Motivating Someone To Keep Trying

Study Tip #9

Outline of ways to encourage

  • How to spot discouragement
  • Talk about the person's abilities.
  • Talk about backup help.
  • Talk about effort and study techniques.
  • Talk about goals, subgoals.
  • Talk about the high value of learning.
  • Talk about things that can change.
  • When not to encourage a person.

To the reader: Give this Study Tip to a friend, parent or relative.  Or use it yourself!
Students feel deeply discouraged sometimes by long hours of study, difficult courses, and other problems.  Research shows that many students do feel discouraged and tempted to give up. It also shows that students often respond to encouragement. Yet sadly often their friends don't try to encourage them to keep going.

This Study Tip will teach you some proven ways to encourage others (and yourself!) to keep working.  We want you to do these things:

  • Watch your friend's degree of willingness to go to class and do schoolwork.  You may see your friend get discouraged.
  • Then remember that your goal is to help your student friend to succeed.
  • And encourage your friend to persist.

The information below tells how.

1. How to spot discouragement in a student:

  • When you hear a student saying that courses are "too hard" and that he or she lacks the ability to succeed, you're hearing discouragement.
  • Also, you will see discouraged students looking tired, depressed, and apathetic--especially when they talk about courses that give them trouble.
  • You can see more subtle signs, too. Discouraged students may look cheerful and busy, but they skip classes and put off doing their schoolwork.
  •  Finally, if you know what situations put stress on students, you can predict discouragement before you see it. Here are some examples:
    • Stress occurs at the start of a term (things are new and look hard).
    • Stress occurs before and after tests (students worry about doing poorly).
    • Stress occurs during big projects (again students worry).
    • Stress occurs during day-to-day dull periods (students feel bored, put off doing their work, and feel guilty).

These clues will help you spot discouragement in your friend. And, of course, because you know your friend, you will know other signs of discouragement.

2. Encourage by talking about the person's abilities. You probably know that discouraged students usually think they do not have enough ability to succeed in the task that bothers them. You can help discouraged students by reminding them of what their true level of ability is.

  • Start a discussion about the past hard projects that your friend has succeeded in doing. Help your friend fully remember how much ability he or she had then.
  • Help your friend remember that at least he or she has the ability to learn.  The ability to learn is important in school because often students cannot at first master knowledge and skills, but they can learn by persisting.
  • Tell your friend that you, personally, believe he or she has enough ability. Say it often. Say it in many ways. People feed on their friends' belief in them. They love to hear someone say they can succeed.  (But never lie!)
  • If you are talking to your friend before a big test or project, help your friend break the big task down into its little parts. Help your friend see, one by one, that he or she can do the little parts. That will lessen insecurity.
  • If you are talking to your friend after a failure, help your friend understand all the other causes besides "low ability" that helped cause the failure.  Talk about lack of time, difficult external pressures, not enough effort, and not being taught the right techniques. Talk about true excuses!  It's okay! It's honest!

3. Encourage by talking about backup help. Many teachers provide backup help for students. They often wait to be asked by students who need it. So suggest that your friend find out if the teacher can provide such backup as extra books, tapes, tutors, more time, makeup tests, or something else.

4. Encourage by talking about effort and study techniques.

  • Remind your discouraged friend that besides their ability, two other factors affect their success: the amount of effort they put out and the techniques they use.
  • About effort: Many poor students do not realize how hard and long the good students study. If they would study longer, they would succeed better.  Encourage your friend to realize that studying longer will lead to more success.
  • About techniques: Many poor students use inefficient study methods.  It has been proven that students who switch to better techniques learn more, learn it faster, and remember it longer. Encourage your friend to realize that he or she can find better methods. Buy a book on studying, take a course on effective learning, get study tips at your college.

5. Encourage by talking about goals.

  • Students get discouraged when they believe that they cannot reach their goals.
  • If their goals are too high, they get discouraged more easily. Help your friend reset his or her goals to a sensible level. When the big is impossible, a lesser thing is acceptable. Accept a lower grade; write a less polished paper.
  • Many students look at big tasks, set one big goal to do the whole thing, and feel discouraged. Help your friend to sub-divide the task into bite-size sub-goals that he or she can do one by one.

6. Encourage by talking about the high value of learning.

  • When students get discouraged, they often feel that it's not worthwhile to continue working. Your job, as a friend, is to remind the student that he or she really wants to get the results that come from continued studying. Hint: Don't say studying is valuable. Say the results of studying are worthwhile.
  • Help your friend to remember his or her deep values and goals. Turn your friend's mind back to the beginning of the term, before the trouble began. What were the goals then? All of us have real and deep values within us; help your friend remember. It may be knowledge, beauty, fun, or ability to help others.
  • Suggest that your friend visualize the good results that will happen from working and finishing the work. Suggest your friend imagine how good he or she will feel when the learning and skills are developed.
  • Talk about the nasty effects that the student causes if he or she gives up now. It might be that the student gets a low grade, needs to repeat a course, drops out of a program. Count the cost of quitting.  Encourage your friend to avoid the troubles that come with quitting.

7. Encourage by talking about possible change.

It gives people hope to think that things can change. Talk about specific possible things that can change. Perhaps later parts of the course will be easier than this part. Perhaps over time for practice will build up certain mental skills.

8. When not to encourage a person.

  • We've got to say this next idea: Sometimes students should drop a class. There are situations when it's better not to encourage a student.  What are they?
  • Don't encourage if the course content won't help the student reach his or her goals.
  • Don't encourage if the student knows for certain that it's impossible to succeed. Three danger signals: lacking prerequisite skills, having a personal problem that prevents spending enough time on a class, and falling too far behind to catch up.
  • Don't encourage if the student could succeed only by making a horribly massive effort and he or she has decided that the cost is greater than the reward.
  •  If you, as the student's friend, agree that one of these situations really fits, then help the student drop a class. But your job is to make sure that your friend has not exaggerated the problem. Discouraged people think negatively. They don't believe they have any control at all. They under-estimate what they can change.
  • Your job as a friend is to help your student friend see in reality what things he or she can do, can control, can change and make happen.

Encouraging you, the friend, to act.

Many of you may ask: "Can I really make a difference?" Yes, research shows that students who have friends and relatives who encourage them have succeeded more often than other students. Research shows that even if you encourage "wrong" or do it just a little, it often helps. So act!