Words of Encouragement and Inspiration: The Science Behind How They Work

When you’re plagued with negativity or struggling through one of life’s many challenges, hearing or reading words of encouragement or inspirational quotes can help. In fact, they can change your life.

Turns out, there are real, psychological reasons why these words work. 

words of encouragement

The Power Of Encouragement

There are many theories on encouragement and motivation, especially in the realm of sports and work. One long held belief is that criticism is a better way to motivate people than praise. That negative encouragement is helpful, because athletes, students, and employees will want to push harder to show you they’re better than you think. Being hard on you makes you harder, tougher, stronger.

Scientists have proved this isn’t true, and there is no stronger motivation than a positive attitude cultivated by words of encouragement.

Child Development

Studies, such as the two conducted by Columbia student Lisa Blackwell and Stanford students Kali H. Trzesniewski and Carol Sorich Dweck, investigates the connection between intelligence and encouragement

They determined that students with a perceived theory that they could improve their intelligence performed better and received higher grades than those who believed their level of intelligence and ability was set at birth. 

Different teaching methods were applied, proving that the group with words of encouragement saw an upward trajectory. The opposite was found in the control group. 

Tackling a different aspect of positive language among students, IKEA hosted a study done by students at a school in United Arab Emirates, to evaluate the effect of bullying. Students were encouraged to shout negative comments and bully one plant, while talking positively to the other plant. After thirty days, the bullied plant is on the verge of death, while the plant receiving positive language is thriving. The use of plants in this study gives allows us all to visibly acknowledge the power of our words, even on life without complex emotions.

Hundreds of other studies have been conducted to prove the benefits of positive words and the negative effects of bullying on students, but our development doesn’t stop once we graduate. 

Encouragement and the Encourager

Everyone knows what it’s like to be around a positive person, when you are respected, liked, and made to feel like you can tackle any project. There’s power in the knowledge that someone believes in you. 

However, there is power in the toxicity of people as well. Either you want to stay away from them, or you are sucked in and pulled down. It’s only realized how heavy their words are until you are no longer being knocked around with negative comments. 

A new study, conducted by Y. Joel Young and colleagues at Indiana University Bloomington in 2019, was conducted to evaluate encouragement as a character quality. These researchers hoped to find a way of measuring encouragement to enhance psychologists ability to counsel their clients. 

According to the study, a genuine natural of encouragement is a character strength that you benefit from just as much as those being encouraged. By encouraging, people will like you more and others will like themselves, and it circulates to create an environment that represents the “good life”

motivational quotes for success

Psychological Capital

Beyond the personal and sociological benefits of a positive attitude and regular words of encouragement, there are fiscal benefits. This is true at least in fundraising and sales, according to one study published in the Journal of Business Venturing. The study states that entrepreneurs who express positive psychological capital, such as hope, optimism, and confidence, experience greater fundraising results.

Essentially, those with a greater attitude, who both feel a sense of confidence and resilience and invoke those emotions onto others, experience better gains. A positive attitude is gained through words of encouragement and supporters who express them. It’s built by containing the theory of intelligence that you have an ability to improve rather than remain at a fixed state.

By building someone’s confidence, society gains both professionally and psychologically. 


Athletic Performance

Negativity and criticism is common in many parts of our lives. However, in most areas there is an understanding that encouragement and positivity work best as motivators. This doesn’t hold true within the realm of sports. 

Coaches and parents and fans still berate their athletes, work them with criticism, get them angry because they believe that anger will fuel them somehow. That comparison to other athletes and devaluing of skills held by the one they’re trying to “help” will motivate the subject to work harder. In fact, the opposite is true. 

According to Dr. Paul Freeman, athletic performance is based not just based on natural skill and level of training, but on frame of mind. Dr. Freeman claims that athletes value from words of encouragement from professionals, teammates and parents, though it can come from anywhere. Even something as simple as a tank top with the motivational quote “YOU CAN DO IT”, can go a long way.

motivational quotes for athletes


Words of Encouragement

Now that you have all of this in mind, it’s clear to see why quotes are important and how positive words of encouragement can benefit in all areas of life- school, sports, work, our relationships, and even our finances. 

Start every day with inspirational quotes, surround yourself with supporters, and enjoy the benefits of words of encouragement. 

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