal. My analogy isn’t perfect, because I think you’d say no one should be controlling you, so to be straightforward, i’m surrounded by people who are not only not encouraging, but actively discourage, dismiss, debase and berate me. I grew up in this type of an environment and was amazed to discover I didn’t suck when I got out of the house and went to college. But recently, I’ve been sucked back in, and my faith is starting to waiver that i’ll ever get out again. Persistence is a weakness, but everybody has a breaking point. Do you have any advice for people who find themselves with compromised “immune systems” to negativity, who might otherwise be self-confident but for the fact they’ve been in a situation for so long under so much strain and pressure that they’ve started to doubt their own ability to judge and make good decisions? How would one go about “re-calibrating” their own self-confidence?

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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