6 min read

How To Change Someone's Life

One sentence of feedback from a teacher changed everything for these students. What did that one sentence say? I'm giving you...

written by -
Kevin Palmer

One Sentence Changed Everything

In August of 2013, researchers from various universities around the U.S. conducted an experiment in a handful of high school English classrooms. The students were told to write an essay about their personal hero—in hopes that it would be a topic they were genuinely interested in. The teachers were instructed to give one half of the class normal feedback, and the other half of the class an extra sentence of additional feedback. The study showed that one year later, the students who received the extra sentence of feedback were doing significantly better in English.

What was the one extra sentence?

I am giving you this feedback because I believe in you.”

Why did that one extra sentence have such a significant impact one whole year later? Because it changed what the students believed about themselves, and belief is more powerful than most of us realize.

The Power of Belief

I was reminded of this study again this morning during a conversation with my wife when (noticing that I was struggling with something) she said, “I believe in you.” Four simple words, but the positive impact they had on me can’t be measured. She could see something in me that I was having trouble seeing in myself, and because I trusted her opinion, her words created a new belief in me.

When the flame inside of us is starting to go out, a word of encouragement is like oxygen.

Trust is a key factor in this. The students in the classroom study trusted their teacher’s opinion and expertise. I trust my wife's opinion because she knows me so well.

Words from someone we trust create belief.

Belief becomes the fuel that guides our decisions and propels us into action. Actions create our future. It all starts with an idea and the belief that it’s possible.

"Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." -Henry Ford

The Dark Side of Belief

Like most things that hold power, our beliefs have the ability to propel us forward or hold us back. I often wonder how many dreams have been cut short because someone was told that they didn't have enough talent, or they'd never be good enough.

In Dr. Benjamin Hardy’s book, Personality Isn’t Permanent, he tells the story of Rosalie, a woman who had always dreamed of writing and illustrating children’s books. Deciding to take action on her dream, she signed up for art classes.

​​Hardy goes on to say, “One night during an art class with a handful of other people, Rosalie had an experience that ended her dream. After a particular drawing exercise, the teacher went around the room checking each student’s work. When he stopped at Rosalie, he grabbed her chalk and “corrected” her drawing.

During the sixty or so seconds that the teacher was drawing over her work, Rosalie felt extremely embarrassed. None of the other students had been corrected in this manner. All eyes were on her. This was all too painful for her to handle. In the emotional swirl of the moment, a thought entered her mind: I must not be very good at this.

Rosalie never attempted drawing again.”

Although the art teacher never actually said anything to Rosalie, she trusted his opinion. His actions created a belief in her that she wasn't good at drawing, so she quit. Dr. Hardy’s conversation with Rosalie happened fifty years after the incident occurred. She literally gave up on her dream because of a belief created one night fifty years earlier. Don't let this be you.

The Truth About What's Possible

Most of us are capable of much more than we think. In the beginning stages of learning something new it can seem frustrating and nearly impossible sometimes to reach a high level of efficiency, but research has shown time and time again that skill and success have much more to do with hard work and consistency than simply being born with talent. This doesn't mean that there aren't people who have more natural ability in some areas. It means that with determination, consistency, and time, you can achieve much more than you probably realize. Sometimes we just need to hear someone say, “You’re doing great.”

Final Thoughts

The research is clear, one act of encouragement from a trusted person can quite literally be the fuel someone needs to start something new or to keep going. Too often in life we don't say anything because we're either unaware that someone may need some encouragement, or it feels too awkward to say something. It's never a bad idea to say "good job", "I love what you're doing", or "keep going." These words plant seeds of belief that are essential to those of us whose passion is building and/or creating. To this very day, a kind word about anything I've worked on (or am working on) will literally energize me to continue creating. I hope this post feels like encouragement to anyone out there who is in need of this message too. Keep going, I believe in you.


Accordion icon

Every Tuesday Morning

Onward Newsletter

Ideas and illustrations to help you live a happier, healthier life. Delivered to your inbox every Tuesday morning

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Illustration of thoughts, feelings, and outcomes.