Everyone wants to be encouraging. No one wants to be discouraging. Which isn't to say that all of us are very good at it. The place to start (or restart) seems to be discerning how the Bible speaks of encouragement. In my studies of Scripture, I see four main, overlapping ideas about what encouragement is. Simply getting these clear in our minds will help us down the path to giving genuine encouragement those around us.
But charge Joshua, and encourage and strenghen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people... Deuteronomy 3:28
Encouragement is the giving of strength, often for a difficult task. Regardless of what our hearts or Hollywood tell us, no one inherently has the strength needed to do what God calls us to do. We are neither designed nor created to be self-sufficient in the most important tasks of life. Rather, we are designed and created to be vessels ready to receive the strength others can give to us. Everyone you know has very hard work to do. Perhaps it's related to their vocation or their family or a season of suffering. Regardless, no one really has an easy life. And God has designated you to be a source of strength for many of those people.
Then she said, "I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servants, though I am not one of your servants." Ruth 2:13
Encouragement is the speaking of comfort and truth. Not all encouragement is like a football coach hyping his team up for the big game. A lot of encouragement is quiet yet kind. Boaz encouraged Ruth with his kind gestures and comforting words. More Biblical, godly strength is imparted through comforting truth than any loud bluster. A compliment, a Bible verse, a sympathetic word, a quick "I love you and appreciate you more than you know" is true power to encourage, available to all of us.
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned...strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. Acts 14:21-22
Encouragement is a call from alongside. Many Bible students have noted the beauty of the Greek word "parakaleo." This word, sometimes translated as "encourage" or "comfort" or "exhort" is a simple combination of the verb "to call" with the prefix "beside" or "side by side." Not only is this the origin of the one of the titles of the Holy Spirit (our great Paraclete), it is a perfect word picture of how the best encouragement happens. To truly strengthen and comfort a friend, the best place to be is right by their side, both physically and spiritually. Lectures have their place but generally not when the goal is encouragement. Rather, show someone you're a partner on the same journey and watch their heart open to your encouragement.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
Encouragement is building up. Words have power to tear down and build up. Most of us would admit we've seen our words do both. To encourage someone is to see, by God's help, each person as a wonderful project of a good God. Each person is designed to be more and better than they are right now. And you and I get to be a part of God building them up into His image!
By no means is this comphrensive, but it is a decent place to start. Let us seek to be "encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Heb. 10:25)