Breaking Free – July 2010 – The Power of Nice


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Many folks have asked me where they can get more information on axiology. Well, below are links to webpages and research topics that discuss the basics of axiology and the application of axiology from the Robert S. Hartman Institute website. All of the papers are free and I hope you find them informative and insightful.Robert Hartman

The Basic Concepts of Formal Axiology
Applications of the Science of Axiology
Being and Becoming All That We Can Be

To see all research topics, you can click here.

The Power of Nice

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last month I gave a keynote address at the PMI Houston Conference & Expo. Kathy Ridley, the current chapter president, asked me to do a special presentation on the Power of Nice. We received terrific reviews so I thought I’d share the neuroscience and axiology of the Power of Nice with you.

What is NICE?

The word ‘nice’ is used in a variety of ways. I hear it most often as people say “Have a nice day.” What exactly does that mean? Nice has so many different meanings.

For instance, ‘nice’ can mean pleasing, delightful, pleasant and kind. It can also mean minute, fine or subtle as in “a nice distinction”. It can also mean accurate, precision or skillful as in “nice shot” or “nice workmanship”. (I’m pretty sure people aren’t saying “Have a subtle day.” or “Have an accurate day.”)

Oh, but nice can also mean virtuous, respectable or proper as in “She’s a nice girl.” Then you can also put the word “too” in front of nice so that it means something negative. “She’s too nice.” which usually equals doormat.

So, we’re going to go with the first definition of nice meaning pleasant and delightful… something that brings joy and satisfaction.

This is your brain

The conscious brain gets all the attention. You know the part that is aware and thinks and plans. We spend a lot of time, energy and money developing the conscious part of our brain. However, it is a slave to all of the other parts that lie “beneath” it. Every feeling is a summary of data that comes from our subconscious/autonomic brain. Our feelings are visceral responses to all the information that your brain contains that can’t be directly accessed by your conscious brain.

An Open-Loop Limbic System

In Daniel Goleman’s book, Primal Leadership (2002, HBS Press), he discusses the design of the human brain: what scientists have begun to call the open-loop nature of our emotional centers (limbic system).

A closed-loop system is self-regulating (like your circulatory system), whereas an open-loop system depends on external sources to manage or regulate itself. In other words, we depend on connections to other human beings for our emotional stability, i.e. our moods. This design allows us to come to the emotional ‘rescue’ of others (or vice versa, but who wants to admit that. 😉

In A General Theory of Love (2000, Random House), scientists describe how one person transmits signals that can alter the hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, and even immune function inside the body of another human being.

You have tremendous power over others – NOT the actions of others but how they feel and how their body actually functions. You have the power through this open-loop design to change the physiology and emotions of others. Do you use your power for good or evil?

dopamineThis is your brain on NICE

Nice releases dopamine in the brain. In certain areas of the brain when dopamine is released, it gives you the feeling of pleasure or satisfaction. For example food and sex release dopamine… but so does “nice”!

Laughter can also come from being really nice and laughter has some terrific benefits… narrowing of the blood vessels due to stress could be reversed by a good dose of laughter. You should give it a try!

The Value of Nice

Here are some other facts about nice:

  • Niceness spreads more easily than irritability and depression.
  • Outstanding leaders (based on financial performance and peer ratings) are 3 times nicer and wittier.
  • 1% improvement in corporate climate = 2% increase in revenue (that’s a pretty good ROI)
  • #1 reason people quit their jobs… they don’t feel appreciated i.e. the people around them aren’t “nice” to them.

How to DO Nice to Others

In the book by Thaler and Koval entitled The Power of Nice, the authors describe 6 Principles of Nice and how to do nice to others. Those principles are:

  1. Positive impressions are like seeds. Impressions are systemic and impact the open-loop limbic system. Every smile, laugh, and thank you releases positive energy. Others around you ‘feel’ your seeds.
  2. Negative impressions are like germs. They may silently infect others and you may not see their impact immediately… but eventually you will.
  3. People change. You may not see the valuing in being nice to some who is ‘beneath’ you, but always remember people change. That bagger at the grocery store with the pierced tongue and pants on the ground could be your boss in a decade or so.
  4. Nice should be automatic / a core valuing habit. Manners are important and should be practiced so that they become second nature. Since when did shopping center parking become a competitive event? Be nice, park at the end of the row and walk (if you’re able). Let someone else have the closer space.
  5. You never know. Treat everyone you meet as if they were the most important person in the world… if not to you, they are important to someone… if not today, then perhaps tomorrow.
  6. You will always know. You carry your rude acts and bad behavior with you in your heart and mind. One bad act and become a habit… every habit starts somewhere. When you aren’t nice, you are acting outside of your integrity. Be true to you and be nice.

How to Do Nice to YOU!

It’s important to cut yourself some slack. Most people that I talk to have unrealistic expectations around what they can accomplish. Then they measure themselves against these unrealistic expectations. Be nice to yourself! Double check your expectations. Just because you can imagine a pink giraffe doesn’t mean that it exists. It’s the same for the expectations that your mind creates about you.

Check your valuing habits. One reason people aren’t nice is simply because they’ve unconsciously developed the habit of not being nice. When your valuing habits aren’t aligned with your core values, it causes confusion and anxiety. It’s hard to be nice when you’re anxious. For instance, many folks will tell me that honesty is a core value. Then, when their son asks if they can go to the park this weekend, they’ll say “Maybe.” Ok, be honest! We all know that “maybe” = “no”. Or, you’ll tell your friend that you’ll “try” to make their birthday party this weekend. We all know that means you won’t be there, don’t we? Check your habits because sometimes they aren’t aligned with your core values and who you are.

Change your valuing habits. Your thinking and valuing habits aren’t who you are. They do impact your life. But, your thoughts can and do lie to you. Do you know which perspectives are your best? Measure your them and learn how to use your balanced perspectives to achieve more and be nicer. THAT would be being nice to YOU!

Understand your TRUE value. Your intrinsic worth is limitless. The word intrinsic means built-in, born with, inherent. It is who you are! Your intrinsic value has nothing to do with what you do or how you think. Your intrinsic worth is infinite and exists simply because you are. Appreciate your strengths. Ignore your non-strengths.

Don’t be afraid to change. Try new things! BECOME YOUR BEST! Compete only against yourself – not unrealistic standards and expectations. Become a better you than you were yesterday. Focus on your NICE traits and characteristics. Deliberately practice your strengths!!

Show your brilliance to the world! You truly are brilliant. You will be nice to you and nice to the world when you allow your true greatness to shine through. If you don’t know how to do that, ASK! I’d love to help.