Encouragement and Self-Determination

Receiving positive feedback and encouragement is an important part of growing self-determination. When we hear unexpected words of encouragement from people we trust, it increases our confidence, which supports building our motivation.

Many of us cringe when we hear the word “feedback” because we associate it with criticism. But we aren’t talking about that kind of feedback here. While there might be a time and a place for constructive criticism, when we consider the growth of someone’s self-determination, we want our feedback to be positive.

Within your role as a peer support worker, learning to give this kind of encouragement and positive feedback is necessary and can be an invaluable tool.

Here are some tips to develop your skill of giving positive feedback and encouragement:

  • Notice. Pay attention to the growth of the person you are working with, no matter how small the growth is. We have to be looking for these small moments though, or they will pass us by.
  • The small steps matter a lot. When someone is struggling, little things can be very hard. Celebrating small wins is important and so encouraging. For someone who is struggling with their mental health, it can be so meaningful to have someone affirm to them, “You got out of bed, got dressed, and ate! That’s a big win!” Truly, tiny steps forward make all the difference!
  • Be specific. Instead of saying “that was awesome” or “you’re doing great,” find something very specific to share with them.
    • For example: “The way you managed that situation was so good! I saw that you were very clear with your boundaries. I know you have shared with me that boundary setting is hard for you. I really saw that you were clear and firm with what was ok for you.” 
    • Or something like, “Wow, those cookies are so delicious. I love the flavour combination of cinnamon and chocolate. You really have some skills with flavour.”
  • Be genuine. Don’t make things up. If you do, people will know and it will break down the trust you have built. Trust your ability to observe real strengths. If you want to work on this skill, practice when you are watching TV shows, movies, reading books, or listening to podcasts. Take note of the strengths and abilities of all the people in the stories. We can really expand our skill of seeing strengths if we pay attention.
  • Celebrate. Together, intentionally celebrate small and big wins. Celebrating in small ways really supports the growth of self-determination. Consider mutuality in this, since it is an important aspect of peer support.
    • You can also model this kind of celebration. “I did something super hard today. I had to advocate for myself with my phone company, and I was avoiding it. So I’m going to treat myself to a latte today!”
    • A lot of us aren’t great at celebrating small and big wins. Supporting someone to be able to identify their wins is really important.

For Reflection

  • How do you feel when someone encourages you? Have you noticed it making a difference in your motivation level?
  • Is giving encouragement and positive feedback something that is hard or easy for you?
  • How can you grow your ability to give encouragement and positive feedback?


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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